2019 Chicago Auto Show Mega Photo Gallery | Sweet chrome, Chicago

Modern supercars are about excess. Horsepower seemingly can be tuned to any arbitrary level. Grip is similarly unconstrained, with rubber compounds and tire sizes available in extremes. And technology is simply a matter of your budget—how much can you afford?

It wasn't always this way. When the Acura NSX debuted 30 years ago at the Chicago auto show, it represented a carefully curated balance among the various parameters of performance, with the emphasis on driving satisfaction. If a modern supercar is a mighty broadsword, the original NSX was a rapier.

As Colin Chapman once said, "Power only makes you faster in a straight line; light weight makes you faster everywhere." Tipping the scales at about 3000 pounds, the NSX was lighter than contemporary 911s, Corvettes, and Ferraris. Achieving that litheness required new aluminum construction techniques that were developed and implemented in the small plant near Honda's Tochigi proving grounds, where the NSX was assembled. At the time, only the Audi V-8 luxury sedan was built of the same lightweight material, and it beat the NSX into production by less than a year.

 Such a light car did not need a giant engine, so Honda engineers developed a sophisticated variation of the Acura Legend's V-6, enlarged to 3.0 liters, fitted with double overhead camshafts and Honda's clever VTEC variable lift and timing mechanism, and enhanced with improved breathing and stouter internals. The result was 270 horsepower, a 7800-rpm redline, and intoxicating sounds in the engine's upper registers.  The NSX was full of counterintuitive details in pursuit of driver involvement. For example, its 205/50-15 front tires were on the smallish side. But these tires reduced the size of the front wheel housings, allowing more room in the footwells than was typical of contemporary mid-engined cars, as well as great forward visibility. You could see the pavement three feet in front of the bumper—or so it seemed.