Why Kelvin loves the Mazda Bongo Friendee

My name is Kelvin and I have a car confession.

I like Bongos.

Not the noisy ones played in the Congo by cannibals before they eat a tourist. You always see them in James Bond movies or documentaries on the Discovery Channel. Whenever a cannibal decides something needs cooking, his mate always has to do a musical accompaniment on the bongos. I suppose it is the Congo equivalent of you or I catching up with The Archers or listening to a bit of Ken Bruce on Radio 2 whilst making a sandwich.

It is all the jumping around and hullabaloo that comes with it that I’m not sure about. You don’t need that while you’re peeling your potatoes. There you are, fixing a nice side salad to go with your David Bellamy stew and all of a sudden Geoff (I am not sure if Geoff is a real cannibal name) starts smashing the bongos like they have just slept with his wife and the whole tribe starts jumping up and down and making “Woo woo Halalalalalala” noises.

Thinking about it, a more suitable name for a cannibal would be something like “Breaking Wind” or “Downtrodden Fishhook”. I’ll be honest, I haven’t done much research into cannibal names.

No, when I say Bongo, I mean Mazda’s world famous and often overlooked utility vehicle. It all started when I was riding my BMX. (Don’t laugh, I live in Brighton. You cannot move from one side of Brighton to the other without a bicycle and the big ones give me vertigo.) My friends and I had just unloaded our bikes in Ditchling Beacon car park and there it was. At first it just looked like a small people carrier. I hate people carriers because I once saw a Renault Espace. (there’s nothing wrong with an Espace! – ed.)

Kelvin and Bongo Friendee

The Espace is a disgusting vehicle that promotes the idea of families and all the horrible things that the word entails. Renault Espaces make you think of children and dirty nappies and dribbling grandmas that you had to kiss at Christmas time. The Mazda Bongo, however, makes you think of holidays, fun and ice cream.

This is because, written in a big 1980s game show font across the back, is the word Friendee. I cannot think of a happier, more inviting word than Friendee. Just thinking about it now is making me smile. From the moment I saw the name, I wanted one. Mazda Bongo Friendee. There has never been a better name for a car.

Mazda Bongo Friendee rear

Naturally I went online to find out much Friendees are worth. This was the moment I discovered that perhaps I didn’t want one quite as much as I thought. Even ropey Bongos were fetching £3,000+ alongside their equally great named sister, the Ford Freda. Fortunately, I had just changed jobs and it transpired that my new place of employment was a bit of a Bongo specialist on the quiet. The company had several customers with Bongo Friendees on the books.

I asked the proprietor why he didn’t advertise the fact that he specialises in this wonderful vehicle, exclaiming that, if I were a Bongo specialist, I would be inclined to shout it out at the top of my lungs and might even be moved to write “I love Bongo Friendees!” on the moon so everyone could see. He just looked at me oddly and edged towards the door.

Over time I drove a variety of Bongos. I have driven both four- and two-wheel drive versions. Petrol and diesel. Manual and Auto. I have even driven the rare (so I’m told) and sporty (it isn’t) V6 petrol model. I have to confess that none of them were that exciting. The only pleasure I managed to muster when on a road test was to remind myself of the name.

Mazda Bongo Friendee dashboard

I knew that the people I was holding up on my sluggish jaunts through the Sussex countryside could never be angry at me because I was driving a Friendee. I ignored the honking horns and imagined them smiling to each other and laughing. “Oh look! A Friendee!” They would say as all the troubles and stresses of their workaday lives ebbed into the ether.

I am not a big person and can slip behind the wheel of a Friendee with ease but I imagine someone slightly bigger would find it difficult to get a comfortable driving position. Despite the vehicle’s height, the driving position is quite squat because you are sitting over various engine components.

I have not sat in any of the back seats but none of those look particularly comfortable either. I have seen the “Mazda factory fitted kitchen” and it looks next to useless. You certainly won’t be cooking David Bellamy with it.

Mazda Bongo Friendee interior cutaway

Like the majority of Mazdas, Bongos tend to be quite reliable. Unfortunately, when you need parts for one, they have to come from a Bongo parts specialist. The parts are not expensive but there is a lead time to consider. With this in mind, I should imagine a Bongo Friendee is cheap to run apart from the aforementioned petrol V6 model. Also, as with any 90s Japanese car, they are starting to suffer with corrosion. If you are out looking to buy one, have a good nose about for rust.

The Mazda Bongo Friendee

In summary, the Mazda Bongo Friendee is an old, slow, uninspiring, boxy looking people carrier/camper van.

Would I still own one? Hell yeah! Didn’t you see that name? It’s called a Bongo Friendee!

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Kelvin Hassell


  1. June 24, 2014

    Mazda could learn a few things from the equally wonderfully named Peugeot Bipper Tepee though.

    The Bipper Tepee has a large, friendly front bumper that promises you won’t even feel it if hit by one. It also corrects one of the Bongo’s mistakes, that dark glass that could frighten small children, featuring clear glass all round. Plus it’s available in a range of colours to make you smile. The vivid ‘Coral Orange’ is a standard option, with ‘Exuberant Red’ metallic paint an extra.

    Perhaps most importantly, it proclaims to all and sundry it’s called the Bipper Tepee, placing the name high up on a contrasing background. It makes the Bongo Friendee, with it’s name placed down in a corner, look almost ashamed.

    • June 26, 2014
      Kelvin Hassell

      Whilst the Peugeot Bipper Tepee does sound like a delightful vehicle, it will take more than a cheap smile and a name like an Indian tent to convince me to oust my love for the Friendee.

      However, it transpires a cheap smile and a funny name is enough to make me want to drive one. I looked up all the Peugeot dealers in my area this morning but, sadly, none of them had one I could test drive.

      Aesthetically, I am not as convinced about the Bipper’s facial features either.
      While I agree that the Bipper has a smiley face front bumper, the split grille gives the appearance of smiling through gritted teeth. It is a happy French car. For now. One wrong move from you and it will go on strike, barricading your driveway and marching up and down with placards about farmer’s rights, fishing waters and the price of cheese. Before you know it, the Bipper will have formed a union. All your other cars will stop working and just sit around drinking wine and smoking.

      These are problems you would never get with a Friendee. The Friendee doesn’t smile at you, it just looks at you with the vacant stare of someone who has recently been lobotomised. It isn’t planning to ruin your holiday by going on strike. It isn’t planning anything actually. It is just going to go along with whatever you coax it to do.

      I don’t know. I might feel different when Citroen unveil the Nemo Wigwam, but until then, it is still the Bongo for me.

      • August 25, 2014

        Oh haha lol do you smoke a lot of weed? Great article that made me laugh.

        I have a friendee fully converted camper. White one with aft roof … Its great. For what I need it for.

        How it drives? Going to be better than an old Vw camper. Anyway think Vw California has stolen some ideas from the Bongo…. It’s cool, genius, clever and nothing better than chilling out in the roof. Only two of us, one sits in roof other on the sofa. .. brilliant.

        Stopped making them in 05 so becoming sought after in good condition.

        They hold their price well. And 4wd can get you out of a muddy field no prob.

        For the price is there better?

        As for the Peugeot bipper lol try standing up in one or trying to go upstairs to bed.

  2. December 19, 2015

    Hi mate. I’m searching everywhere trying to find out how I get my Bongos stereo out so I can connect an fm band expander. The stereo I have is the one in your picture on this site. I have posted on various sites but as yet have had no reply.
    Hope you can help.


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