Washington Redskins breakout running back Alfred Morris is the kind of guy who could probably drive whatever he wants. But his ride of choice is still "The Bentley," a 1991 Mazda 626 he bought from his pastor while he was in college. Now, four months and 275 man hours later, The Bentley is back and better than ever and Morris couldn't be happier.
I went out to Chantilly to see what a manufacturer-restored 1991 Mazda 626 looks like, and to meet the football player who loves this humble car so much that he wants to keep it on the road for at least another 20 years.
Over the past few months, Morris' 626 underwent a full restoration at the hands of master technicians at several D.C.-area Mazda dealerships who donated their time, manpower and money to bring it back to near-1991 factory specs — with a couple of modern modifications thrown in for fun. And today at Brown's Chantilly Mazda, the car was unveiled for the first time to a grateful Morris, who was ecstatic to get his beloved car back in better shape than it's been since it was brand new.
"I'm speechless," he told the gathered crowd of reporters and Mazda employees, many of whom worked to rebuild his car. "It's been a while, and I can't wait to drive it."
Morris, a Pensacola native, said he bought the 626 from his pastor for $2 back when he was playing for Florida Atlantic University. (The car still has an expired parking sticker from the college on its windshield.)
Morris is a cheerful, affable, down to earth guy. Even though he's an NFL star with an NFL salary, he said he had more reasons to keep The Bentley than to get rid of it.
"This is my baby, man," he said. "It's more than just a car. I didn't grow up with a lot. This helps me remember where I come from and where I'm going."
More than that, like a lot of people who own older cars, Morris said he just loves "the feel of it." He's our kind of car guy — one who found the car he loves, the car he identifies with, and wants to have it forever.
"It's old school, like I am," he said. "I know I haven't been around long, but I have an old spirit." He even hopes to pass it on to his kids someday, to remind them that you have to start humble and work hard before you become a success.
Plus, the car is a five-speed manual, which lets him get a chuckle at people who can't drive stick.
"It's not that hard!" he said. "The hardest part is getting it out of first. I don't even have to look at the RPMs anymore, I just listen to it. The bad thing is the stick makes me feel like I'm Speed Racer."
So when the D.C.-area Mazda dealers saw on the TV news that the Redskins' ace running back was still rolling around in a '91 626 he had no plans to get rid of, they decided to fix it up for him.
The restoration of Morris' car is the stuff older car owners dream about when they go to sleep at night. Mazda technicians removed the powertrain, rebuilt the 2.2-liter, 110 horsepower four-cylinder engine, installed new hoses, gaskets and rubber items, put in a new air conditioner (the old one didn't work), added new brakes front and rear, put on a new exhaust system, and even replaced the battery and alternator.
On the outside, the body was stripped to the bare metal, the hood, fenders, bumpers and other rusted parts were replaced, all body panels was completely repainted and clear coated, new headlights and taillights were installed, new chrome 626 emblems were put on, and refurbished 15 inch alloy wheels with new Michelin tires were mounted. Mazda said they even had to make some new exterior trim pieces using the original molds in Japan just for this project.
Things get a bit crazier on the inside. Because Morris calls the car "The Bentley," they added Bentley-style cross stitched leather seats. Technicians also installed a new dashboard and a 7-inch touchscreen Pioneer stereo with Bluetooth.
The result is a car that looks, minus its interior modifications, like it came off the showroom floor 22 years ago, dazzling everyone who saw it. Never has more attention been heaped on a 1991 Mazda that didn't win Le Mans.
Morris said he was extremely thankful for the work done and glad to have his car back. He's been driving a new Mazda6 since the project began, and while he said that's nice, he's eager to take the better-than-ever Bentley out for a spin.
"I'm just going to sit in the parking lot and listen to it," he said.
Update: Mazda sent over a few photos the car before and during its restoration. Check 'em out below.