Mazda’s Underground Basement is an Enthusiast’s Dreamland

Mazda Leas 2About 20-feet below Mazda’s North American Campus lurks an enthusiast’s dreamland. Within a dimly-lit industrial garage, the company has stockpiled an example of nearly all of its coolest cars.

IMG_0122In the subterranean refuge, lurk racecars from almost all eras of Mazda’s Motorsports involvement; one-off concepts, and low-mileage production vehicles of all kinds. We were invited to tour the facility and jumped at the opportunity.

There is a certain element of secrecy surrounding the Irvine-based campus. Constructed in a no-fly zone on approach to John Wayne Airport in Irvine CA, Mazda’s North American Campus holds a design studio with full metal and wood shop and an R&D center in addition to the underground storage.

To get to the garage, we passed through two locked doors then descended a series of steep staircases. We were ushered through one final door at the base of the last step which swung open into darkness. We stepped through.

The door closed behind us and we were immediately plunged into pitch black so thick you could have reached out and touched it. The motion sensors seemed reluctant to acknowledge our presence as we stood there in the dark. Suddenly, a resounding series of high-voltage cracks echoed through the expansive chamber as breakers engaged and the overhead light sparked to life. As each sequential overhead light fixture engaged, the garage seemed to grow ever larger. Finally, it became clear just how massive the the place was. And, as our eyes adapted to the sudden brightness, lines of neatly parked racecars began to materialize.

There were a truly overwhelming amount of vehicles present, but we  did the best we could to bring you the majority of the Mazda-built cars hiding beneath the earth’s surface. Below is some info on those cars as well as a complete gallery for your enjoyment.

Racecars

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Not only does Mazda North America use this facility to store some beautiful, historic racecars, they have also begun restoring and maintaining them. While we were at the facility, we were introduced to a guy who just might have one of the coolest jobs in the world. Randy Miller, a young and talented engineer, spends his days in the depths of the building resurrecting historic racecars.

He was doing some suspension work on a 787 while we were there. Many of these historic cars have been stored in an open air warehouse since they were retired in the 90s. The moisture in the air wreaked havoc on the exposed steel, magnesium and composite parts. Randy is undertaking the slow process of resurrecting these historic racecars, piece by piece. Some of those pieces are one off components that need to be recreated and others are incredibly difficult to source.

In Randy Miller's daily grind he gets to work on some of history's most awesome racecars.

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Many of these racecars, such as this 787 are still driven at various vintage and historic races. This car is undergoing a post race overhaul.

Mazda 787 Racecar.

Every rotor head knows three very special numbers: 7 … 8 … 7. That sequence corresponds to some of the most famous rotary-powered racecars ever built. While the 787B (known for its vivid orange livery) that won at Le Mans resides at Mazda’s headquarters in Japan, this 787 is kept and maintained here in the underground warehouse.

This particular car was built to compete in World Sportscar Championship, the All Japan Sports Prototype Championship and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The 787 and its 787B brethren were powered by potent R26B engines which produced 700 horsepower at 9,000 rpm. Due to rule changes, they were the last rotary-powered cars to compete in those classes. Only two 787’s were constructed while three 787Bs were produced. The car is kept in racing shape and is periodically campaigned at special events during the year, making sure a few lucky fans are still able to catch a glimpse of the car.

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When the rotary engine was written out of the rulebook, Mazda built this Formula-One-V10-powered monster.

Mazda MX-R01 Racecar.

When a car or engine becomes too competitive any almost any form of motorsports, the end result from the rules committee is usually not in its favor. Such was the case with the 787B and its R26B rotary engine. Following the car’s Le Mans domination, the rotary engine was written out of the rulebook. That didn’t stop Mazda one bit. They came back the next season with this Formula 1 Judd V10-powered car, the MX-R01. The car had exceptional aerodynamic characteristics and massive power. Two cars were fielded at the next running of Le Mans, one led several laps while the second crashed out at the tenth hour. This surviving car was retired after that race to the Mazda Museum in Hiroshima but has since been moved to the underground facility.

GTO

1991 Mazda RX-7 GTO Racecar

This flame-belching rotary powered racer proved its ferocity in the IMSA GTO class in the 1991 season. With Price Cobb and Pete Holster at the helm of two prepped ‘7s, the cars did battle with Ford Mustangs and Nissan 300ZXs at racetracks across America. Between the two drivers, Rx-7s earned entry to the winner’s circle five times that season with Holster ultimately taking the driver’s crown.

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1986 Racing Beat RX-7 Salt-Flat Car

This is a car that should immediately resonate with Mazda enthusiasts. Built for the Bonneville Salt Flats, this second-gen RX-7 utilized a twin-turbo 13b engine to blast to 238.4 mph, a record it still holds today. In the driver’s seat was Car and Driver Editor Don Sherman, who chronicled his 200-mph quest in the pages of his magazine. Mazda greatly credits Racing Beats’ Jim Mederer’s courage and direction and rotary power know-how to the team’s world record achievement.

PRI

B-spec Mazda 2 Racecar 

Anyone who was at the PRI show in 2013 will recall this B-spec Mazda 2. The car started life as a production Mazda 2 and was stripped down and rebuilt into an SCCA B-spec racecar over the course of the three-day show. It had a roll cage welded into the chassis right in the middle of the showroom floor. The car went straight from the trade show in Indianapolis to the track where it competed in an SCCA B-spec race.

RX7

1979 Daytona RX-7 Racecar

This RX-7 is a clone of the car that won the 24-hours of Daytona in 1979. This car marked the start of ten wins in the IMSA GTU class over a 13-year span. The driver’s list for this car included Yoshimi Katayama, Yoshiko Terada, and Takahashi Yorine. Being a ’79 model, this RX-7 predates the 13b by a few years. It was instead equipped with a peripheral-port version of Mazda’s tried-and-true 12A engine. The fiery little 1146-cc engine produces 265 horsepower at 8500 rpm.

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1973 Mazda RX-2 Racecar

When Mazda first debuted their vehicles in the American marketplace, there was only one way to showcase their value and capability to a generation of horsepower loving and heavily muscle-car-influenced gearheads. That place was the racetrack. This ’73 RX-2 was Mazda’s first involvement in an IMSA sanctioned race. They handed the keys of this 10A-powered racer to Car and Driver Editor Pat Bedard who put the car on the pole in qualifying. A DNF at the first race kept the car out of the winner’s circle but the team was far from down and out. Later that same season at Lime Rock, Bedard again set the pole and carried that momentum through the race and across the checker. This marked the anniversary of Mazda’s first professional racing win in America.

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1989 Mazda MX-6 GTU Racecar

In 1989, rather than continue to promote the RX-7 model, Mazda made a switch to their MX-6 platform for IMSA’s GTU class. At the time, class rules allowed FWD cars to be converted to RWD and use different engines and transmissions, hence this car has a peripheral port 13b rotary driving the rear tires. Between this car and its sister cars, there were three races won that season, capturing the manufacturers championship for Mazda. In 1990, the cars won five races, capturing the manufacturers championship yet again, as well as the driver’s championship for Lance Stewart. This particular MX-6 was driven to victory at the Long Beach Grand Prix and at Watkins Glen by John Finger. His stint behind the wheel of this MX-6 also earned him the GTO/GTU Most Improved Driver Award.

Street Cars

323 GTX

1989 Mazda 323 GTX

Before there was a Subaru WRX or a Mitsubishi Evo, there was this: the Mazda 323 GTX. Would you have walked past it in a parking lot? Probably. But it would have blown your doors off on a rally course. The boxy little hatch was a bit of an oddball for its time. It came equipped with a turbocharged and fuel-injected 1.6-liter engine, symmetrical all-wheel-drive with a lockable center differential, and a 5-speed manual shifter. The car was created in very limited runs to homologate it for competition in the FIA Rally competition as just 1,243 examples were sold. In addition to the AWD-system and the whopping 132 turbocharged horsepower, the car came from Mazda with a beefed up chassis and suspension, a widened track width, and an optional digital speedometer — practically Star-Wars-grade in 1989. The car had a delightfully short wheelbase and tipped the scales at a light 2,600-pounds.

GLC

1978 GLC

With a neon-green paint job and an Avocado and beige plaid stitched interior, this Mazda GLC is a hoot to look at. While it lacks the purebred racing pedigree of the surrounding cars, the GLC (Great Little Car) is an icon of practicality of its day – not to mention an anachronistic display of ’70s style. It also makes you wonder, will there be museums 50 years from now with Kia Rios on display?

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Miata M-Coupe Concept. 

Mazda’s basement is home to just about every Miata known to man however, this concept caught our eye as it is the only Miata M-Coupe in existence. The fixed roof design is an interesting diversion from the convertible roots we have come to know and love. The car was debuted at the New York Auto Show and was a potential predecessor to the out-going RX-7 of the time. It was powered by the same 1.8-liter engine as other Miatas, it had a carbon-fiber-tipped Remus exhaust system installed and sportier suspension. While this iteration never made it to production, it is an interesting science project nonetheless.

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Suzuki RE5 (Rotary Motorcycle). 

Mazda loves rotaries, that much we know. But, they also collect rotary-powered machines from other manufacturers. This motorcycle, the RE5, is powered by a one-rotor, 497-cc engine that produced 62-horsepower at 6500 rpm. Rotary powered motorcycles from DKW and Norton are still on the to-find list.

Cosmo

1967 Mazda Cosmo Sport

One of the cornerstones of Mazda’s collection is this low-mileage 1967 Cosmo. The car is the first rotary-powered production car manufactured by Mazda. Its 982cc rotary engine produced 110-horsepower, over 100-horsepower per liter, which was and continues to be an outstanding benchmark of power to displacement ratio.

LHD RX-7

Left Hand Drive Series Eight RX-7 

In the states, we said a sorrowful goodbye to the RX-7 in 1995. However, in Japan, the cars kept rolling off the assembly line for seven more years. The 7th and 8th series cars received upgrades to suspension, engine output and braking systems and culminated in a final production run of 1500 Spirit R models. This one particular example, painted in flawless Titanium Grey, is a one of one car, produced in left-hand-drive for an important Mazda North American employee.

Back to the Surface

As we climbed the steps back toward sunlight and fresh air, the significance of this place was cemented in our minds. The amount of history in Mazda’s North American Campus is truly staggering. It was a great experience being able to explore this treasure trove of automotive archeology and we owe a tremendous amount of gratitude to Mazda’s Dean Case for the opportunity. Make sure to check out the gallery below to see the collection in its entirety.

Photo gallery

VIEW FULL GALLERY >

About the author

Evan Perkins

Evan Perkins is a seasoned automotive journalist with a passion for road racing. Evan has logged seat time in more cars than he can count and has a deep-seeded love for all genres of the motoring world.
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