Rare Rides: A Mazda Bongo 4×4 - JDM Van Time From 1994

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis
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rare rides a mazda bongo 44 jdm van time from 1994

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]

Corey Lewis
Corey Lewis

Interested in lots of cars and their various historical contexts. Writing things for TTAC since late 2016 from a home base in Cincinnati, Ohio. You can find me on Twitter @CoreyLewis86, and I also contribute at Forbes Wheels.

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2 of 9 comments
  • MeJ MeJ on Nov 22, 2019

    Anything named "Bongo" is cool in my books!

  • Nm68 Nm68 on Aug 03, 2021

    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.

  • Jeff_M It's either a three on the tree OR it's an automatic. It ain't both.
  • Lorenzo I'm all in favor of using software and automation to BUILD cars, but keep that junk off my instrument panel, especially the software enabled interactive junk. Just give me the knobs and switches so I can control the vehicle, with no interconnectivity of any kind.
  • MaintenanceCosts Modern cars detach people from their speed too much. The combination of tall ride height, super-effective sound insulation, massive power, and electronic aids makes people quite unaware of just how much kinetic energy is nominally under their control while they watch a movie on their phone with one hand and eat a Quarter Pounder with the other. I think that is the primary reason we are seeing an uptick in speed-related fatalities, especially among people NOT in cars.With that said, I don't think Americans have proven responsible enough to have unlimited speed in cars. Although I'd hate it, I still would support limiters that kick in at 10 over in the city and 20 over on the freeway, because I think they would save more than enough lives to be worth the pain.
  • Wjtinfwb Maybe Grandpa Joe should dust off the "Cash for Clunkers" paybook and use more of our tax money to help people who cannot afford a new car get into a new EV? One less efficient and useful Corolla, Impala or Ranger on the road replaced by an EV that can only go 200 miles before you hunt for a charging post that works and spend a few hours filling up. That'll teach those leaches who sponge off Government handouts to expect something for nothing.
  • 28-Cars-Later I wonder if Michael Hastings can shed any light on what happened here?