Honda Planned a Mid-Engine V8 NSX Predecessor But the ’70s Oil Crisis Killed It

If Honda's legendary sports car had come out about 15 years earlier, it'd probably look something like this.

The oil crisis of the 1970s changed the face of the global automotive industry in a flash. Many great cars were given smaller engines, if not cancelled altogether. But one car’s cancellation hurts more than most, because it denied the world a Honda sports car with a mid-mounted V8 almost two decades before the NSX burst onto the scene.

Ironically, emissions concerns actually had a hand in kicking off this project, as well as eventually killing it. In the 1960s, both the Japanese and United States governments were beginning to crack down on pollution. Health concerns of smog and lead fuel poisoning were growing, and both countries sought to make cars cleaner than ever before. Honda had been working on new combustion technology in the early ’70s, which would have made it the first manufacturer to design an engine compliant with the U.S.’s then-new Muskie Act.

This new tech—dubbed Compound Vortex Controlled Combustion (CVCC)—was set to debut in a brand-new engine. Honda decided on a V8, and it created two different vehicle concepts to house it. One was a mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive sports car pitched as “environmentally friendly and fun to drive,” according to details recently shared for the first time in Honda’s official magazine.

The automaker even got as far as a clay model, which looked unique compared to every other mid-engine car of the period. It was small, with sharp lines, delicate proportions, and a pointy nose; the opposite of the wedge-like supercars of the era. There were even mockups for a front-engine version that also looked very good, and very first-gen Lotus Elan-like.

Unfortunately, the oil crisis struck in October 1973, prompting Honda to shut the project down. However, the dream of a mid-engine sports car clearly never left the company’s engineers and designers, and in the following decade it’d begin work on the venerable NSX, a car that actually did see production and was obviously worth the wait.

Honda executed the NSX masterfully, so maybe history unfolded the way it should’ve. An unsuccessful earlier attempt at a mid-engine sports car may have soured the company on the prospect of ever attempting such a project again. Or, this V8 predecessor would’ve been a hit all the same. Either way, these images have gotten our imagination running wild. If only Honda managed to get a prototype running.

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