Underneath Mazda’s Irvine-based Research and Development facility is a basement full of historic Mazda vehicles. Part museum and part working garage, what sets Mazda’s Heritage Collection apart is the fact that the cars are driven as regularly as possible. And it’s Mazda Motorsports Engineer Randy Miller’s job to keep them roadworthy—or track-worthy. Miller has been doing this job for over 5 years now, serving as the curator, restoration artist, racecar engineer, fabricator and maintenance mechanic.
“There’s about 80 cars that I’m supposed to be on top of, I think,” Miller joked. “About a dozen of them are purpose-built racecars. With the other ones, it’s just staying on top of the maintenance, fixing stuff that other people break and all that kind of thing. If I get stuck or have a tight deadline for an event, I can call for help and a couple guys come out. But for the most part, it’s a one-man show.”
A job this specialized doesn’t open up every day, and Miller definitely paid his dues before being selected as the caretaker of Mazda’s Heritage Collection.
“I wasn’t really into cars until around high school,” he recalled. “I worked on my own cars with my dad, who taught me to be handy with tools. In college, I started taking automotive classes where I received my AA in automotive. One of my teachers told me about a job opening at Mazda’s service shop. After spending time in the service shop, I became a R&D engineering technician. From there I was selected, when they recognized the need for someone to take care of the Heritage Collection full-time.”
Maintaining a low-mileage street car is one thing, but the racecars are the heart of Mazda’s heritage collection, and the source of Miller’s passion.
“Obviously, the purpose-built racecars are the most exciting,” he said. “I like those just from an engineering aspect. For example, the Mazda 787 and the RX-792P, those are two prototype cars built in two different countries. It’s interesting to see the different theories, the way things are put together, the way parts are designed and the placement of everything. It’s interesting to see different people’s opinions come out in the cars.”
Maintaining the racecars is more than just applying a coat of polish. When Mazda’s racing heritage cars are taken out, they’re not going to sit on display; they’re taken out to be driven. Most recently, several racecars went to the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion where professional drivers raced them on the track at speeds up to 140 mph on the short circuit. Because these cars will likely be raced again, they need to be prepared much like any current racecar.
“The purpose-built cars take a lot of work and a lot of detail because they were made 25 years ago, so the parts are starting to age,” Miller said. “People’s safety is at stake, so I have to be on top of everything for those cars.”
Important Street Cars
In addition to Mazda’s racing heritage, Miller maintains the collection of production cars that illustrate Mazda’s long history of building great vehicles.
“Each car has it’s own unique history or details about it,” Miller said. “We have the original three Miatas that debuted at the 1989 Chicago Auto Show in red, white and blue. We have the 1967 Cosmo Sport, which is the first mass-produced sports car powered by a rotary engine. Only sold in Japan with only a handful ever brought into the U.S., not many people have actually seen one, and they get excited whenever we bring it out. We have the last RX-8 ever produced and the last rotary engine—cool stuff like that all the way down the line.”
Working closely with the older cars gives Miller a unique perspective on the qualities that went into these machines.
“At first, the amount of historical significance in the cars was overwhelming, as well as a little intimidating,” he said. “But as I worked with them more frequently, I gained more and more intimate knowledge of them which turned that intimidation into excitement. What is really special about the older cars, is the amount of engineering that went into their creation without the aid of computers.”
Reflection and Inspiration
Racers and historians are not the only people who visit the heritage collection for inspiration and context. Mazda’s production vehicle designers and engineers come down to the basement to see, touch and understand the thinking that went into Mazda’s products over the decades.
“The artists like to look at where design was to figure out where they want to go,” Miller explained. “They’ve used a couple of the racecars for inspiration because of the flowing lines.”
Miller is generally busy with requests for various cars, but the importance of his custodianship of Mazda’s Heritage Collection is always on his mind.
“I realize that I am responsible for a lot of Mazda’s history,” he said. “That’s why I always have my eye out for the next interesting thing. And it’s especially cool that we get to show the collection off to fans and enthusiasts for them to enjoy.”