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2017 Toyota Mirai Fuel Cell

I have become accustomed to running into the unexpected during my junkyard travels, finding everything from a JDM Nissan Fairlady Z to a bullet-riddled Cadillac from a Mythbusters episode to a British tank. That said, I never expected to find a four-year-old hydrogen fuel-cell car, more than a thousand miles from the only state in which they were sold that year. This becomes the newest junkyard car I’ve documented, taking the top spot from the now-second-place 2015 Mitsubishi Mirage.

I might never have known about this car in a Denver-area yard, because it isn’t listed in U-Pull-&-Pay’s online inventory (probably because there’s no Mirai in their data-entry application) and the distinctive grille is missing from the car, making it resemble hundreds of other 21st-century sedans at a glance. However, Grumpy Cat Racing of ’50 Dodge pickup road-racer fame suffered a broken Cadillac-sourced steering column at the High Plains Drifter race in Colorado, earlier this month, and they sent a crew 50 miles to Aurora to find a replacement column out of a Prius (which, allegedly, has a stand-alone electric power-assist assembly built in).

When you race a 1950 Dodge pickup, you become skilled at junkyard improvisation, so I wasn’t shocked when I learned that the team had installed a Toyota electric-power-assist column in their truck. What did startle me was the news that the column came from a Mirai Fuel Cell.

I’d reviewed the 2019 Mirai Fuel Cell for Autoweek, and at the time I’d learned that these cars could be bought only in California and that nearly all were leased. Just as well, because all of the public-accessible H2 fueling stations in the United States are in California, with the exception of one in Hawaii (there’s also one in Québec). With a range of 312 miles per tank of the universe’s most plentiful element, you’d have a tough time driving a Mirai to Denver.

2017 Toyota Mirai Fuel Cell in Colorado junkyard, emblem - ©2021 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsSupposedly, there will be a hydrogen fueling station operated by Colorado State University in Fort Collins real soon and more such stations may appear in other Front Range cities by the end of this year. We’ll see.

2017 Toyota Mirai Fuel Cell in Colorado junkyard, fuel filler - ©2021 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsDenver car shoppers feeling optimistic about the possible profusion of Stop-n-H2 stations soon can head over to Davidsons Motors on Colfax and buy this ’17 Mirai with a mere 56,478 miles on the clock. I enjoyed driving the Mirai (and the Honda Clarity Fuel Cell) on California trips, since a fuel-cell-equipped car is at heart an EV with a very long range and the ability to refuel as quickly as a gasoline-fueled car… but I’m not going to be the one to buy that local Mirai, despite having a source of junkyard parts nearby.

2017 Toyota Mirai Fuel Cell in Colorado junkyard, engine compartment - ©2021 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe hydrogen tanks, electric motor, and batteries are long gone from this one. So much for my plans to build a fuel-cell-powered Joseph Abboud Edition Buick Regal!

2017 Toyota Mirai Fuel Cell in Colorado junkyard, interior - ©2021 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe dash was completely gutted, though much of the upholstery and trim remain.

2017 Toyota Mirai Fuel Cell in Colorado junkyard, interior - ©2021 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe white SofTex seat fabric gets dirty in a hurry and holds onto the dirt well, but these seats don’t look so bad (considering where the car is parked).

2017 Toyota Mirai Fuel Cell in Colorado junkyard, LH rear view - ©2021 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsIf I had to guess about the means by which this car got to Denver, I’d speculate that perhaps some engineering company bought it in California, shipped it eastward for research use, then sold off the valuable bits before calling for a junkyard to haul off what was left.

While it seems that the rapid improvements in battery-powered EVs coupled with the difficulty in obtaining clean hydrogen (and moving it around) might make fuel-cell cars a marketplace dead-end, Toyota isn’t giving up on the technology.

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