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Here’s why the Ford Transit has been a huge hit as a work van and getaway vehicle

Whether you own a small business or embrace the van life, the Ford Public transportation is at the top of the list of vehicles you would consider purchasing. While not as flashy or newsworthy as other groundbreaking vehicles, such as the Ford Mustang or the Porsche 911, the Ford Transit is one of the most important vehicles ever produced.

As Ford’s ad campaign put it, Transit is “the backbone of Britain” and not limited to the UK. Many other countries and their economies revolve around Ford Transit. These vans are subjected to years of abuse, driven many miles daily with literally tons of cargo, and getting jobs done. They have changed the lives of people living in developing countries. Let’s dive into the history of this workhorse and understand the reasons why it is one of the most popular minivans of all time.

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8 Origins of the Ford Transit

Early ambulance using the Transit badge

Via: Wikimedia Commons

Back then, vans weren’t good. They were severely malnourished, uncomfortable and difficult to drive, with the exception of the Volkswagen Transporter. Ford UK and Ford Germany were building direct competitors to the popular Volkswagen Transit. Germany had the TK line, which was not well received by the public. But one vehicle in particular was pretty good, so Ford Germany changed its name to Ford Taunus Transit, naming it after the popular family vehicle.

Thames 400E, manufactured by Ford of the United Kingdom

Via: Silverstone Auctions

Ford UK had the Thames 400E which was good and sold moderately well. But these Ford vehicles were competing with each other in other markets, instead of the VW Transporter. So, Henry Ford II personally asked two companies to work together and create a van for the European and global market. This decision was also the foundation of today’s Ford Europe. He assigned a supervisor from Ford’s head office in Dearborn and these two branches began working on the Red Cap project.

7 High speed tests were carried out on public roads

Ford Transit Vans on the road

Via: Ford Motor Company

Development started in Great Britain, with engineers from Germany, the United States and the United Kingdom. Ford UK understood that the new van should be front-engined, for more cargo space in the rear of the vehicle. They also went through Ford’s parts bin to save on development costs. This was the reason for the good handling of the Mk 1 and its more than adequate performance. The front was elongated to accommodate larger engines and the new Transit used an alternator, instead of a dynamo like its competition, it also looked like an American vehicle.

Ford Transit first generation, also known as Ford Transit Mk. 1

Via: Wikipedia Commons

As UK motorways did not have a speed limit, Shelby Daytona would have been the reason for their introduction, tests such as top speed and high speed stability were carried out on public roads open at night . Legend has it that they were still sometimes arrested. The police didn’t give them a ticket, they were just curious about the process of developing the new van.

6 Ford Supervan

Ford Supervan 1

Via: Ford Motor Company

If the vans weren’t particularly fast in 1971, Ford wanted to celebrate its four consecutive victories at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. They celebrated their monumental success with an unexpected car. They took the chassis, engine and running gear from a Ford GT40 and bolted it to an Mk.1 Transit body, the result was the first Supervan.

Ford Supervan 2 was used to emphasize the high performance of the Transit

Via: Ford Motor Company

This first Supervan could reach a top speed of 150 mph despite its crude aerodynamics. Ford used this vehicle to generate advertising, display it and drive it at drag events or loan it to the press. After the success of this Supervan, Ford built two more, one for the Mk. II and one for the Mk. III. While Project Supervan is for publicity only, these vars aren’t going to lose a drag race against Mercedes Sprinter anytime soon.

5 They tested their diesel engine in Monza

2 "Pig-muzzle" Transport vans tearing up the track in Monza

Via: Ford Motor Company

In 1972, Ford decided to replace the underpowered Jenkins diesel engines because they were very unpopular. They developed and produced the York diesel engine to power their line of commercial vehicles. To test and demonstrate the performance, reliability and durability of the new engine, Ford took two Transits powered by the York 2.4-liter inline engine to Monza.

The drivers were handpicked by legendary F1 champion Sir Jackie Stewart. They drove the vans nonstop for 7 consecutive days, stopping only for fuel and driver changes. The drivers pushed the cars to their absolute limits and broke three endurance world records along the way, including covering 10,000 miles at 73.5 mph. This publicity stunt gave the diesel engines of the New York era much needed credibility.

Related: Ford Transit Van 2021: Costs, Facts & Figures

4 Britain’s most wanted van

3 generations of public transport vans

Via: Ford Motor Company

The Ford Transit was a revolutionary vehicle at the time. It could comfortably accommodate 5 people, carry over 1.5 tons of cargo and, thanks to Ford’s impressive engine setup, it could reach an impressive top speed while still standing like a regular passenger car. This made the Transit the right vehicle for a number of jobs, including illegal jobs.

Ford Transit Mk. 1

Via: Ford Motor Company

In 1972, the Metropolitan Police gave the transit the nickname “Britain’s most wanted van”, describing it as “Ford Transits are used in 95% of bank raids.” With the performance of a car and room for 1.75 tons of loot, the Transit is the perfect getaway vehicle. Police also used a Transit to Catch Thieves, a slightly inflated van that used the Essex 3.0-liter V6 for high-performance applications.

3 The most stolen in the UK

Via: Ford Motor Company

Public transport vans are no strangers to crime, so much so that they have won the title of “Great Britain”. But nowadays the police want these vans for a different reason: they get stolen! They are targeted to such an extent that the police regularly stop Transit drivers to offer them safety advice or to catch the thief if the driver has stolen the van.

Construction of the 2017 Ford Transit and Transit Connect

Via: Ford Motor Company

In 2015, 6,000 Transit vans were stolen, making it the most stolen vehicle in the UK. Thieves target these vehicles for their cargo, valuable equipment or tools. Worse yet, these vans are also demolished and sold for parts, then burned to destroy evidence. Only 1/3 of the stolen Transits could be recovered and returned to their owners.

2 The backbone of small businesses

Via: Ford Motor Company

Businesses need a reliable workhorse to do their jobs. They also need a special license to transport goods to many parts of the world, including the UK, the home country of Ford Transit. This license can be very expensive and could hurt the income of small business owners. But you only need a license if you are transporting more than 3.5 tonnes in the UK.

2019 Ford Transit cargo van

Via: Ford Motor Company

Since 1970, business owners have been able to choose from over 1,000 possible Ford Transit combinations. Most of them could carry a lot less than 3.5 tons, which means you don’t need a special license to drive it. This meant that small business owners around the world were buying the Ford Transit, so much so that Ford couldn’t keep up with demand. To make the Ford Transit the most popular van almost everywhere it is sold, since the day it was first introduced. Helping the economy one small business owner at a time.

Related: Here’s Why The Ford Transit Connect Is The Best Car To Live Inside

1 Transit for all

Via: Ford Motor Company

The Ford Transit has been produced continuously since 1965, it has seen four generations, each traditionally receiving a huge facelift midway through production. It was and still is offered with a large number of possible combinations. You can choose between door styles, number of seats, engine, front-wheel drive or 4-wheel drive, long or short wheelbase, cabin height and more. You can equip your Transit exactly as you want from the factory. Even the famous Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang is built on the skeleton of a Transit.

Via: Wikimedia Commons

This makes the Ford Transit the ideal vehicle for small business owners, fleet operators, governments or the growing van life movement. There are great bargains in the used market, parts are cheap and plentiful, and due to the popularity of Transit, the aftermarket options are endless, so you can build the pickup truck of your dreams.

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