The Mazda SGL, or, if you prefer, Bongo Friendee was never officially sold here in the UK. Ford’s 25% stake in Mazda saw the Japanese manufacturer produce a Ford- badged version called the Freda. Comical names aside, the vans are identical and very popular in the Land of the Rising Sun, and thanks to a number of import specialists, they’re starting to sell like hot cakes over here too.

So, how does an imported minibus end up as a four-berth motorhome? Well, it starts with the importing process with the base vehicle arriving from Japan. If often arrives complete with folding roof and seats that can fold down to create a bed base. In seven to eight-seater layout, an ‘Autocube’ mini portable kitchen unit costing £695 can be added, this includes a cooker, sink and a cool box.

In this format you have a Bongo that gives you an MPV for the school run and a camper van for the weekend. It also comes loaded with standard features like electric windows and mirrors, central locking, power steering and air-conditioning. What’s more, the majority of Bongos/Fredas are fitted with automatic transmission, another plus point because you’ll not find many motorhomes equipped with self-shifting gearboxes, and those vehicles that are often best described as slow and ‘gutless’. Not so the Bongo Friendee which is powered by a 2.5-litre diesel-turbo engine.

Four-wheel drive is also somewhat unusual in when it comes to motorhomes but you may well find it very useful in some circumstances. For instance, if the weather turns bad and you are out there exploring the countryside or parked up in a grassy campsite, a vehicle with 4x4 capabilities could be just the thing to get you out of trouble. OK, all-wheel drive motorhomes are as rare as hen’s teeth and most that are available are likely to prove expensive, most that is except the Bongo, which is available in 4x4 form.

It’s worth remembering that although the majority of Mazda Bongos and their derivatives are used imports brought over to the UK from Japan, they’re likely to be in first-class condition throughout. This is due to the fact that the average annual mileage covered by a typical Japanese driver tends to be considerably lower than that of British motorists. Most Japanese drivers tend to take a great deal of pride in their vehicles and as a result most are regularly maintained. If you take Mazda’s bombproof reliability record and excellent build-quality into consideration, you should end up with a superb, adaptable motorhome that will provide you with dependable service for many years to come, and one that won’t cost you the earth to buy or run.

As far as purchasing is concerned, you have several options. One option is to buy the base vehicle first which will cost you between £7,500 for a vehicle built in 1995 to around £14,500 for the 2005 facelifted version. You then add in the cost of the motorhome conversion which is likely to be between £5,000 and £6,000. Even then you’ll find that the total price undercuts those of most of the competition and this includes the automatic and four-wheel drive models. If you wish you can even buy brand-new as Mazda still continues to build the Bongo for the Japanese market.

Another option is to buy a Bongo that’s already converted from a motorhome dealer or used car dealership. As more Bongos arrive into the UK, the number of examples turning up on used car forecourts continues to rise.
There are a number of importers and Bongo specialists around the country, Danum Motor Company near Doncaster among them. The Mazda Bongo offers amazing value for money and adaptability and is definitely worthy of consideration. Why not contact Danum Motor Company on Armthorpe Road, Wheatley Hills, Doncaster (DN2 5PU) or call (01302) 760273 for more details?

MOTORHOME: Mazda Bongo Friendee/ Ford Freda (Used)
PRICE: £7,500 (1995) to £14,500 (facelifted 2000 model)
BASED ON: Mazda Bongo Friendee/Ford Freda minibus
WHO TO SEE?: Danum Motor Company, Armthorpe Road, Wheatley Hills, Doncaster (DN2 5PU) (01302) 760273

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