Vans : Ford Transit (VE6) development story

Ten years on from the end of its UK production, James Godwin tells the story of the design process of the 1986 Ford Transit at the firm’s Dunton facility in Essex.

It was an interesting process – and a tale of inspiration and improving on the best…

Ford Transit: The aerodynamic revolution

Ford Transit 1

Launched in the 1960s the Ford Transit became inspiration for the Leyland Sherpa and just about every other light commercial vehicle. However, the mid-1980s saw a major a change in the icon’s gestation. The aerodynamic van was inspired by the Ford Sierra and Granada, as well as the best of the European and American opposition…

With its windscreen distinctively slanted to match the angle of the bonnet, the Ford Transit featured a simple one box-like design to match those of the recently launched Renault Trafic and Master (below) vans. But did it? Designers are very clever in maintaining an aesthetic balance – the looks – despite challenges from the engineers, accountants, crash legislators or, in this case, Ford’s fleet experts and technicians.

You see that, while the clamshell bonnet line flows up neatly to meet the windscreen, the bonnet’s leading edge follows its own line all in the cause of allowing plenty of access to the engine. Before we discuss that, let’s first cast our eyes over the market landscape.

The market vanscape in the early 1980s

Beford Opel Blitz

As it stood, Ford’s restyled 1978 Transit design had a commanding hold on the market, taking a 28% share, with the Sherpa languishing at 8%. In 1982, the Sherpa’s K2 facelift introduced a new nose, with a Range Rover-style grille and mildly revised panel work. More significantly, the K2 also benefited from some structural alterations to the still BMC J4-derived rear bodywork, allowing the Sherpa to be offered with a sliding door capable of taking a standard-width pallet.

It was clear that the trend was moving toward the one-box design, with compromises such as the Bedford CF (Opel/Bedford Blitz above) and its 1980s US cousins the GMC Safari and Chevrolet Astro following a more progressive shape than the Sherpa and earlier Transit, with slanted grilles and shorter bonnets. Yet Ford’s research told them that many operators complained of the lack of access to the engine.

However, Fiat and PSA updated the theme with the 1981:

  • Fiat Ducato (and – unbelievably – the Alfa Romeo AR6!)
  • Citroën C25, Peugeot J5 and Talbot Express

Alfa Romeo AR6

Renault Master

Ford Transit 1986: The brief

For inspiration, Ford’s eye turned to Renault instead. While similar concerns were raised over the front-wheel-drive Renault Trafic and its larger sister, the rear-wheel-drive Master, these were very progressive designs, with wraparound sliding doors on the Master to aid access and cab features such as extra storage for maps, delivery instructions and – probably – that day’s copy of ‘The Currant Bun’. Besides, Ford had plenty of time to improve upon the Renaults as they were launched in 1980, some six years prior to the Ford’s unveiling.

With the competition in mind, Ford’s design brief was to create a van with more space, to be built more profitably and, of course, cleave the air with considerable more aplomb than its predecessor. So, while the early 1980s took its toll on the dear old Sherpa, Designers at Ford’s UK-based Design Centre (Dunton, Essex) busied themselves with sketching, clay shaving and clinicing their future Transit replacement.

While the underpinnings remained, Ford decided to follow the one box layout from the 1980 Renault Trafic and Master. Early forays were rather Citroën-esque and futuristic, complete with split side DLOs (day light openings to you) and half concealed rear wheels. Earlier themes also morphed the original Sierra into a slippier development of Bedford’s theme.

Transit’s designer tricks

Ford Transit 7.2

Ford Transit 8

Ford Transit 9

Ford Transit 10

Ford Transit 11

Ford Transit 12

The Granada/Scorpio influence

Early ideas were abandoned, for between 1982 and 1985, Ford’s European family aesthetic was developing from the bluff Sierra visage to the Granada/Scorpio’s wraparound face. The Transit followed this, bringing it in line with Ford’s family of cars at a time where Ford of Europe’s design identity was at its most homogeneous.

Rare for a Ford was the clamshell bonnet, which created the illusion of being a one-box shape, with the line running from the header rail down to the bumper.

The actual silhouette a three-quarter-way house between the Bedford CF and a complete ‘one box’. This was to accommodate the general arrangement and give technicians access to the engine while allowing for a more streamlined silhouette. Viewed from above, the Designers had cunningly disguised the long front overhang by chamfering the edges at the headlamps. This useful trick continues to benefit today’s pedestrian friendly protruding snouts.

Ford Transit 15

All in the aerodynamic detail

Short-wheelbase versions benefited from a more modern independent front suspension system, improving the ride quality and handling. Load space also increased, while access and visibility were improved. The rear doors were extended and the rear loading width increased, giving the Transit a wider opening at the back than any van in its class.

For visibility larger door mirrors and a deeper window aperture to accommodate view lines gave the cab area a distinct look, while the low-effort sliding side-doors (allowing users easily load a metre-wide pallet) runner dictated the side with a styling crease. On top of this were 32 door combinations, six axle ratios and options for 12 – 17 interior seats.

All of these were available in any combination when purchased with Ford’s highly customisable custom plan. At the time, this gave the business sector an unprecedented amount of flexibility, which was a major factor in the vehicles’ ultimate success.

Transit 1986: Inside the cab

Ford Transit 20

Inside, the driver was moved towards the front end to allow for more loadspace, and enjoyed a better view thanks to the enlarged screen and side windows. But besides the Granada style instrument surround, with the round ‘are they on or off?!’ micro-switches, eagle-eyed spotters (of which there are far too many to be healthy) will notice carry-over items the similar instruments, pedals, heater box and featureless gearknob.

Two-pedalled versioned featured the same T-bar Cortina style control – another reminder that things beneath were not as modern as hoped.

Transit power!

Under the bonnet, a range of new, multi-valve, aluminium block units were ushered in… oh, hang on. As this is a Ford of yesteryear missive, all we shall say about the engines is that they were mainly the same as those from 1978-85. A selection of five engines was available: 1.6-litre OHC Petrol (Pinto), 1.6-litre OHV Petrol (Kent), 2.0-litre OHC Petrol (Pinto) and the York diesel based 2.5 DI (direct injection).

The biggest news was the five-speed gearbox, which – combined with the slippery bodyshell – drastically reduced fuel consumption.

Larger SVO engines were the venerable 3.0-litre Essex V6 to start off with… nothing to write home (or put anything here for that matter) and, of course being a Ford, the Transit’s engine selection showed a steadfast lack of investment. The 2.8-litre V6 (Cologne) was, bizarrely, bypassed and the newer 2.9-litre replaced the Essex in 1989.

Launch success

Ford Transit 21

Ford Transit 23

Ford Transit 24

To help launch the new van, a ‘Chasseur’ concept was created by Ford’s SVO (Special Vehicle Operations) team to combine a commodious van with a cocooning leather-lined mobile office. This was joined by a neat RS200 Support Vehicle cab and trailer concept. Christened ‘Tug’, this could have made more of a splash were it not for the fact that the rally thoroughbred it was supposed to tow was facing an untimely demise.

Meanwhile, Ford’s product placement gurus thrust the new van (and every other Blue Oval metal for that matter, apart from a blue Rover SD1 SE) into Michael Caine’s action picture, The ~Fourth Protocol. You know the film, where one moment the Transit has wheel covers then the next it doesn’t…

Ford Transit 25 fourth

A tale of continuous development

VE6 was a great success, and Ford continued to invest. A subtle facelift in 1991 hid a re-engineering effort underneath, with the fully independent front suspension rolled out across the range, some updated engines and gearboxes while a redesigned floorpan allowed the use of single rear wheels on the LWB derivative, further increasing payload. These models are identifiable by the slightly more rounded front headlamps and larger wheels filling out the wheelarches.

However, the Transit’s competition was catching up. 1991 saw a FWD VW Transporter, showing operators a five-cylinder workhorse if they so choose. The Bedford CF disappeared only to be replaced by the short-lived Midi, a forward control Isuzu. Then GM forged its alliance with Renault Nissan to put its badges on their wares and keep the old Bedford/IBC plant in Luton operational.

Ford retaliated with more car-like features, an oval grille and a new interior with the 1994 Transit. The major facelift (VE83) gave the Transit a new Ford elliptical oval nose to cool a new range of engines, and a new oval frenzy interior available with air conditioning, electric windows and airbags.

Alas, the early 1990s was the time when the Ford family look lost its way. Instead of a common theme, cars such as the Mondeo became amorphous, while old stagers received incongruous nose and tail jobs – the Fiesta’s succeeded, the Scorpio’s and Escort’s did not.

Yet, despite the Transit’s somewhat agricultural powertrain, it retained its best-seller’s reputation. Its replacement in 2000 corrected the mechanical shortcomings while adding a front-wheel-drive option into the equation. The new powertrain was wrapped up in a rather bland American body. Meanwhile. the Sherpa was rechristened twice and then properly overhauled to become the Convoy and Pilot in 1995.

A Worthing-designed Daewoo van eventually replaced the Sherpa design in 2004, following a prolonged gestation. So, the van grew up.

Thanks to Neil Birtley and Mark Finney.

James Godwin
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  1. I love Transit vans.

    I have driven a Opel Blitz, we had a 1980 model at GKN we used for axle testing. Pretty sure it was Bedford badged.

    How weird does the Alfa van look? Although cool somehow!

  2. Funny how that prototype mock up dash showed the type 9 5 speed, which didn’t become available until the 1988 model year (first facelift), and before that the high end vans had 4 speed plus overdrive, which was the same system as used on many 1970s BL products with o/d on 3rd & 4th. My high school actually won a fully spec’d up 15 seater on a D plate (2.5 DiL twin wheel model with the overdrive, headlamp washers, radio cassette, full length roof rack and tachograph), and it was presented to the school by David Bellamy. It was a contest organised by Ford, and the bus had Essex area plates.

    The 2.5 Di is the stuff of legends, as it was tough as old boots, and many bus companies that operated Sherpa 350’s often re-engined them with the Ford Di and type 9.

    In the late 1990’s up to mid naughties, Transit Di’s would go missing alarmingly regularly, just for their engines & boxes, especially in the West Yorkshire area. Many market traders had their vans stolen from Pontefract of all places, and it got so bad that traders actually started ‘van watch’, where they would take turns patrolling the car parks where the vans were parked. Yes these vans were taken in broad daylight, and one of the car parks was overlooked by the building where the local CID were based!

  3. Oh and to add to this the Master was front wheel drive. It was the B series which used the Master shell that was rear wheel drive. Leeds City Council had a few of them

  4. And the 88 model year was launched Sept/Oct 87. I remember having the poster boasting about ‘new 5 speed for 88’ etc

  5. The ’86 Transit was like nothing else at the time of launch- I remember going into the local newsagent and doing a double-take when I saw a picture of it on the front of a magazine. The Mk1 Focus had an identical effect when I first saw a pic on the front of Autocar- Auto Express’s hackneyed ‘Shock new…’ headline would have been aptly used in these cases.

    Also remember seeing the Tug van and trailer on the Ford stand of that year’s motorshow in Birmingham.

  6. @11, it was almost certainly the ‘steak & kidney lock opener’ lot pinching them. It was so distressing to see the aftermath, because the traders had no way of getting home after a day’s graft. The area also had some pretty dodgy scrappers, so it was dead easy to get rid of the shells too.

    It is funny how Ford have screwed up so badly now, and just about lost their share of the market, when at one point most vans you saw were the slope nose Transit. Even Ford called it ‘the backbone of Britain’, basically because nigh on every PLC had massive fleets, right down to your local self employed tradesman. It was the ‘Swiss Army knife’ of vans. Just about any spec, you could have it. I know at one point they said there was over a million possibilities of spec choice on the Transit….

  7. I have experience of both this version of the Transit in minibus form and a sloth like Sherpan minibus with a petrol engine, the Transit beat it hands down in Di form, having performance like a car, luxuries like a radio/cassette( the Sherpa had a two band radio), and was car like with its seats and dashboard. While the Sherpa proved to be a reliable enough old bus in the year I experienced it on a job creation scheme, the Transit my university owned was a revelation, 85 mph on the M6 no problem , where the Sherpa seemed to struggle above 50 mph. You can see why Ford had such a big share of this market for so long.

  8. I remember yonks ago helping my brother move house, the van he rented on my be half as he couldn’t drive was a Sherpa 350 twin wheel luton PETROL…It could barely top 35 fully laden.

  9. Alfa version of the Talbot Express was probably signed off at the same time by the muppet that gave the green light to the Cherry Europe/Arna!

    • Alfa used to make great twin-cam vans for the Italian market. It made sense to sell the Ducato/Peugeot/Citroen there (and nowhere else) as an Alfa.
      Britain and Ireland were the other oddballs.. The Peugeot J5 getting called Talbot Express nowhere else. (and causing Renault to rename their Express the Extra for UK & IRL)

  10. Alfa Romeo had quite a long history of van making, but that van is just dire really. The Express/Ducato/C25 wasn’t the best in its class shall we say

  11. As a sad epitaph to British van making the Transit is being transferred to Turkey this year and LDV, whose vans came good in latter years, is no more. It’s sad as I remember Commer, Ford, Bedford and British Leyland from my youth and now there’s only the Vauxhall Vivaro.

  12. I had experience of the Bedford CF 2.3 petrols. The ones my dad’s company owned were bought as cab chassis and had coach built Luton bodies fitted. They had plastic rear lamp clusters which used to melt in the heat from the exhaust which pointed straight at the rear RH cluster. Some judicious use of a scaffolding bar to bend the tailpipe solved the problem. The CF was pretty nippy, better than the petrol transit but the tappets required a special tool and adjusting them was not my favourite job due to the restricted access. The main problem with the CF was rust, especially in the bonnet lip and doors.

    In contrast, the wedge tranny had a better gearbox but the 1.6 petrols were wimpy. The 2.5DI was the stuff of legends – if you could put up with the noise! On balance, the tranny just had the edge but the CF was a pretty good van which used a Perkins diesel in the early ones and a GM unit in the later ones.

    The Sherpa was arthritic by comparison with either of the above, I can well remember being unable to crack 70mpg with a lightly laden Sherpa diesel even downhill and being down to 50 in third uphill, whereas the CF would crack 80 downhill and go uphill in 4th with no problem.

  13. The 5 speed option was there from day one (early 1986) as the box was related to that of the Sierra/Granada. Later MT-75 5 speed boxes were treated to a proper gearknob showing reverse as down to the right.

  14. I am not normally a van driver but drove a couple of 1990’s Hire Transit’s. Okay handling and as i was driving them cautiously no concerns about power output.

    In the late 60s my brother worked for Rediffusion and drove a couple of their Transit MK1 vans which I was allowed to ride in (I was about 13). I recall they were the petrol ones and pretty fast… as are all vans, especially white ones!

  15. My mate had a ’88 1.4 minibus, which drank petrol and was about as slow as you’d imagine. I take it this used a CVH, I’ve never heard of another one although Renault also equipped the Trafic with the 1.4 Cleon. It was a big improvement when vans all went diesel.

  16. I’m not sure ‘muppet’ is the right terminology for the guy and his team who were trying to save Alfa Romeo with the Arna – but had no finance, terrible industrial relations history and (at that particular time) a poor market coverage.
    We lost the CF Bedford early on in the van competition but I drove and used both in the 70’s and the Transit in any of it’s guises was never a match for the 2.3 CF in my view.

  17. The CF had too much of a bus like driving position, and was even more utilitarian than the Transit I felt. The ice cream trade loved the CF though, and there are still the select few out there earning a crust. The CF2’s handy completely unboltable front end was a great design feature, especially when it came to do an engine swap

    • I much preferred the CF’s handling… The wishbone front end felt like like a sports car compared to wobbly beam-axle Trannys.
      I quite liked the flat-wheel position too.. Similar to a VW Transporter or Leyland PD3!

  18. @12 – “Its funny how Ford have screwed up” – Have they? Thought the Transit was still market leader by a mile, Still seems to account for 9 out of 10 vans on the road anyway. The new model is only just on sale so too soon to rate that as a hit or miss.

  19. Where’s the Mercedes T1, it came out in ’78 and kept the Cab over engine layout but was the first van to be almost exclusively diesel. They were very long lived (rust excepted like all commercials), and are still a common site in most of Europe and are everywhere in Africa and India (where they are still made as Tempo Travellers). I have to admit I have a personal bias towards Merc T1s after driving a 410D to Morocco and it giving flawless performance, unlike my experience in a far newer LDV400 ambulance, which broke down in every country I took it to.

    The Mk3 Transit also lives on in Russia and China, albeit with different front ends. The new Mk3s look pretty strange trying to pull off a look they’re far too old for, a bit like Madonna really.

    Yeah I wouldn’t exactly say Ford has screwed up with the current Transit it’s still very popular considering it’s a 13 year old design and about to be replaced, if anything Britain has just become more like Europe and Sprinters/VW LTs are now equally common.

  20. To say it allegedly went on sale last August, I have yet to see a new gen on the road. All the big fleets are now allied to the Sprinter, even Parcel Farce have the Sprinter/VW Crafter as the standard van now, and G4S have used Sprinters for cash in transit vehicles for well over 10 years. Even the ice cream trade have all but turned their back on Uncle Henry’s creation, and are using Sprinters. Northgate vehicle rental are standardizing on Mercedes too for large vans. It is a great shame to see the humble Tranny van fall from grace

  21. New Transit Custom (FWD VW Transporter rival) was revealed last August, new ones are filtering through now. Later in year we’ll see the new RWD Transit to go against the Sprinters, LTs and Masters/Movanos.

  22. The trouble is, that is sales lost against the competition, and Ford’s market share for nigh on everything is starting to slip, and in reality in Europe, it’s only the Fiesta that is keeping them afloat

  23. @29,I work for Northgate plc,and we have always used MWB and 4M sprinters and that isnt about to change,when you see a A plant or LUX Iveco daily they are ours too,as are a lot of Royal Mail vans, police and local councils.The bulk of our fleet are Ford products,such is our buying power we get a good bulk discount,but not for the connect so we have Caddies,we have evaluated the new Transit and it is Brilliant and they was ordered months ago and will be on stream later in the year.Such is the size of our fleet,most problems we have had in the past is faulty egr’s, goosed engines(very sensitive to oil change neglect)but on the whole they get the job done thats why they have consistantly been at the top of the sales charts-also repair costs,compare a Movano clutch to a transit RWD,i can do a RWD tranny clutch in 30 mins flat,20 in a sprinter,i could do 5 before i got the over complicated front suspension stripped on a Movano to allow driveshaft removal,its a no brainer.

  24. I was brought up with vans. The first motor vehicle I can remember being in was a Morris 1/2 ton van. I was about 3 (Front looked like a Morris oxford. Back looked like a large Morris Minor van)My dad back in the day had an electrical shop. We did not have a car until I was about 9 or 10
    He had a few Bedford CA’s Then shock horror he bought a VW type 2 (His mate had opened a VW dealer in the early 60’s) He had 2 Split screen and 1 Bay. As the bussnes grew he went onto Transits. They were a revalation I think he had 2 or 3 MK1’s.
    To keep up the tradition Im off to view a 98 Simely front transit camper van tomorrow 🙂 It had the 2.5 DI. My repair garage owning friend always says the 2.5DI engine in the best thing ford has ever done full stop!

  25. Everyone says that about the Di – york derived engine at its best when it had pencil injectors and bags of torque,but then again they say that about cortinas-at least you could fix ’em and the like.Time moves on im afraid i wouldnt have a Di now far too rough and slow,but pretty much bombproof.Maybe we are too mollycoddled now and expect limo like comforts in what is just a workhorse.

  26. I saw a new Transit today… I was driving past Warley however!

    The real reason the transit lost its footing? SPEED. At the turn of the millennium every self respecting large van driver got a taste for warp speed – a ride in a rivals van, a daily rental, or just a trial lease – as soon as white van man got his size 10’s on the throttle of a Sprinter the thoughts of his Di non turbo, shift gears to get up hill at deafening speed (think inside Big Ben on the hour) Transit “smiley” went all negative. The exiting generation Transit took too long to come on stream and the captive audience had gone – for good.

    The rough and ready days of non common rail, no air conditioning, vinyl seated work horses finished when the fireworks went off celebrating the start of the 21st century. The Transit was VHS, the rivals DVD… and when the Transit caught up, the slick Ford marketing machine couldn’t keep up with 21st century man.

  27. I base the above on user experience of Transits, Ducato’s, Sprinter’s, Transporter’s, Vivaro’s, LDV’s. I never played with a Movano so I don’t know – but I dare say the heavy plastic cladding was VERY friendly with fleet managers on lease returns…

  28. JAG75 good find, if a little disturbing. There’s an in house version too. It’s 1978s Merc T1 dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century in India, although they’ve stuck with the original 68hp diesel.

    These disturbing 3rd world intergenerational zombies make me glad that cars like the SD1 died a natural death instead of having a half arsed attempt at an A7 front grafted on them.

  29. The light blue concept drawing with the covered rear wheels – the side window on that looks like the 2000s Transit that replaced the slope nose.

    The Ford Supervan version of the mk3 Transit was really the original mk1/2 version with a mk3 nose grafted on. Still cool though.

  30. @35, Andrew Elphick,

    The original base spec Sprinter 208 (mainstay of many hire fleets) was anything but fast- indeed, as my uncle quipped after driving one, Mercedes ought to have been sued under the Trades Descriptions Act for calling it a Sprinter!

    It also had a gearchange that was clearly biased for LHD markets, and having once hired one to help my Mum move from Gloucester to Dollgellau (Snowdonia), I can tell you that constantly having to reach over to change gear (very frequently, due to the terrain), driving one for a couple of hours gave you serious backache. Later Sprinters, esp with the twin turbo 2.2s and dash mounted change were much nicer to drive, with decent performance on A roads at least even when overladen.

    That said, the early Sprinter handled very well, just as well, because with the limited power you needed to carry as much speed through the corners as was feasible.

  31. Funnily enough even German drivers complained about the Sprinter’s driving position and pedal positioning.

  32. Chris the sprinters even in 208 form whipped the Transit, I found the biggest failing in mine (and the LT’s) was the awfull ventilation – no fresh airforce your face and stuff as hell! The footwell flip up tool and battery covers were mud magnets too. Unladen they would lock up something awfull too – I will give the Transit 10/10 for braking power.

    My ideal van would have been the VW 5 pot from my T4 in the mark2 Ducato body and load height featuring the Transit brakes! Actually I will have the ground clearance of my 6 bolt Transit 150 SWB too!

  33. During the 1960’s I worked for a car hire company in Liverpool and we also had a few Bedford CAs on the fleet to cope with folk who needed such things–there were no van hire companies in those days! The call came to go to collect half a dozen of these new fangled Transit things from London so off we went. What a revelation, they were quick, very quick compared to the CA and drove like proper vehicles.
    By the way they only had the V4 petrol in them and they had a huge thirst–but we were delivery drivers and they did do the M1 flat out all the way!
    Things were never to be the same again!

  34. So the 1980 Escort was codenamed ‘Erika’, 82 Sierra was ‘Toni’ and 85 Granada ‘Greta’. Why didn’t the Transit get the codename ‘Bertha’ or even ‘Sandra’. A big sturdy girls name? VE6 lacks feeling….

  35. We got a C reg Transit from the Variety Club of Great Britain as a Mini Bus (for a youth project I was working with). Drove more like a car than a minibus. Superb motor!

  36. @ 49 Andrew Elphick – February 4, 2013

    That photo was taken on Sydenham Drive Leamington Spa! What was the Ford dealer there called? Alas the base transit had the non-padded wheel and seats that stopped half way up ya back.

  37. @48 , and probably of interest to Yorkie:

    The variety club transit was immortalised as a die cast model which you could get from collecting tokens from teabags

    Other than that, around the 1:60 scale, Corgi (who also had a larger 1:43 long wheelbase) and Matchbox offered panel vans with the single lifting rear door.
    Majorette had a minibus varient with sliding door and tow trick.

  38. @51 The Dealership was called Soans

    think people are being a little harsh on the Sherpa here, Once it got Turbo power, especially in Di Form it was equal to the Tranny imo

  39. Just stumbled on your website, fascinating!! I am a great fan of mk3 Transits, I have a lwb Minibus converted to camper powered by Audi 2.5tdi AEL 5 cylinder, mated to Type 9 box using old LT bellhousing,(modded), IFS with power rack and vented discs grafted on, and twin rear axle replaced with ’92 single wheel timken banjo type with Zephyr 3.5 cw&p, 15″ Lada Niva alloys. It’s very fast, but once broke a pair of 5th gears,(easy to change) and it’s also for sale. I am a retired Rally Car mechanic and have built and owned many 3L V6 Mk1s and 2s all were driven far too hard!!!

    • This website is too addictive Nigel, glad you liked the article. Must see images of your Transit!

  40. The Trafic and Master were both front wheel drive, the Trafic having the engine in front of the transaxle, like the Estafette, R12/18 etc, and the Master having it behind like the R16, R4 etc.
    Both were also available in RWD and 4×4 versions though, just to confuse the issue!

  41. I’m a bit late…

    Yay! Transit! Or more specifically – Yay! Vans in general!

    My driving life has been almost dominated by vans. I’ve driven lovely Bedford CF’s, Transits (of course) Ducatos, Boxers, Sprinters, LTs, Movano’s, Masters and Trafics… My favourite drive of all has to be the Bedford, the 2.3 slant-4 lump was always a pleasure. But if I could choose any van to own and drive every day it’d be a Tranny with the good old 2.5 Di under the bonnet.

    My favourite was a E reg LWB number (faded red, so pink, with a yellow bonnet) that had an alarming habit of jumping out of reverse with an almighty bang. Unladen it went like stink (well it did to me as an 18 year old). The newer shape (now discontinued) Tranny was a disappointment to me, especially the 85ps 350 luton van I once had the “pleasure” of driving a couple of hundred miles in. I once drove an automated manual Transit which was, erm, pointless?

    This article has me trawling the net now, I wonder if I can pick up a half decent late “smiley” that hasn’t totally disintegrated for a few notes…

  42. If anything the Transit is even more important to Ford of Europe now, a massive money spinner in the last couple of years, with passenger car production being restricted so precious chips can be used to produce vans.

    And going forward, Ford’s electric car range will be dominated by VW based products, whereas in the commercial sector Ford will lead large van development for Ford and VW at Dunton.

  43. I wish someone would contribute the development of the mk1 Transit. It would be fascinating to see early drawings etc.

  44. The wedge-nosed Transit design/styling was ripped-off by the Russians, where it’s made by the GAZ company under the name GAZelle, more often known as the Transitski !

  45. I don’t know how I missed this story back when it was out for the first time! Back in the dawns of time I did four months delivery driving. Everything from Cargos to Trannies at the grand age of 21! Unfortunately my experience of the tranny back then wasn’t great as the company had a Luton version whose power steering had packed up! Try driving that and lumping range cookers all day. Most of us refused to drive it, but when one of the Cargos was put on its side on the A12, the bloody Luton came out again! It put me off Trannies, especially as the Sprinter we had was a joy to drive. Later on, drove a couple of hired trannies for moving (home and work) and they were really a good drive. I will try and see if my mum has my dad’s anniversary copy of the Ford News celebrating the Tranny’s birthday as I think it had some design for the mk1/2.

  46. That would be great, thanks. Spent many years door to door deliveries in my teens in an automatic mk1. Then several mk1’s,including a v4 2litre Luton . Drove that one Leeds to Greenock, Scotland and back, flat out, you could see the petrol gauge moving down!
    The later mk1 from about 1975 was a revelation with the 1600 Kent engine. It looked lost in the engine bay, with really long engine mounts. They also had to move the gearbox back a bit, so had an odd arrangement at the bottom of the gearstick involving a cotter pin! Much smoother and quite though.

  47. The third generation Transit made life a lot more bearable for the driver, who could be needed to drive a van on a motorway several times a week. Fitting the van with a five speed transmission meant far less engine noise, as well as improved fuel consumption, and made motorway journeys less stressful. Also standard equipment like fabric seats with headrests, radio/cassettes and clocks made the driving environment in a Transit more car like.

  48. The Bedford CF Replacement was intended to have looked reminiscent of a Renault Trafic and the then new shape Transit and meant to have been launched about 1988/89 according to a 1987 edition of WHAT VAN magazine until the company’s problems had began not long after giving up with Trucks completely late the previous year so the project was ditched and Bedford just concentrated on Japanese sauced stuff.

    The Alfa Romeo badged SEVEL’s main customer was the Italian Police and Carabinieri more than anyone else.

  49. Imported vans started to grow in popularity in the eighties. The Mercedes Sprinter became known for its durability and reliability and while they never achieved the same popularity as their cars, Japanese vans gained a following among the self employed for their reliability and standard equipment such as fitted radios and cigarette lighters. Remember, many van drivers could spend hours in a noisy vehicle with hard plastic seats and no in car entertainment, and Ford did recognise with later Transits that the driver deserved a better environment to drive in and fitted better sound deadening and more standard equipment.

  50. Please has anyone seen any sketches or pictures of the development of the mk1 Transit? It was such a sea change from the Thames 400E.I’ve never seen anything related to its development (except one picture with door open from testing).

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