The Mazda Bongo is a van and truck produced by the Mazda company since 1966. However, when we talk about campervans, most people are talking about the Mazda Bongo Friendee, which was first built in 1995 for the Japanese market. Any that were imported to the UK are unofficial – this just means that they weren’t intended to be sold in this country. They’re the same as the Ford Freda – Ford and Mazda are the same company.
The Bongo was manufactured for 10 years, with production ending in 2005 when the factory where they were made burned down. They’re falling in popularity in Japan where they were originally produced, but they’re a really popular option for campervan conversions in the UK market.
Most Mazda Bongo vans have automatic transmission although manual models are available. The diesel Bongo is also offered with all-wheel drive. You can choose between vans with a flat-top roof, or those with an elevating ‘pop-top’ auto free top roof. If you’ve bought a flat top, then you can also add your own elevating one if you want to change it.
Take a look at this video tour of a converted Mazda Bongo.
In its standard configuration pre-conversion, the Mazda Bongo has two rows of three seats in the rear. The rear bench will be either on a sliding rail or will be split in two. Either way, folding the seats completely flat or removing them for a conversion is really straight forward.
Remember that the front seats don’t swivel by default. Many conversions only use the rear as living space, adding fold-down sofa beds that can provide seating and somewhere to sleep, in the absence of a bedroom roof space.
Bongo vans aren’t tall enough to stand in without the pop-top roof. So, the interior will always feel a little cosy. It’s common for a conversion to run along just one side of the van to provide enough space for fold-out beds or seating. Other people prefer to install an outward-facing kitchen pod at the very back of the van.
From there, it’s all down to your personal preferences – because plywood storage is customisable to the van and both cheap and sturdy, you can easily paint it to create a homely theme. Add a few cushions and you’ll have a comfortable, relaxing space without having to spend thousands.
A lot of Mazda Bongos don’t even need converting – they’re already really popular as a campervan so if you don’t want to put in the effort then you should have no trouble finding one that’s ready to go.
However, if you’ve spotted a bargain Bongo that’s not yet been converted, here are five great tips on how to make the most of this versatile van and turn it into the best compact camper possible.
The front seats of the Mazda Bongo can’t rotate due to the design of the van being mid-engine. You can have them swapped though, so if you’re only going to use the van for two people then this can help to maximise the rest of the space in the rear, as you can easily remove all other seating.
Use the community
The absolute best tip for converting a Mazda Bongo is to get involved with the online community – it’s huge! Sourcing parts and tips that are perfect for the Bongo is easiest when you get online and chat with existing owners. Bongo Fury’s forum is really active and great for getting ideas. And get on YouTube to check out some conversion videos like this one
The price of a Mazda Bongo is going to depend on the usual factors, like mileage and how well its been maintained. But it’ll also factor in whether it’s a factory-model (unconverted) or if you’re buying one that’s already been used as a campervan.
A third-party conversion for a Mazda Bongo will normally cost you around £2,000 so if you’re buying a factory model and don’t want to do the work yourself, bear that cost in mind. That doesn’t mean you should consider a converted model worth £2,000 more than an unconverted one though – it’s important you check the quality of the work if it’s a DIY job!
Unsure whether the Mazda Bongo is the right one for you? Check out these other options:
This car is exactly the same as a Mazda Bongo, just with a different name and badge. So if you find one, you’re still going to be welcomed into the Mazda Bongo fan club!
Third- and fourth-generation Nissan Vanettes were also re-badged Mazda Bongos, and so are incredibly similar. They’re not as popular as the Bongo and so are much harder to find, but with no real benefits over a Bongo there’s no reason to hunt one out.
Similar names – very different vehicles! The Kia Bongo is a cabover pickup truck. It’s not really what you’re looking for as a camper van, unless you find the Kia Besta variant. They’re not imported into the UK though, you can only buy them in Europe.
Considered a luxury MPV, the Alphard range will likely have more modern features and a contemporary interior compared to the Bongo, but will also likely cost around £2,000 more on average for an equivalent year.
First- to fifth-generation Hiace vans are all relatively similar in size and style, and are more comparable to the Mazda Bongo, although again tend to be more mid-range in quality and price. Sixth-gen Hiaces produced since 2009 are much bigger and more expensive.
Transporters are the most common van converted into a camper. Sizes vary by generation but a benefit (that will justify the higher price) is that they are officially sold in the UK, and so repairs/parts are easier to source.
The Delica is designed as a 4x4 van, and so is really well equipped to off-road terrain. It’s likely to be more comfortable than the Mazda Bongo if you tend to hit rougher roads more commonly.
Early Elgrand models from 1997 are very similar to the Mazda Bongo, but tend to cost between £1,000 and £2,000 more than a ’97 Bongo would.. More recent Elgrands are considerably more luxurious but will cost £20,000+.
While the VW camper community is really well known even outside camping fans, there’s a thriving Mazda Bongo community that might not be quite as famous but is just as supportive. Despite being out of production for so long, the relative low costs, compact but comfortable size and the condition of used Mazda Bongo vans makes them a perfect camper van for families.
Despite the lack of official support from Mazda UK garages, this friendly community makes it easy to find spare parts or technical help if you have a problem with your Mazda Bongo. You don’t need to know tonnes about maintaining an engine – if you have a problem, ask on one of the community forums online and you’ll soon have an answer and the help you need to get the part fixed.
Mazda Bongo campers are reliable, easy to get around in (and park) and definitely more affordable than many more luxurious options. At the same time, official support in the UK is lacking from Mazda, and the fuel consumption isn’t the best. If you just want a simple campervan that’s easy to convert then yes, Mazda Bongo vans are a good option.
No, the Mazda Bongo Friendee (the popular camper van option) ended production in 2005.A new Mazda Bongo Van DX was introduced in Japan in 2020, based on the Daihatsu Gran Max. It’s too new to have really become popular in campervan conversion circles.
A third-party conversion of a Mazda Bongo is likely to cost in the region of £2,000, provided you are only looking at a relatively simple side conversion to include storage and a kitchen unit. Extras, such as adding a retro-fit pop top or solar panels, will cost more. You can buy flat-pack kits to do your own conversion for around £500.
The Mazda Bongo is an eight-seater minivan. The production models were intended to be used as an MPV for larger families.
The Mazda Bongo does not have toilets built into it but you can easily pick up a portable camping toilet and store it away.
Yes, the Mazda Bongo is fully insulated, although if you intend to camp in colder locations and during the winter you might want to invest in a separate heater.
If you’re in the market for an affordable campervan, then a Mazda Bongo could be the perfect option. They offer the compact nature of an older VW Transporter conversion, along with the sizeable and friendly online support community, but at a lower price point. The vans are still good quality though, as they are often imported after only being owned for a few years in their original Japanese market.
Drawbacks include a lack of official Mazda UK support, although you can get around this with the help of the Mazda Bongo family, and the poor fuel efficiency. If you’re travelling long distances regularly then you might want something with a higher MPG, but for occasional holidays this shouldn’t be a huge issue.