The Honda NSX's Monel ignition key - Art of Speed
The key used to be one of your first points of interaction with a car. So Honda made its NSX key as special as the car itself
The key to your car is of greater meaning than its modest dimensions imply. Obviously it starts the engine, but there’s much more to it than that, especially if the car in question is of an evo persuasion. You don’t get quite the same jittery sense of anticipation when you reach into your pocket for your house keys, do you?
The best keys are the simplest ones, of course, featuring only a flattened plane to grip between thumb and forefinger and a serrated snout to rattle down the barrel and coax the lock pins into position. Twist once to awaken the electrics and hear the fuel line gulp, twist again to fire a high-voltage current to the spark plugs.
Sadly the significance of this ritual is lost on most manufacturers now, and as a result this satisfyingly gritty sensation of physically prompting an engine into motion is becoming rarer by the day. In fact, you have to go back many years to find a mainstream supercar with a proper key.
What you see here is one such key – the one Honda supplied with the NSX for the model years from 1991 to 1996. A bit like the car it unlocked, it was a futuristic metallic slither with the sole adornment of three letters. With all the beautiful simplicity of the old Ferrari keys but without the Piaggio Ape vibe, compared with something like Aston Martin’s nauseating ‘Emotion Control Unit’ it is simply in another galaxy of cool. And emotion, for that matter. That it could also easily be mistaken for the key to one of Honda’s excellent lawnmowers only adds to its charm.
Part 35113-SL0-A11 was not, as it is often said, made of titanium. Honda instead used Monel, an expensive and highly corrosion-resistant alloy of nickel and copper that’s often used in marine engineering. Non-magnetic and able to maintain its shape at searingly high temperatures, it has been used in the anchor cables of minesweepers, on experimental rocket-powered aircraft, for military dog tags and, most impressively, for the strings of Sting’s Fender Telecaster. Monel is so robust that cutting a key blank is said to be a highly risky undertaking that could easily damage the machine. A quick job at Timpsons it ain’t.
As a material, then, Monel was overqualified, but few keys have had a higher calling than that of life-giver to the all-aluminium VTEC engine at the centre of the NSX experience. It was three litres of open-ended power delivery with a six-cylinder bark that hardened viciously as the revs climbed. It was something of a masterpiece, it had titanium con rods, it was built by hand, and the key-related overkill was probably justified.
- 1The Art of Speed | the great performance car design details
- 2Lexus LFA rev counter - Art of Speed
- 3E30 BMW M3 bodywork - Art of Speed
- 4Pagani Huayra's wing mirrors - Art of Speed
- 5Ferrari Testarossa side strakes - Art of Speed
- 6The Mercedes 190E 2.5-16 Evo II's bodykit - Art of Speed
- 7The Lancia Delta Integrale Evo's rear spoiler - Art of Speed
- 8The Renaultsport Megane R26.R's polycarbonate windows - Art of Speed
- 9Ferrari F50 rear mesh - Art of Speed
- 10The McLaren P1's exhaust - Art of Speed
- 11The Subaru Impreza's bonnet scoop - Art of Speed
- 12The Aston Martin Vantage V600's twin supercharged V8 - Art of Speed
- 13The Honda NSX's Monel ignition key - Art of Speed - currently reading
- 14Koenigsegg One:1 active wing - Art of Speed
- 15Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano flying buttresses - Art of Speed
- 16Shelby Mustang GT500 racing stripes - Art of Speed
- 17Aston Martin V12 Zagato double-bubble roof - Art of Speed
- 18Lotus Esprit pop-up headlights - Art of Speed
- 19Lamborghini Miura louvred engine cover - Art of Speed
- 20Alfa Romeo SZ headlights - Art of Speed
- 21Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk1 grille stripe - Art of Speed
- 22Aston Martin One-77 carbonfibre chassis - Art of Speed
- 23Koenigsegg doors - Art of Speed
- 24Ford Sierra RS Cosworth whale tail - Art of Speed
- 25Renaultsport Clio V6 body kit - Art of Speed
- 26BMW M3 CSL carbon airbox - Art of Speed
- 27Maserati MC12 air intake - Art of Speed
- 28Peugeot 106 Rallye steel wheels - Art of Speed
- 29Lotus Elise pedals - Art of Speed
- 30Porsche 993 GT2 wheelarch extensions - Art of Speed