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Ford Transit

Published: 28th Jun 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

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Want a classic that’s both different and practical at the same time. Then it’s time you considered an early Transit… We did!

Six million and counting, that’s how successful the Transit has been for Ford in its amazing 45-year lifespan. It re-wrote the rule books on how a light commercial should drive and perform when launched back in 1965 and the name has become generic for the word ‘van’. Fancy one as an alternative classic?

Which model to buy?

Size matters and it just depends how big you want your van to be, really! Transits came in all shapes and forms, including chassis-cabs. However, with the original running from 1965 to 1978, there’s not that many left to be picky over. When it comes to driving, the shortwheelbase model is the most nimble and storable, the twin-axle range is considerably larger, although, when compared to a modern equivalent, they actually look compact. In terms of engine sizes, unless performance is not an issue at all, you’d be advised to steer clear of the Perkins 4/99 diesel which is a struggle on modern roads. Not that the V4 petrol unit is a mine of power but it’s appreciably livelier. The unit that replaced it, the evergreen 1600cc Kent engine, gave up a fair bit of its power and was only made to work in the large heavy Transit by way of an absurdly low axle ratio. At the other end of the scale, Zodiac V6-power was an option and they certainly could shift a bit! Although the earliest Transits will probably entice the purist, those made after 1971 are better drivers. The suspension springs were improved at this time and, for 1973, servoassisted disc brakes and radials were standard. The chunkier looking Series 2, for 1978, is appreciably more refined than the original and Cortina Pinto power certainly aided performance - ditto the York diesel engine that was 25 per cent pokier than the Perkins. In many ways it’s the best of the bunch because it still retains that Transit character that was gradually lost on the VE6 line up for the 1990s and afterwards. Let’s not forget that automatic transmission and even a 4x4 (care of County Tractors) were options. There’s a Transit for everybody still – if you can find it!

Behind the wheel?

Okay, so driving this 45-year-old design isn’t a bed of roses, but on the other hand, given Transit’s respectable performance on the road after all those years, you have to admit it must have been a hell of a vehicle when launched! Let’s start with one of the most unloved aspects of the van, namely that V4 unit. An allnew Yank-led design that also found its way into the Corsair (a posher Cortina), it was criticised for its roughness. That may be, but the gruff, gutsy nature suits the Transit well. The two-litre is best, but the 63bhp offered by the 1663cc engine impresses with its torque, if not speed. In today’s motoring it has to be driven hard, but cruises at 55-60mph well enough, if not frugally. When the Transit was launched it set new standards for van handling. Fast-forward 45 years on and that beam axle, leaf sprung chassis needs respect; axle tramp and a skittish rear end keeps you on your toes, as does its slack steering, but driven within its limits there’s no real concerns. The all-drum brakes will do the job, but post ‘72 vans with discs are much better! It’s an old, used van, so expect a symphony of squeaks and screeches… on the other hand, the Transit’s behind-the-wheel user-friendliness is an eye opener and it certainly laid the blueprint for future Ford cars and commercials.

The Daily Option?

Few private enthusiasts will want to run a Transit, of course, but if you’re a self-employed business man, perhaps a one-man band, it makes sense because a nicely turned out classic can be a genuine business aid. Despite its age, the Transit is more than tolerable to use daily, as long as you make suitable allowance in its performance and refinement. Actually, in its day, the Transit was more comfortable and civilised than many family cars and, as you’d expect from Ford, all the controls remain fairly light and easy to use plus the turning circle is good. Models with the excellent sliding cab doors, now presumably banned by health-and-Safety, are a boon for couriers and folks who have to get in and out of tight confines. Expect them to rattle a bit, though, so just turn the radio up a tad more! Heating and demisting is no worse than many classics of that era. The Trannie is also pretty easy to pilot and park. Perhaps the only ‘change’ we’d make (and sensibly carried out on our van) to a very early model is ditching the period wing mirrors for larger ones as they are far too small for today’s cut-and-thrust driving. Economy isn’t going to be a strong point; if you manage more than 25mpg from the V4 you’ll be doing very well. The Kent engine is a bit better, but is low on torque. If economy is vital, the DI diesel fitted from ‘84 is best.

Ease of Ownership?

It’s a Ford, and if any old van is going to be easy to keep mobile it will be the Transit. Sure, body parts are becoming harder to track down but (apart from some V4/V6 engine parts) the mechanical bits are still around, many off-the-shelf. It’s like a big Cortina and just as easy to fix at home.

We Reckon...

If you’ve got to own a classic commercial, then the Transit has to be one of the very best. It has character to spare and is still extremely practical and useable. As a versatile second classic, or perhaps for urban business use, a Transit makes a lot of sound sense. Of course, 95 per cent of low-life knew this only too well when getting away from a bank robbery, say the Police!

Classic Motoring

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