Hidden Beneath Mazda USA Headquarters: Candyland!

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
hidden beneath mazda usa headquarters candyland

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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2 of 45 comments
  • Ktm Ktm on Dec 16, 2011

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

  • Corey Lewis Corey Lewis on Oct 22, 2012

    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.

  • RHD Toyota is trying to hedge their bets, and have something for everyone. They also may be farther behind in developing electric vehicles than they care to admit. Japanese corporations sometimes come up with cutting-edge products, such as the Sony Walkman. Large corporations (and not just Japanese corporations) tend to be like GM, though - too many voices just don't get heard, to the long-term detriment of the entity.
  • Randy in rocklin The Japanese can be so smart and yet so dumb. I'm America-Japanese and they really can be dumb sometimes like their masking paranoia.
  • Bunkie The Flying Flea has a fascinating story and served, inadvertently, to broaden the understanding of aircraft design. The crash described in the article is only part of the tale.
  • Master Baiter "I like the Earth."The idea that modern combustion engines are incompatible with the ongoing survival of the Earth, or of humanity, is breathtakingly stupid. Climate alarmism is akin to a religion--one to which I do not subscribe.
  • Skippity Key takeaways.Toyota is run by competent businessmen.Art doesn’t like Toyota.