We all know the best treasures are hidden in the basement. So when an international car company has one of the few subterranean lairs allowed in an entire city, we expect to find superheroes (or supercars)…and Mazda does.
It’s a lonely walk down a nondescript ramp at the company’s Irvine, California, facility. Mazda is very low-key about this facility. There’s no secret password or retinal scan to get past the metal bay door. It’s just the hum of the electric motor as the other side reveals what was once a standard underground parking garage, but now holds a complete treasure trove.
The long concrete room has been sealed off from daylight like a bunker hiding secrets. The original parking lines provide a template that over twenty cars neatly follow on the left side of the garage (it feels a bit ironic that most of these spaces are labeled “compact.”) To the right is a workshop with the mission of keeping Mazda’s most legendary competition machines on the track–remember, they are the title sponsor at Laguna Seca.
In fact, if you’re a race fan, you know it only takes one hand to count the number of 787s and 787Bs ever made. Mazda North America purchased an example of this legend from the parent company just so they could compete around the USA. When it comes home to the underground bunker, it’s mechanic extraordinaire Randy Miller’s job to keep this prototype historic racer and the dozens of other collector cars in running order.
Walking down the long corridor begins an internal monologue of Mazda trivia. Is that the RX-7 that dominated its class at Daytona through the 80s? Did you know that the GLC’s name means Great Little Car? Can you name another company crazy enough to put a rotary engine in a pickup? Is that Suzuki motorcycle in here because it also has a Wankel engine?
It’s easy to notice that the production archives focus mostly on vehicles sent to North America. Mazda already keeps an official museum devoted to its near-century’s worth of history close to its global headquarters in Hiroshima. The Irvine collection represents the influence that came from the USA, its largest market.
That’s why there are plenty of parking spaces devoted to the MX-5 Miata. This is an international hero for Mazda, and its roots and best sales are in the USA. Thus, the North American collection gets to hold onto some of the more interesting examples. This includes the red, white, and blue trio that Mazda used to launch the Miata at the Chicago Auto Show in 1989. It’s noteworthy that the white pre-production model was later used as a racecar, so it doesn’t quite match its other two brothers today.
There are a handful of prototype MX-5 roadsters and styling concepts, including an alternative 2nd generation design treatment that never went into production. Miata fans will also be happy to know that the M Coupe that debuted two decades ago at the New York Auto still lives in all its golden yellow glory here.
But the collection isn’t completely about our side of the Atlantic. Mazda has an example of the 1967 Cosmo sports coupe that launched its Wankel engine addiction. They also have on hand later Japan-only rare rotary legends such as the Italian-styled Luce coupe and technologically advanced Eunos Cosmo. Together these cars, just like the rest of the collection, have the ability to tell a story, and Mazda North America capitalizes on this more often than it might get noticed.
The company is always looking to get its horde out into the world. Plenty of the Miata concepts went on tour before the launch of the latest generation, and even some of the collection’s other classics exercised their legs at last weekend’s Touge California Japanese car rally, which we were on (story coming Monday).
The difference is we know most of you won’t hunt through every car show and classic rally to find these Japanese gems. So instead we bring you cool photos, and the solace that no dust gathers on your favorite Zoom-Zoom cars.
Photo Credit: Myles Kornblatt for BoldRide