A friend from church worked at a local bank. She approached me one Sunday and said “We’ve got a repo at our branch. It makes a bad noise when you drive it. Are you interested?” Of course I was interested. If it has four wheels I am always interested.
I was interested in knowing much more. Year? Make? Model? She knew a lot of information about the woman who took out the loan, and told me a little bit of that sad story. Unfortunately, car-wise, she knew practically nothing. Besides the noise, she knew it was a four door, and it was dark blue. That was the extent of her knowledge of the car.
I was teaching at the university back then. On my way to class I had just a minute to swing through the bank parking lot. The only dark blue car in the parking lot was a Mazda Millenia with no license plate, a tire going down, and a thick layer of dust on the windshield.
I chided myself for knowing virtually nothing about the Mazda Millenia. I was aware of the Madza 929, sort of the flagship of the Mazda brand. The Millenia? Just another Japanese sedan.
It turns out that Mazda took note of the success of Honda’s upscale Acura brand and Toyota’s upscale Lexus brand and wanted to join the party. Mazda’s plan was to start Amati and the Millenia would be their first model.
I went by after class and heard the story from another bank employee: “It is loud when you drive it.” she said, as she handed me the key. The V6 started right up and seemed to run very smoothly. All the fluids were good and there was no smoke. I noticed the very nice leather interior and what seemed like every conceivable option a car could possibly have in 1996. Keyless entry, power everything, sunroof, front seats, mirrors etc. etc.
I’m not sure what happened to Amati, but it never came to fruition (full story here). The Millenia was too far along in development to stop it. Apparently someone in an office in Tokyo decided slap MAZDA badges on them and sell them alongside the Miatas and MX6s at dealers across our fine nation.
Interestingly, some Millenias came with superchargers. These “S” models came with so-called “five stroke” Miller Cycle engines. Mine was the N/A V6 model.
If I remember correctly, I paid the bank about $1000 for the car. The “bad noise” was a plastic splash guard dragging on the ground underneath the front bumper. A zip tie I found in my garage fixed that “problem” in about 30 seconds. I do remember that it did not have very high miles.
At the time, the Millenia was the most luxurious car I had ever owned. I played with the automatic climate control as I cruised down the interstate. The cabin was virtually silent at speed. The driver’s seat could be adjusted nineteen different ways and a superb audio system played your song of choice from a CD changer in the trunk. The most vivid memory I have of that car is being out on a rural stretch of highway and floorboarding the accelerator. The car eventually pegged the speedometer at about 120 mph and cruised effortlessly as if it were ready for more.
I kept the car for about a year. It never had any issues, and it never let me down. I eventually used it for a down payment on a Miata I found at the local Mazda dealer. I figured (correctly) that they would know what I had, and give me a decent price for the trade.
Related reading: Mazda’s Amati Division WS