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Ford Transit

Ford Transit Published: 21st Sep 2015 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Ford Transit
Ford Transit
Ford Transit
Ford Transit
Ford Transit
Ford Transit
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Almost seven million and counting, that’s how successful the Transit has been for Ford in its amazing 50-year life and the name has become generic for the word ‘van’. Can you imagine life without them?

It sounds inconceivable but there was a time when Transits weren’t on our roads – 50 years ago this October in fact. Before then vans were strictly working vehicles that drivers had to endure not enjoy thanks to their primitive designs and jail cell interiors. You really had to pity folks who had to use them for a living.

Then along came the Ford Transit and pity turned to envy because, when launched back in 1965, here was a stunning looking van that could not only out perform many cars but also had the their refinement. The Transit changed the way manufacturers and operators viewed vans, from being strictly a working tool to a valued business partner yet, while overall standards have improved beyond recognition over the 50 years, Transit not only remains the best seller but for many still the only van worth considering.

MAKE IT A GOOD ONE

Transit – Project Redcap to Ford – came about due to the insistence of Henry Ford II who was becoming tired of a fragmented Ford model line up across Europe with many countries doing their own thing. By 1960 he decreed that there had to be more standardisation of models and designs and the Transit was going to set the ball in motion.

At that time, Ford of Britain was selling 400E Thames. It had been on the market since 1957 and, being a Ford, sold successfully despite its faults which included very poor high-speed (well for a van) handling and a wicked steering shimmy. Driving one could be purgatory and Ford of America was determined that its replacement would set new standards of driver comfort and on-road security.

Transit was a pretty advanced design for the early 1960s thanks to Ford putting past experience of using aircraft stress structures into vehicle design and it also helped slice weight off the original Cortina. On the Transit, it ensured Ford could make a much bigger and wider van than its competitors but not at the expense of weight. Despite bashing the British and German heads together, both went their own ways into perfecting Project Redcap but a bit of healthy competition did the van no harm at all.

A VEE IN ITS BONNET

Launched within a week of each other, in October 1965, was the Transit and the revamped Corsair saloon both sporting Ford’s all-new range of V configuration power units. While looking a bit lost in the passenger car’s engine bay, the compact V4 suited the snub nosed van brilliantly and best of all – unlike other vans – enabled a car-like cab to be designed without any intrusion from the engine, which was another reason for the Ford’s impressive refinement levels.

And while that V4 unit has been much criticised in Corsairs and Capris, its gruff, lusty low rev nature was ideal for commercial use. Two engines were offered, a 1663cc 63bhp tune for the lighter vans and a 75bhp 2-litre for the heavy duty twin axle alternatives.

There was also enough compartment space to squeeze in the 128bhp Zodiac V6 engine to special order requirements (and what a van that made!) but when it came to offering a diesel, Ford hit a problem. The rough V4 was even rougher in experimental diesel format, forcing Ford to opt for the trusty Perkins 4/99 powerplant which was hardly cutting edge even for 1966. However, the long in-line engine meant it wouldn’t fit unless either the front was altered or the engine found half a home in that civilised cab. Ford rejected the latter out of hand, albeit mostly due to production ease where it was vital that the basic transmission location remained unchanged. Thus, diesels gained a longer nose and a big snout until the 1978 facelift arrived.

It’s now legendary how fast development Transits were. Kent Police regularly clocked them at over 90mph in those pre-speed limit days, which was faster than most family cars such as the new Cortina could hit. You can imagine the looks on the faces of car drivers, being passed by a mere van – even more so if it was the early Bedford CA-bodied Transit that Ford used as a camouflage! Add good handling for its day, and the Transit was a pretty quick conveyance – small wonder then that over the years, 95 per cent of all get-aways (and 80 per cent of bank jobs) were conducted by crooks in a Transit during the 70s!

Apart from becoming an instant hit with commerce and criminals, the Transit was also hugely popular with specialist body builders for a massive variety of uses and it’s fair to say that many businesses over the past 50 years owe their existence to the Transit, which in van, pick-up or chassis cab formats made many light lorries redundant.

To keep the Transit ahead of a rapidly improving van market – not least from Vauxhall Bedford who, after being shocked by the Transit’s prowess, immediately scrapped its planned replacement for the CA to design the all new CF by 1969 – it gradually evolved and it’s fair to say that post 1970 Transits were even better drivers care of front disc brakes, retuned suspension springs plus the fitment of radial tyres before its 1978 facelift. By then, options included automatic transmission (complete with a dash-mounted selector) and even four-wheel drive, the latter to special order from Ford’s SVO division.

SUPER VAN!

Costing roughly the same price as a Ford Anglia when launched, one Transit that money couldn’t buy was Supervan, effectively a racing car in a Transit body that Ford first showed off in 1971, making a different one each decade to highlight a new replacement up to the New Millennium.
Not that the best selling Transit needed any publicity but Supervan certainly grabbed valued column inches in the press and was a real crowd puller when unleashed at events. Supervan 1 was built by Terry Dury Racing and made its début at an Easter motor racing meeting using a mix of GT40 and Formula 1 parts, powered by a 5-litre V8 – amazingly it was later scrapped! Supervan 2 surfaced in May 1984 and was mostly Ford’s work but with the help of esteemed F1 designer Tony Southgate.

It was essentially the canned C100 sports car racer Ford intended to run with a specially styled body and an F1 Cosworth engine.

Supervan 3 appeared in 1995 and was the same structure topped by the latest (VE83) Transit body and the latest Cosworth HB F1 engine which Ford said was good for 200mph – 50mph more than the first Supervan!

EVOLUTION NOT REVOLUTION

The 1978 revise was just that and it was 20 years before Ford got around to making an all new Transit known as VE6 – talk about giving buyers what they want! Rather than engineers spouting out radical new ideas, they went and spoke to existing owners and drivers asking them what they needed from a new Transit and the six year research included going out with drivers and noting how many gearchanges, U turns and so on were made – both in the UK and across Europe.

Successive Transits have seen the van go from strength to strength culminating in the latest Transit Custom which harks back to the original with its ‘Custom Cab’ badging. And like the original, the latest Transit has been roundly praised for its car like manners and cockpit – it’s just like a giant Focus to drive.

FOR THE LOVE OF TRANSITS

For The Love Of Cars series saw Essexbased Classic & Retro (who also restored the Mk1 Mexico which appeared in the series), restore an early Transit and we know the job Chris Martin had in finding one because they are hugely popular with owners and fans! There’s a thriving owners club and good specialist support for all models that only Volkswagen’s iconic Camper can top.

Ford can’t really take all the credit for the Transit name because it was being used on Ford’s earlier German van called the Taunus Transit. But what an inspired decision to bring the name to the forefront because the term ‘Transit’ has become generic for a particular type and size of van rather like ‘Hoover’ became the term for vacuum cleaners. People use the term Transit even when they don’t mean one.

How much longer will the name survive before some marketing marvel decides that a new name is required? It will be a sad and stupid day when that arrives. You can pay your respects to the Transit at Gaydon on 9th August where this classic van is being suitably honoured with a rally.

THE CAR IS THE STAR

It’s difficult to single out any particular scene where the Ford Transit starred except one perhaps. Basically, in any cops and robbers film or TV series you can bet your life a Transit was used somewhere – by both usually! Arthur and Tel were regularly seen in one, of course, but the best snip of a Transit in action – in our minds – was Paul Newman in the Mackintosh Man where he showed all his race driving skills (in a well beat-up Transit pick-up) out running the baddies in a very tail-happy Mercedes Fintail. It’s well worth watching on U tube.



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