The Ford Econovan, a rebadged Mazda Bongo or Mazda E-Series, is a cab-over van that Mazda developed from 1966. It is categorised as a light commercial vehicle, built as vans and pickup trucks. Both the Mazda Bongo and Ford Econovan were marketed in Australia, with the Mazda nameplate rolling out the first generation as early as 1970. The badge-engineered Ford Econovan took nine years later to launch its first model based on the Bongo’s second generation, now called the E-Series.
The Bongo exists in various iterations in some markets to this day, while both the E-Series and Econovan stayed around in Australia until 2006 only. This article will cover both nameplates, which sold alongside each other from 1979 to 2006.
Backstory & First Generation (1966-1975)
Both models go back to their Mazda Bongo ancestor, named from an African antelope. The Mazda Bongo fathered not only these two models, but also the Kia Bongo, Nissan Vanette, Mitsubishi Delica, and Toyota HiAce. It has, indeed, been a prolific progenitor, cutting across brands and eras.
When Mazda first introduced the Bongo (called the F800 model then), a small van with a rear-mounted 782-cc SA engine powering its rear wheels. A bigger engine gave birth to the second model, a 987-cc PB I4 petrol unit (35 kW) mated to a 4-speed manual gearbox. In 1970, this model arrived in Australia as the Mazda F1000, a 2-door 3-seat ute with a load capacity of 500kg. The F1000 ceased after 1975 due to Mazda’s financial woes at the time.
The E-Series started with the E2000 in 1970, a 2-door 3-seat commercial vehicle powered by a 1985-cc I4 petrol engine (60 kW, 152 Nm) paired to a 4-speed manual gearbox.
Second Generation (1977-1983)
The second-generation Mazda Bongo is a mid-engined rear-wheel-drive vehicle, released in Australia in 1978 with the E1300 and E1600 models. There were four engine choices for the E-Series, and model names were based on the engines that powered them.
- E1300 – 2-door/3-seat commercial vehicle; 1300-cc TC I4 petrol engine (44 kW, 90 Nm), 4-speed manual
- E1400 – 2-door/3-seat commercial vehicle; 1415-cc UC I4 petrol engine (48 kW, 106 Nm), 4-speed manual
- E1600 – 2-door/3-seat commercial vehicle; 1586-cc NA I4 petrol engine (52 kW, 115 Nm), 4-speed manual
- E2200 – 2-door/3-seat commercial vehicle; 2209-cc S2 I4 diesel engine (46 kW, 122 Nm), 5-speed manual
The Econovan reached Australian soil in 1979 as a badged second-generation Mazda Bongo. It was a van available with or without side windows. There were four trim models initially:
- 100 – 2 doors/3-seat commercial van
- 100K – 2-door/6-seat passenger van
- 80 – 2-door/3-seat commercial van
- 80K – 2-door/6-seat passenger van
The engine initially used in all the trim models was a 1.6L petrol engine (52kW, 115 Nm) coupled with a 4-speed manual transmission, the same powertrain on the Mazda E1600. Later on, however, Ford introduced a 2.2L diesel engine (46 kW, 122 Nm) paired with a 5-speed manual transmission for the 100 trim models. This engine was the same one used on the Mazda E2200.
Third Generation (1983-1999)
Australia got a taste of the third generation in several body types and nameplates. Mazda sold it as the E-series and the Traveller, while Ford marketed it as the Econovan and Spectron.
The E1400 and E2200 stayed in the market for the second generation. Three models joined the range, namely:
- E1800 – 2-door/3 seats; 1789-cc F8 I4 petrol engine (59 kW, 137 Nm), 5-speed manual
- E2500 – 2-door/3 seats; 2499-cc I4 diesel engine (61 kW, 174 Nm), 5-speed manual; long wheelbase was also available
- E2000 – 2-door/3 seats; 1998-cc FE I4 petrol engine (61 kW, 155 Nm), 5-speed manual; long wheelbase Deluxe was also available
In 1983, Ford redesigned the Econovan and introduced three trim models: the Base, Maxi, and Maxi 1,500 kg. The base trim used a 1.4L 4-cylinder petrol engine with a maximum power output of 67kW and a torque of 105 Nm paired to a 5-speed manual gearbox.
The Maxi and Maxi 1,500kg trims came with a 2.0L petrol engine (59 kW, 153 Nm) coupled with a 5-speed manual transmission. Ford retained the 1.6L engine and 4-speed manual transmission for the 80, 80K, 100, and 100K trims and the 2.2L engine paired with the 5-speed manual variant for the 100 trim model. In 1986, a 1.8L 4-cylinder engine (58 kW, 136 Nm) and 5-speed manual gearbox became available for the base model.
In 1989, the XL (which used the 1.8L engine introduced in 1986) and the XM Maxi trims (which retained the 2.0L engine used for the Maxi) were added. In 1990, the 2-door, 6-seat Maxi trim was fitted with a 2.2L (47 kW, 133 Nm) diesel engine and 5-speed manual.
Fourth Generation (1999-2018)
The fourth-generation Mazda Bongo branched out to the Nissan Vanette and the Mitsubishi Delica during this period. Both models, along with the Econovan and E-Series, were underpinned by the SK platform.
Mazda continued using the engines from the previous generations. The E1800, E2000, and E2500 stayed in the market, with the E2500 phased out in 2003 and both the E1800 and E2000 in 2006.
The third-generation Econovan went on sale in June 1999, phasing out the Maxi 1,500kg, 100, 100K, 80, and 80K models. The new trim levels were the Base and Maxi. In 2002, Ford would introduce the Maxi LWB variants.
In 2004, Ford replaced the Base and Maxi trims with LWB, MWB, and SWB variants. While the older versions did not have much going in terms of features, the new models incorporated a central locking system, an engine immobiliser, and cloth trim as standard equipment.
The powertrains used for the Econovans during this period were:
- 2.0L 4-cylinder petrol engine (63 kW - 71 kW, 154 Nm - 155 Nm)
- 1.8L 4-cylinder petrol engine (67 kW, 138 Nm)
These engines came with either 4-speed automatic transmission or 5-speed manual gearbox.
The Ford Econovan and E-Series were discontinued in Australia in 2006. The Mazda Bongo, however, continues in various forms and rebadged iterations in several markets up to the present.
By Jeannette Salanga (JMSL)