By on November 21, 2019

For decades, the Japanese market has loved vans of all shapes and sizes, ranging from basic kei to fully-loaded VIP luxury. Rare Rides has touched on JDM van time just once previously, with a luxurious and capable 1990 Toyota Town Ace. Today we’re taking a look at what Mazda offered a Nineties Japanese consumer of vans.

Mazda’s Bongo offering is a longstanding one, in production since 1966. In 50 years, it’s had just five different generations. Wearing 13 different badges around the globe, at one time or another the Bongo was also branded as a Ford, Kia, Nissan, Mitsubishi, and a Toyota. Not many nameplates have that sort of range. Bongo’s beginnings in the Sixties were rear-engined, sharing engines with the Familia small car lineup. The first generation was short-lived as Mazda went through money trouble, and was cancelled by 1975.

The second-generation offering realized the layout the Bongo would keep for decades: engine in the middle, and rear-wheel drive. The second generation lead a double life: in Japan it stayed as a Mazda, and was produced from 1977 to 1983. But Kia started production of the Bongo in South Korea with the second generation, and played a long game. As Mazda moved on to newer generations of Bongo, Kia stuck with its tried-and-true gen two. Badged as Bongo and Ceres, it remained in production with consistent revisions through 1999.

That brings us to the third-generation Bongo, and the one which was longest lived in Mazda guise. It debuted in 1983 with a new engine lineup. Sales expanded to several different Ford varieties, and Bongo became a Nissan Vanette in the Nineties. Mazda decided not to field its Bongo in the U.S., as other manufacturers were faltering with their offerings. Instead, the company spent some money on a different kind of van that was far ahead of its time: the MPV. Bongo’s third installment lived on through 1999 before being succeeded by a fourth generation that lived through 2018.

Available in its myriad of configurations, the Nineties Bongo was rear-wheel drive or 4×4 and used gasoline and diesel engines. Today’s Rare Ride features the mid-pack 2.0-liter turbodiesel engine; a larger 2.2-liter was available. It sends 76 raucous horsepower through a five-speed manual that includes low-range gearing and four-wheel drive. Luxury options like rear air conditioning were included, though the interior is serious in its spartan nature. With 72,000 miles, it asks $10,995 in Washington.

[Images: seller]

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9 Comments on “Rare Rides: A Mazda Bongo 4×4 – JDM Van Time From 1994...”

  • avatar
    Thomas Kreutzer

    My father-in-law had one of these that I drove a few times. Diesel pusher. Sounded, rode and felt like a bus. I believe his was also a camper-van that had a gas stove attachment in the back and some other stuff – either that or he just always carried that stuff as my wife tells me they used to go camping with it quite often.

    Around town my mother-in-law had a Mazda Carol Kei car that was retro-cool and surprisingly spacious inside. Pretty spry too. Most of the time they just scootered or biked it to the train station.

    I don’t see the appeal of having something like this in the States. It is the VW Vanogen of JDM vans and nowhere near as cool as a Delica Starwagon would be through those years.

  • avatar

    Apparently there must be a strong market for these in USA. A few weeks back I saw a bunch of very nice, clean Toyota and Nissan vans from early 1990s on a Ro-Ro car carrier. All were in very good shape with less than 30,000km on them. There were some usual suspects among the Vans, like Nissan Skylines but strangely I was attracted to the vans. The insides were in pristine condition.

  • avatar

    Definitely one of the best auto names around.

    It always brings to mind the scene from the original Mad Max where the Big Bopper (a ’74 Falcon Xb sedan) smashes through George Miller’s own Bongo like it’s made from wet tissue paper.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Why buy a Bongo when you can get a Ford Spectron?

  • avatar

    On the topic of the Bongo, I saved this gem from some unknown webpage:

    “According to a prominent Mazda Bongo Owner’s Group, a collection of Bongos would be called either a Bevy or an Oxidation depending on their current state of repair.”


  • avatar

    Anything named “Bongo” is cool in my books!

  • avatar

    I own the same type of Mazda with petrol engine. It is a nice car to drive. The steering is responsive. The car is quick and has off road power. Mine is Mazda Bongo Wagon 4WD 1994 SSE8R model.I bought it online from Japan in 2012. I would like to buy another one.

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