By on December 14, 2011

A couple months back, I visited Southern California as part of a triangular journey from Denver to the Skankaway Anti-Toe-Fungal 500 24 Hours of LeMons. Mazda’s PR flacks handed me the keys to an RX-8 at LAX (review coming soon, really) and I pointed the car’s nose south, heading beyond the Orange Curtain. Since the Impala Hell Project began while I was an art student at the University of California, Irvine and I was devoted to lowering Irvine’s property values while I was there, I figured I’d pay a visit to Mazda USA HQ in Irvine and see about lowering their property values.
Dave Coleman may be best-known for his work as the former Engineering Editor for Sport Compact Car Magazine, or as captain of the winningest team in 24 Hours of LeMons history, but he’s also got this interesting day job as a Mazda engineer. That means that, while in Irvine, I had no choice but to show up at his workplace (in a Mazda press car) and try to get him in trouble with The Man.
“Screw the latest press releases!” I barked at Coleman, who was jabbering something or other about this newfangled Skyactiv thing. “Show me the weird stuff in the basement!” Yes, below the dime-a-dozen-in-Irvine mirrored-glass office building of Mazda USA HQ is a magical subterranean place, where Mazda engineers can stash away all manner of weird and interesting stuff without worrying about the suits showing up and cleaning house.
It turns out that there’s some manner in which Mazda USA engineers can get their counterparts in Hiroshima to put, say, an RX87 Luce Rotary coupe on a container ship full of ordinary Mazdas and have that stuff show up in Irvine. The first thing I saw when entering the basement was a set of spare body panels for one of the ’91 Le Mans 787Bs. No, they don’t have the winner— they keep that car in Japan— but the 8th-place car is in Irvine. Put some manufacturer’s plates on it and take it for a spin on the 405, I say!
Do you like early Miatas? Here are the 14th and 15th Miatas to be built for the North American market.
A VIN that ends in 000014 is pretty cool, I think.
Here’s the blinged-out-and-flared Miata that Mazda took to all the car shows in 1989.
This oddball Miata is a full-sized, all-metal handmade prototype for the designers working on the second-generation version.
Here’s the RX-2 that Car & Driver ran in IMSA in 1973.
Then we get to the stuff that really gets me going. This 1967 Luce Rotary Coupe… there are no words.
Right-hand-drive, factory 8-track, skinny wooden steering wheel, the works.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t get the hood latch to work, so I didn’t get any shots of one of the only 13A engines in the world.
It wouldn’t be Mazda Candyland without a Suzuki RE5!
There’s a Late Malaise Era Cosmo in cherry red, just for a change of pace.
Then there’s this fine machine, which is the car that Coleman lured me to Irvine with in the first place: the most original, lowest-mile early Mazda GLC in the world!
It’s a 1976 model, with every hokey tape-stripe option Mazda had available.
7,505 miles on the clock!
Yellow plaid interior. Imagine being a car shopper in 1976 and saying to yourself, “Yes, I must have the yellow plaid interior in my new car!”
According to Coleman, this car is essentially a piston-engined RX-7 under the skin. How much power did that 1272cc mill make? 49 horses.
If I worked at Mazda USA, I’d be on the phone with Hiroshima night and day, demanding that they ship more ’71 Bongos and ’76 Roadpacers.

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45 Comments on “Hidden Beneath Mazda USA Headquarters: Candyland!...”

  • avatar

    Wow, very cool! And do I spy a 323GTX there?

  • avatar

    I’m extremely jealous because I love both basements and Mazdas.

  • avatar

    Whoa! one laugh and one cool picture after another.

    That 1967 Luce Rotary–shades of Sunbeam!

    I gotta have that yellow plaid uphols… oops! I think they gave me too much sodium pentothal. No worries mite!

  • avatar

    My family went through a succession of 3 Mazda GLC’s that died not from defect but from trauma (other people plowed into them) after 150,000 to 200,000 miles. My parents’ next door neighbor was a sweet but flighty widow (her husband died when he had a heart attack and plowed his MGB into a tree on our property). Later her Honda CVCC died so she bought a Mazda GLC approximately 1979. Years later, with 90,000 miles on the odometer, it was blowing smoke and running rough…she asked me to come over and help with her car. After a few questions I realized she had never changed oil, filters, plugs, or wires. I think that the GLC was the ultimate/impossible to kill/cockroach car.

  • avatar

    what’s that behind the 787?

  • avatar

    Mazda has a museum in Hiroshima. What’s stopping them from opening a second one in North America? Without getting a Mazda employee in trouble with The Man I’d love to see some of these cars in person.

  • avatar

    Surely you jest about the Roadpacer! With the red 6 or better with the 253 V8 a great car for it’s time, with 13b rotary……… gack!

  • avatar

    Another Mazda GLC/Hard to kill story. Ours was the original rounded body model ( a wagon). One summer in 1987 my parents were out of town so I used the Mazda GLC wagon to drive up into the mountains of the Oregon Cascades with some of my other large friends. This tiny wagon was loaded with over 800 pounds of human, not counting gear and beer. I was slithering up a Forest Service fire road and discovered a Jeep CJ-5 high-centered on a stump that the WARN winch could not free it from. My passengers and I couldn’t push it off the stump so, when we couldn’t find a tow-hook I U-turned the GLC around in a fern patch and presented the rump of the car, we looped the tow hook rope around the axle of the GLC, and I used the starter motor as a winch to drag the jeep off of the stump. Then I drove the narrow GLC around the stump and several thousand feet up the forest service road to a small clearing. The Jeep owner was behind me and we hiked up Battle Ax Mountain in the Central Cascades. Other than my step-dad making me change the oil with mobil-1, a few new filters, and new plugs and wires a few times, the banana-yellow GLC wagon did not die until 200,000 miles of hard/driven to the redline service (my mother didn’t up shift the manual transmission until the car did that up-to-the-redline shudder. My family owned a succession of Mazdas but that first GLC was was bulletproof (but not Peterbilt-proof.).

  • avatar

    I so loved that banana yellow GLC, complete with yellow plaid upholstery! Very cool!

    As I looked at it, I wished cars today would revert to some semblance of these older like this little GLC in some respects. At least have them be simpler and more fun to own at the very least.

    But mot of all, let’s have some fun with the interiors please (and add some cool colors such as banana yellow back into the color mix, kaythanksbie.

    • 0 avatar

      I, too, would like to see more color coordination of the interiors with the exteriors. The new Focus has some new colors for the inside, but it’s not quite what I’d want. (But I do like the Focus ST concept’s yellow stitching to match the exterior paint.)

      To many cars’ interiors are just a sea of black.

  • avatar

    The ’76 GLC plaid interior wasn’t news back then — early Mk1 VW Sciroccos and Golf GTIs had multiple plaid colour options since ’74. Take a look at the 9 (!) different plaid fabrics available at this link:!

  • avatar

    Don’t really care for Mazda but that 787B is awesome. I just recently read the whole tale behind that car and the win at Le Mans (still the only Japanese manufacturer to win Le Mans despite Toyoda and Nissan’s best efforts). It’s pretty cool to know one of those cars is residing in a basement below some random office building somewhere. You should have demanded they start the engine (assuming it’s actually still in the car).

  • avatar

    How come every time I see a Suzuki RE5 or Hercules rotary bike they are always complete but covered with a layer of dust and obviously a non-runner? We need a Rotary Bike Liberation Army.

  • avatar

    I’ve heard about “the basement” before. I would do just about anything to get a chance to check it out.
    I did manage to score a tour of Racing Beat when I was tin LA a few months ago, which was pretty cool, but not the same.
    (Mazda nut here with an RX8, FC RX7 race car, RX7 convertible and MazdaSpeed Protege in storage for the winter right now.)

    If Mazda ever offers tours, I’m on my way to get in line. (Seriously, I was the furthest driver to the last 2 Deals Gap Rotary Rallies.)

  • avatar

    Now THAT’S cool. :) Nice work

  • avatar

    No Autozam AZ-1? I would beg Hiroshima everyday for one!

  • avatar

    In the mid-1990s, Mazda produced a one-off Miata coupe. Does that car exist, and is it in that basement?

  • avatar

    I count myself lucky to have been a Mazda dealer partsman back in the early 70s, and then again in the early 90s. They always had a good product, and dared to be different. They stuck with designs that others had dropped, and made them work. Today, I just wish they’d lose that huge grinning grille. I really think it’s ugly, but they seem to want to give it to all their products, for some reason.

  • avatar

    All you B&B are really turning me onto Mazda! This is freakin awesome, and that GLC brings back memories when my dad worked at a Mazda store in the early 80s. I sat in the drivers seat of a GLC on the showroom and…HONKED THE HORN! I had no idea the horn worked when the car was off (our cars didn’t do that), and neither did the customers. I got spanked. :(

  • avatar
    Rod Panhard

    Thanks Murilee. This is what the InterwebsGooFace thing is for. That Luce is a beaut!

    It’s interesting to see how little cars deteriorate when they’re out of the sun and in an enclosed, dry space.

  • avatar
    John R

    This place looks familiar…Hey! When did Morgan Freeman show up and give you the keys to the Tumbler?

  • avatar

    Unfortunately, I’d wager that there may not be an engine in the Luce coupe. Nothing seen through the transmission shifter hole, and the front looks like it may be a little high. They were the only FWD rotary (besides a custom hydrogen renesis install into a mazda5 for a show IIRC) produced, coupled with being the incredibly rare 13A (which is similar displacement to the 13B, but has a much different eccentricity (stroke) and rotor width (bore).

  • avatar

    MM, thanks for raising the property values on this site…

  • avatar

    Ooooh. It’s stuff like this that gets me hopping from foot to foot, giddy with excitement like a little boy. Thanks Murilee!

  • avatar

    Suzuki Re5s are commonplace. How about a Hercules W2000 Wankel?

  • avatar

    I can’t be positive, but I am almost certain that Cosmo is not the 70s version, but a 90-95 model not sold in the US. Those are the legendary ones available with the 20B-REW three rotor engine. 2.0L twin turbo, rated at the traditional Japanese 280hp, but really making more like 340. There are a few in the US, only one I know of truly legally as it was brought in right before they closed the grey market loopholes.

    This one is probably here by the grace of being in the basement and never seeing the light of day.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s definitely post-70s and strictly JDM, but none of my photos of the car came out well enough to use (the Mazda Weirdness Basement has terrible lighting and I’d brought the wrong lens for my SLR). I’m pretty sure it’s an early-to-mid-80s Cosmo.

      • 0 avatar

        The 80s Cosmo was a fairly generic design from the rear, and the Cosmo script wasn’t quite so fancy yet (or even on the rear of the car).

        Reference images that I apparently don’t know how to embed:

        I’d agree that the one in the basement is a 90s JC Cosmo.

      • 0 avatar

        See here:

        It’s a 90-95 JCES Eunos Cosmo.

  • avatar

    I’ve been in Mazda’s Canadian HQ, and unfortunately, their collection doesn’t come close to rivaling this – an FD RX-7 and an first-gen Cosmo (which admittedly, is pretty fantastic on its own).

  • avatar

    A few Mazda memories conjured up by this article.

    – When I was a kid in the early 80’s, the father of one of my brother’s friends owned a variety of Mazdas, including a ’79 RX-7 that at the time had a handful of miles on it. Earlier this year I spoke with the friend and asked if his father still had the car. He does, and at last check it has about 4,500 miles on it. I’m working on arranging a photo shoot so I can write something up about it.

    – That yellow GLC reminds me of the yellow GLC we used to work on in auto shop in high school, now in the late 80’s. It belonged to an art teacher, it was yellow (alas, no plaid) and it was an interesting change from the Chevelles and old pickup trucks we worked on the rest of the time. I taught myself how to drive stick on that car.

    – We are currently a Volkswagen family and have been for a while, but I’m looking at replacing my wife’s Passat with a Mazda5 and my Jetta TDI with an old beater Miata. Mazda has been a huge supporter of grassroots racing for a long time and since grassroots racing helps pay my bills, the least I can do is put some of that money where my mouth is and support who supports me/us.

    I may be making a trip to the Mazda HQ in February. I wonder if I’ll be able to talk my way in there.

  • avatar

    The Mazda HQ in Irvine is also the site of the weekly Saturday morning Cars and Coffee meet.

  • avatar

    That 90’s Cosmo had the most elegant shape. I love those – and if the Enfini brand had been born as planned, we’d have the Enfini Millenia and the Enfini Cosmo.

    And I’d have one in my garage, in silver.

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