I have recently sold a vehicle. For the past couple of years I’ve 50% owner of a 1995 Mazda Bongo.
No, this isn’t some strangely named musical instrument, it is a road vehicle. Specially, a pop-top van with a conversion in.
Originally purchased by a good friend (who didn’t and couldn’t drive at the time), I agreed to drive it around in exchange for sleeping up top instead of using a tent – a sound strategy as I got some sleeps out of it!
This all started back in 2016 – when said friend wanted to convert a van. Unfortunately the Ford Transit he purchased from Mold had leaks, the back doors didn’t shut properly and the speedo didn’t work at all. After 8 months or so in the Redwither Tower car park I attempted to move it to find the rear drum brakes had jammed and the front tyre valve had rotted off.
After disposing of that it was on to looking for an actual camper. This particular Bongo came from a publican in Market Drayton and is a 2.5 turbodiesel from 1995 with full time four wheel drive. I’d never driven an automatic before this and the selector indicator had fallen out. I may have driven to our pub in the “low gear” mode, and thought it was broken before figuring out from the number of clicks where Drive was.
Of course, this vehicle was used by many as a budget camper, but this Bongo was not converted. The middle row of seats had been removed by a previous owner, leaving the rearmost two. A conversion was planned before it could be taken camping – the journey was to be made to Caldicott in South Wales, in the shadow of the second Severn crossing. When we picked it up a week or two later the rear had been totally converted.
Once converted of course, we were able to properly get use out of it. Several camping trips, music festivals, trips to the sea were all part of this. We were even able to use it against some strong winds a few times which was a far better sleeping experience than being in a tent!
I slept “upstairs” – making use of my ability to never have to “go” once asleep; which is for the best given you have to hoist yourself up/down through a hatch you also sleep on.
It was a light and airy space – the heavy rubber sides far better at keeping out the sun, and you could unzip to let the air in and out (mosquito nets included!). I’d always seen pop-top vans whilst sleeping but I hadn’t ever considered them comfortable – I was happy to be proved wrong.
In 2020 I took on 50% ownership given the amount I used it – it had spent a couple of years on my drive and had also made a good van!
Unfortunately, 27 years of running around had taken its toll on the Bongo. Japan doesn’t use road salt to defrost its roads, so few vehicles are factory sealed. This leads to a rust problem on the chassis for most vehicles that then come to countries that do, and the Bongo was no exception. A more serious issue was that the turbo fuel pump had cracked (before we bought it) and it had a slow drip of fuel wherever we went. Not to mention that it had picked up a cooling issue. In February 2022 we took it for an MOT, which it passed – but we left it at a friend’s house close to the garage so it could go back in the following week for flushing the coolant system and possible welding of the rusted areas.
When I went to pick it up, it just wouldn’t start. We tried some troubleshooting but eventually a mechanic told us it was the fuel pump, it had finally gone. Since the parts and labour of fixing this issue was so expensive, we decided to sell. The friend who’s land it had been on (for 8 months!) recommended a scrap guy. In October we had it taken away for the final time.
It was the end of an era I suppose; one that had started when we all worked together – which is probably why I feel compelled to write about it.