Junkyard Gem: 2003 Mazda MAZDASPEED Protege

For a decade, Mazda shoppers in North America could buy new cars hopped up by the factory’s motorsports-crazed Mazdaspeed division. There were four Mazdaspeed models available here from the 2003 through 2013 model years: the Mazdaspeed3, the Mazdaspeed6, the Mazdaspeed MX-5 Miata… and the one-year-only (with a mid-year update) Mazdaspeed Protegé. The Mazdaspeed Protegé came first, and I managed to find a rare example in a Northern California self-service car graveyard recently.

2003 was the final model year for the Protegé (yes, correct spelling requires the accent, just as it does with the Plymouth Volaré, Oldsmobile Toronado Troféo and Cadillac Allanté), after which it was replaced by the Mazda3. The Protegé was the last of a long line of cars derived from the Mazda Familia going back to 1971, including the 1200, R100, 808, RX-3, GLC and 323.

Quite a few US-market Fords and Mercuries were close relatives of the Protegé, including the 1991 and later Ford Escort, the Mercury Tracer and the 1991-1994 Mercury Capri.

Someone has pried off the Mazdaspeed badge, but its adhesive ghost remains. This car’s immediate predecessor was the Protegé MP3, available for the 2001 and 2002 model years. The Protegé MP3—named after the audio file format popularized by Napster in the early 2000s—had a thumping Kenwood audio system that naturally could read MP3 encoded CDs, but it also had some performance tweaks provided by the Southern California Mazda specialists at Racing Beat.

The engine in a car like this won’t last long at a Pick-n-Pull, especially in fast-and-furious California. I’ll bet the entire powertrain was yanked and purchased within a day or two of hitting the inventory.

The engine was a 2.0-liter with Callaway-designed Garrett turbocharging rig, rated at 170 horsepower and 160 pound-feet. A limited-slip differential and heavy-duty axles were fitted.

There was a mean-looking deck lid wing, of course (probably purchased by the same junkyard shopper who got the mechanical goodies). Two colors were available: Spicy Orange and Black Mica. The 2003.5 mid-year update added a new wing and front bumper plus a new selection of four colors: Blazing Yellow Mica, Laser Blue Metallic, Sunlight Silver Metallic and Titanium Gray Metallic.

4,500 Mazdaspeed Protegés were built, making this car a bit more rare than the Millionth Edition Chevy Vega.

I couldn’t find any Mazdaspeed Protegé commercials, so here’s a video of a Mazdaspeed Protegé losing a drag race to a Mazdaspeed3.

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