It is an icon, an institution, a respected and loved name that is now celebrating 50 years since it first set the benchmark. The name “Transit” has become the byword for van and a reputation for versatility is something it has held throughout its history. Loved by everyone from the lone man in his van, to the many who use it as a minibus. There is a passion for the Ford Transit as it is a true representation of the working class and its cult status has been hard earned through 50 years of graft.
The transit story begins with two similar Ford products that were built worlds apart. In Germany the FK 1000 van (or Taunus Transit) and the UK designed Thames 400E. Ford recognised that larger and more capable commercial vehicles were required and that it was rather silly to waste resources producing two products that do the same job. A collaboration between Britain and Germany was formed under the name of “Project Redcap.” The end result was the MK1 Ford Transit with the first one rolling off of the line in 1965.
Ford Transit was an instant hit with the ability to carry large loads whilst not costing a business the Earth to make a purchase. However, it had another trait that made it truly infamous… Most vans back then, and even some today, possessed the same road holding abilities as an elephant on roller-skates, but the Transit was a very different proposition. It handled like a car and when empty its lack of overall weight made it pretty handy on technical roads. This is something that was used to great effect by bank robbers. It is rumoured that 70% of all bank robberies during the 60’s and 70’s involved a Ford Transit at some point. What did the police do about this? “If you can’t beat them, join them!” Soon every industry adopted the Transit as their own.
This van became a symbol that everyone could relate to and during the “hippie” movement an ex-Ford employee by the name of Peter Lee repaired a broken Transit and took it abroad. He and friends lived out of the van picking strawberries and living freely. To him the Ford Transit was the thing that enabled that lifestyle. When he came home he started his own business and guess what trusted nameplate he chose to power his fleet? For the past 10 years Peter has been running the Transit Owners Club which has a vast array of very individual machines.
Today there have been eight incarnations of the Ford Transit, each becoming a stronger product than its impressive predecessor. There are millions of variations to be had; double cab, single cab, extended wheel base, high top, jumbo, minibus, tipper, flatbed, and so on. Each with different specifications that makes the Transit fit for any purpose. There have even been some very special vans including the F1 powered Supervan and World Rally van. You name it, a Transit has done it. In the showroom now, Transit is a family catering for every need.
The Ford Transit van has been everything; chauffeur, ambulance crew, Police officer, builder, plumber, carpenter, fire crew, fishmonger, delivery operator, F1 car, rally car, monster truck. If Transit was person it would have the most qualified CV in Britain. It has empowered everyone from entrepreneurs to international businesses. Over 8,000,000 million of them have been sold globally across many markets. “The sun now never sets on Transit.”
Happy 50th Birthday to the van that has contributed more than any other.