In 2015 Ford’s Transit celebrated its 50th birthday, we chart the course of this quintessential van
It took a long time for the Transit to earn the term ‘icon’. Unlike the air-cooled Volkswagen van which earned iconic status from its use as the transport for starry-eyed hippies and self-discovering road trips, the Transit sat silently on the double-yellow lines of history, hazard warning lights flashing. For five decades the Transit did the unglamorous and sometimes dangerous work. After fifty years maybe it is time we gave the old Transit some recognition.
The first product of the creation of Ford of Europe, the Transit was launched in October 1965 to replace the European Taunus Transit and British Thames van. The Transit wasn’t the first van to feature an engine mounted forward of the driver but it was the first van to be intentionally designed like a car. It had car-like styling, car derived suspension, car derived engines and it drove like a car. It was cleverly packaged too; the V4 engines were compact devoting more room to load carrying. The rear beam axle was a step backwards technically but it was simple and strong.
This breadth of capabilities was appreciated by more than just builders and couriers; the Met Police in London proclaimed that the Transit was used in over 95 per cent of bank robberies in the mid-seventies and sales soared.
The Transit was a hit, capturing 40 per cent of the light commercial market and being built in the UK, Belgium, Turkey, Holland and New Zealand where it even gained a straight-six petrol engine. Granada-powered V6 versions were used by police forces while mini-bus, pick-ups, crew-cabs, short and long wheelbases along with different roof heights gave buyers an unparalleled choice. The Perkins diesel engine was unpopular and replaced by Ford’s own York-diesel for 1974.
1978 saw the new Mk2 Transit introduced. The inline Pinto engine replaced the old V4 and the styling was smartened up to reflect the changing tastes of the time but the Transit still came with the widest choices of any commercial vehicle range in terms of engines and body styles with a Europe-wide dealer network aimed to make the Transit the easiest commercial to buy and own. Occasionally a Transit was even bought for conversion into a leisure vehicle, a fact not lost on Ford when it produced the Clubmobil complete with alloy wheels, captain’s chairs, pile carpeting, overhead cam engines and power steering. Sadly only 200 were sold.
1986 saw the most radical departure for the venerable Transit. Aerodynamics played a big part in the first all new Transit in over twenty years. The new body shape gave improved aerodynamics, better refinement and some street cred. The engines were broadly carried over unchanged though. A mild facelift in 1991 was followed by a major redesign in 1994 that found features like electric windows and airbags making their way into the van drivers world.
The fourth generation Transit was launched in 2000 and was perhaps the most comprehensive redesign ever. As well as strong safety features and greater focus on the environment, this new socially responsible Transit also because the first to feature a five-cylinder engine, the first to have an automatic gearbox specifically designed for it and the first to have a spin-off, the smaller Transit Connect. This was also the first Transit to be built and sold in China. Sadly, it was also the last Transit model to be built in the Southampton plant which closed in 2013.
The current Transit and fifth generation now comes in three distinct sizes, Transit, Transit Custom and Transit Connect. Not only does it feature a bewildering array of engine and body options but it is now the first Transit to sell globally, replacing the E-Series in North America, and carrying the hopes and aspirations of a whole new generation of small businesses and budding musicians for another generation. If ever a vehicle has earned the term iconic than this must surely be it.
Find out more about the Ford Transit here Ten things to know about the Ford Transit
13th January, 2016