Ford Transit: Is this the most important vehicle in Britain’s history? RETROspective

Ford Transit: Is this the most important vehicle in Britain’s history? RETROspective

FineAuto

The trusty old Ford Transit van is the UK’s best-selling commercial vehicle. Beloved of brickies, posties, chippies, roadies and everything in between. It’s a proper van’s van. Could it be the most important vehicle in the history of Britain? In the latest episode of our retro mini-series, Magazine’s Jack Rix finds out… Series 29: Geneva Online Motor Show: . ly/TGGMS20​First Look: Want to watch a bit of on the internet? Welcome to the most comprehensive collection of official clips you’ll find on YouTube. Whether you’re searching for a caravan challenge, Ken Block in the Hoonicorn, cars versus fighter jets, Stig power laps or the latest Chris Harris Drives, you can find all the iconic films here.Want to share your views with the team?

you join me inside one of the most important vehicles in the history of britain one of the biggest names in motoring full stop one that has whether you know it or not shaped your life in some small way chances are it helped to build your house helped you to move into your house deliver parcels to your doorstep it is of course the trusty old ford transit van the uk’s best-selling commercial vehicle beloved of brickies posties chippies roadies even antiques dealers like my mum i grew up being driven around in one of these with our boxer dog buster dribbling all over my lap my daughter even learned to drive him one a proper vans van launched in 1965 the first transits were built in berkshire in an old warplane factory before production shifted to southampton in the early 70s with its car-like layout and two-pallet payload the transit became the template for all vans that followed it carried almost anything tools sand cement fruit and veg furniture guitars and groupies ice creams elephants even dinosaurs but enough van splaining we’re here at ford dagenham the home of the ford transit and this is the first transit the mark one which in 1965 cost just 542 pounds or just over 10 grand in today’s money and for that you get well not a lot really the near naked dash in front of me has just a single circular instrument a few switches down here a couple of heating sliders a choke and somewhere for your red top tabloid plus a metal ashtray vast enough to cope with the 60s van man smoking habit these sliding doors were optional over the normal hinge jobs but delivery drivers love them because they latched open and you could hop in and out with brilliant convenience plus if you left them open when you drove off you weren’t pestered with all sorts of warning lights and bongs that you get today what you did get a standard though was space before the transit most vans put their engines underneath the front seats but the transit put it out front under a proper bonnet which meant more space in here and back there the original slightly pig-faced design lasted for over 20 years until 1986 when the mark ii came along with its windscreen and bonnet merged into one seamless slope it became one of the most recognizable vehicles of all time it’s also the most versatile the first variation was a long wheelbase model requested by a ford boss who wanted to carry around his collection of antique carriage clocks and it was about time among other things the transit has been a mini bus a pickup truck a tipper truck a flatbed and bare chassis cab as advertised by this man in his pants that’s wrestling legend mick mcmanus apparently there have been over 450 versions in total and people can’t get enough of them so far ford has sold over 8 million transits lined up bumper-to-bumper they would stretch right around the world so when it comes to vans the transit is britain’s most wanted and in more ways than one scotland yard once famously said that the transit was involved in 95 of all bank robberies yeah not exactly the nimbles getaway car is it so while it might have been able to carry 1.7 tonnes of loot in the early days it wasn’t actually that fast the steering needs endless twirling so you won’t twitch yourself into a corner without really meaning it you work your way up through this four-speed manual gearbox on wide very wide throttle openings but with all the wind and rattling and commotion it feels like you’re driving along at an impressive lick but the speedo says you’re doing 35 it’s fairly slow even when it’s empty it must be glacial with a full load and the brakes the brakes don’t so much kill your speed as a road it in geological time traffic moved a whole lot more gently 50 years ago the engine is a 63 horsepower v4 yes a push rod v4 thrashy as anything but it makes sense in the transit because it allows that rather elegant front end the alternative a straightforward diesel required a goofy extended snout underneath it couldn’t be more basic solid axles and car springs front and rear but things did improve from the mark 1 to the mark 2 to the mark 3 the transit became more comfortable more car-like it’s the driver’s van as proved by this the world rally transit built as a promotional tool in 2000 and let’s face it it probably takes things a bit too far more recently the transits become properly high-tech this one is a plug-in hybrid and there’s going to be a fully electric transit arriving in about a year and in the right hands it’s one of the fastest vehicles in the world i tell you something i do that lap time in a van but if you haven’t got the skills of the late great sabine schmitz who famously put a standard transit around the nurburgring in about 10 minutes you’re probably going to need some help you’re going to need one of these the transit supervan bottom half of a lemon car top half of a delivery van it’s the ultimate training this innocent-looking transit heralded by the name superbass and its creation has resulted in one of the most fantastic vehicles ever imagined originally fitted with a wild 3.5 liter v6 making 650 horsepower it was later downsized to 300 horsepower much more sensible ford actually has a long history of supervans that goes way back to the early 70s and supervan one which was based around the original gt40 then in 1985 they made superband 2. this time it had a fiberglass shell over a group c racing chassis and could do over 170 miles an hour even while towing a caravan which brings us up to this supervan three from 1995 basically an evolution of supervan two with an engine transplant and the volume turned up to 11 or possibly 12. unfortunately it’s a little bit broken so we can’t drive it today probably for the best but what we can do is show you around some of the more interesting features on this particular model starting with this the front splitter look at the size of that excellent advertising for cosworth not so hot on speed bumps in fact i think this thing will probably struggle to get over a cobble and check out the wheels proper racing tyres here not actually slicks there is a bit of tread to work with and you’ve got brembo brakes behind there the rear tyres in fact are as wide as a porsche 917 and just look how low this thing is now i am not a tall man but this is definitely the first time in my life i’ve ever been able to look over the top of a ford transit let’s just have a look at the interior shall we oh yes simple stripped out race ready you’ve even got a central driving position in here well almost central it’s slightly offset from center but still mclaren f1 eat your heart out just look at the size of this intake in the side of the car you could get small to medium domestic animals in there probably small children as well right let’s have a look at the engine bay to end all engine bays shall we but before we do that check this out i love the way that this rear wing posts itself through these two little slots in this perspex rear screen very neat indeed now you sometimes look at modern supercars and think how tightly packaged is that powertrain inside the body and the chassis well this is nothing like that at all there’s acres and acres of room back here i can hear my voice echoing around in the back the engine itself is a cosworth 2.9 liter supercharged v6 the supercharger is buried deep down there and it produces about 300 horsepower now earlier versions of the supervan did produce a lot more power but at some point somebody put their sensible pants on and decided 300 horsepower was probably enough for a van what a brilliant and bizarre thing when ford wasn’t making transits faster it was making them more reliable in april 1972 two transits began an epic week-long endurance test in italy in what was dubbed the seven days of monza the result was a new world endurance record 10 000 miles at an average speed of 73.3 miles an hour and not one breakdown if the transit could manage that you’d trust it to deliver a few parcels every day it was that no-nonsense reliability that made the transit such a smash hit with people that wanted an honest van to earn a decent crust in other words you could always trust the transit to help pay the bills in fact some studies suggest that one in 10 uk workers depend on a van for their work that’s 3.4 million people and that during its lifetime each transit will contribute over 200 000 pounds to the economy it’s no wonder ford called it the backbone of britain and they got a point but you know what i think it’s got some of the heart and soul too white van man and women we salute you

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