With Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) announcing the death of the Dodge Grand Caravan late last week, we set out to find a classic version of that people mover to showcase this week. It seems that the first generations of Magicwagon are criminally underappreciated, meaning that we couldn't find one worthy of the Find of the Week. But we did find this, a vehicle that has one of the best car names of all time. Our autoTRADER.ca Find of the week is a minivan from across the ocean, a 1999 Mazda Bongo Friendee.
The Mazda Bongo, named for an antelope not a drum, has been around even longer than the Chrysler vans, first being introduced in Japan as an oddball rear-engined van in 1966. Two versions were available back then including the big-engine model with a blistering 45 hp. There was a pickup truck version available too, making it much like a tiny version of the Chevrolet Greenbriar van and truck or the Ford Econoline versions of the same.
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Over the years, the Bongo would grow and it would also become a larger success. For the second-generation, in 1977, the engine moved forward and it gained more variants. Kia made a version, still called the Bongo, and Ford sold it as the Econovan, Econowagon, and Spectron name in markets like the UK and Australia. For the third-generation in 1983, you could get it as a Nissan Vanette as well, but since Mazda saw that versions of Toyota, Nissan, and Mitsubishi's small vans didn't sell well in North America, they kept their own van out of our market.
The best Bongo, though, is the Bongo Friendee. It's related to the standard Bongo, but it's a bit different. Like a Volkswagen California or Westfalia, but with less in common than the Bongo it shares a name with. That's right, this one's designed as an eight-seater but it can also be had as a camper van.
Like the Volkswagen van, you could get this one fitted with a small kitchen in the rear from the factory, but since this isn't exactly a large vehicle in which to have a kitchen, leaving it out, like in this example, is probably a better idea. What this car does have is the Auto Free Top, a power elevating roof that creates a space with more headroom that can also sleep two people in a pinch. The internet tells us that flat-roof models are adorably referred to as Bongolows, and that might be an even better name than Friendee were it official.
The front and rear seats of the Bongo Friendee - and we have no idea what Friendee means either - all fold flat, turning the inside of the van into one massive lumpy bed. You could sleep most of the family, or just have a really large van space for a couple of people. Since you're all going to be in a van day and night, we'd probably pick the latter. Electronically-operating blinds in the back give you much-needed privacy on demand.
The Bongo Friendee could be had with two engines, a diesel four or a V6 version. This one has a 2.5L V6 making 159 hp that was also in the 929 from 1990 through 1994. It's not a huge van, so this should be enough power, and an automatic transmission makes the best of it. All-wheel drive was available, but this one's marked down as rear-drive.
For sale in West Kelowna, this van has just 114,000 km on the odometer. It comes with a more modern infotainment that adds Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and is definitely an improvement compared with whatever was there from the factory in 1999. Want a cool camper with a name you'll never tire of saying? This 1999 Mazda Bongo Friendee might be just the ticket.