When Ford Vehicle Engineering took over the 'Redcap' project from Product Planners, they gave it one of their usual Series titles. Quite why 'V-Series' was chosen no one is sure. People have suggested the 'V' stood for van, or 'Vee' engine, or even versatility, as the original range was to include 78 separate models. Vernon Preston, Transit's chassis engineer however, claims it stood for Vernon, in permanent recognition of his efforts!
Transit could well have been launched as the 'V-Series' in Britain, had it not been for the intervention of Bill Batty, who was later to become Ford of Britain Chairman, Sir William Batty. Just a few weeks before public announcement Batty asked to see one of the latest pilot build vehicles and as it happened, a German left hand drive vehicle, badged 'Transit' was sent to him at Ford's British headquarters. Batty immediately seized upon the name and had it changed it time for the pan-European launch.
Transit has always been two models that shared a common front end. At launch in 1965; both the short wheelbase (SWB) version, known internally as the LCX, and its bigger brother, the twin rear-wheeled LCY, were each built in three payload derivatives. The short, 106-inch (2,692 mm) wheelbase model had design payloads of 610, 865 and 1,120kg while the heavier, long, 118-inch (2,997 mm) wheelbase model could carry payloads of 1,272, 1,527 and 1,782 kg. Vans could be built with conventional slam rear doors or a tailgate, slam or sliding cab doors, and with or without a side loading door.
Apart from factory-built panel vans there were also nine-, 12- and 15-seater buses, chassis cabs and chassis windshields.
At the British launch, in October, the cheapest Transit, a short wheelbase, petrol engined van with a 610kg payload, cost £542. The most expensive Transit listed at that time was a 15-seat Custom bus, which cost £997 plus £159 purchase tax.
Reliability has become a hallmark of the Transit - that's why it is chosen by users like police, fire, ambulance, roadside rescue, and security firms, for whom failure to arrive could spell disaster. The Transit's fame spread far and wide - within months of its launch, a fleet of Transit buses was operating on some of the world's highest bus routes, crossing the Peruvian Andes at heights of up to 14,000 ft.
Professor Reyner Banham, writing in the magazine New Society in 1970, said "Bury a Transit for posterity! Seriously - if anthropologists and archaeologists continue to insist on evaluating civilisations by their artefacts, we deserve to remembered by the Ford Transit - the Pantechnicon Extraordinary to the way we live."
Transit's appearance was modernised with the introduction of a more car-like grille.
Transit 'Supervan' made its debut at Brands Hatch on Easter Monday. This hot property was based on a Ford GT4O sports racing car and was powered by a 5.0 litre V8 engine. It could achieve a top speed of 150 mph.
Ford introduced its first small high-speed diesel, called the York. It came in two power ratings, 54 bhp for use in the SWB models and 61 bhp for use in the heavier LWB models.
London's Metropolitan Police cast aspersions on Transit's good name by calling it "Britain's most wanted van." A Scotland Yard spokesman pointed out "Ford Transits are used in 95 per cent of bank raids. With the performance of a car, and space for 1.75 tons of loot, the Transit is proving to be the perfect getaway vehicle..."
Meanwhile, on the famous Monza race track in Italy, two diesel Transits, a short wheelbase van and a 12-seat bus, established three world records in seven days and nights of non-stop driving. The van covered 10,000 km at an average speed of 75.0 mph while the bus ran for 10,000 miles at an average speed of 73.7 mph.
The foretaste of what was to come: introduction of a new 1,000 kg payload model based on the LWB bodyshell but running on single rear wheels.
The new Transit was immediately recognisable by a new functional 'black look.' The grille, bumpers, windscreen trim and wing mirrors were all painted black.
Inside the cab, the pedals were moved forward and the seat moved back to create four extra inches (100 mm) of legroom while the steering column was lengthened slightly to improve the driving position.
A new top-weight Transit, the 190, was introduced taking Transit's maximum gross weight to 3.5 tonnes. As part of this programme front disc brakes were introduced across the range, with the new heavyweight 190 featuring ventilated disc brakes for the first time on a medium commercial.
The millionth Ford Transit was driven off the assembly line.
Transit's first major styling change came with the launch of the new shape models in March 1978. The hitherto stubby bonnet was now more streamlined and lengthened so that it could adequately package both petrol and the increasingly popular diesel engines. At the same time, new, more fuel efficient OHC engines were introduced.
Other changes included the introduction of Ford's C3 automatic transmission and a new more powerful heater with car-like ducting.
When British forces landed at Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands, two of the first vehicles to go ashore were civilian Transit mobile canteens. It was not that the men wanted be sure of a cup of tea when they arrived, but apparently after some weeks at sea as deck cargo, many of military vehicles refused to start whereas the Transits fired up without a problem.
As part of the 2.5 litre DI diesel development programme, 100 prototype engines were used in an extensive field trial with operators. The engines were based on the existing 2.4-litre York block but modified to direct injection using an in-line fuel injection pump rather than the rotary pump that eventually went into production.
The revolutionary, 2.5-litre direct injection (DI) diesel engine was introduced, which used a rotary fuel injection pump. It gave a power increase from 62 to 68 PS and yet at the same time, led to fuel consumption improvements of up to 24 per cent on SWB models and 20 per cent on LWB models.
The two millionth Ford Transit was produced on July 25.
Fourteen years after the debut of the original Supervan, Ford introduced Supervan II. This was based on another Ford ex-Le Mans car, the C100, and powered by a DFY Cosworth V8 engine. It clocked 174 mph at Silverstone.
When the day dawned for the UK press to drive the new 'fast front' Transit in the winter of 1985/6, the test track was slippery with ice and the Ford PR team deliberated as to whether it was a good idea to test drive the company's few handbuilt prototypes in such conditions. In the event, the journalists drove very carefully and it was one of the senior Ford hosts who spun off, badly damaging one of the priceless Transits!
In October, Señor Juan Garcia, a resident of Seville province and a proud Transit owner, was caught by a freak snowstorm some 3000 meters up a mountain pass. He was forced to abandon his Transit Kombi to the elements, but thankfully he and his family escaped without harm. The vehicle was subsequently buried under 5 meters of snow and could not be retrieved. But he did return next year…
In the Spring, fully six months after his Transit was buried in the mountain snow, Señor Garcia returned to the place where he was stranded. He was amazed to find that the Transit's bodywork was only slightly damaged. He was even more amazed when the Transit started up on the first try. Without further ado, he was able to drive safely back home!
The first all-new Transit was introduced in January of that year, just over 20 years after the original launch.
This daringly radical 'fast-front' Transit had a best-in-class drag coefficient of 0.37 that was better than a number of cars at the time. It was so good that even though the loadspace was increased by between 11 and 13.5 per cent the all important CdA was actually reduced by 11 per cent, allowing a fuel consumption saving of up to eight per cent to be made.
The new nose was not just an aerodynamic device, it was also designed to collapse progressively in a crash and thus improve safety. The new wide bonnet also provided unrivalled access to the engine for service work.
The designers created bigger cab doors with deeper windows giving a greater sense of space. Load access was improved by using wider and taller rear doors and increasing the width of the side loading door so that it would accept a one metre wide pallet. Other important changes included the introduction of modified MacPherson strut independent front suspension, and rack-and-pinion steering on SWB models, direct glazing for the windscreen, plus the use of high security chubb-style locks on doors and ignition to improve vehicle security.
The best year for Transit production to date. A total of 173,059 vehicles rolled off the production lines at Southampton in Britain, Genk in Belgium and Azambuja in Portugal.
Transit broke new ground again with a major redesign of the underbody structure. It not only improved manufacturing efficiency and thus build quality, but also allowed these models to handle the full force of a 30 mph barrier test and provide the strength required to restrain even a triple seat and its occupants.
In addition, the front-end structure, seat-belt anchorages, seat mountings and the seats themselves, were also reinforced to satisfy the test requirements. The new underbody design allowed a new one and half tonne payload SWB model, the Transit 150, to be introduced on 15-inch wheels.
Long wheelbase models changed even more significantly. They standardised on 15-inch wheels, adopted single rear wheels and switched to an independent front suspension with rack and pinion steering.
Furthermore, the use of narrower wheelarches on these models allowed the width of the floor between them to be increased by 365 mm to 1,376 mm. Also these models took on a new look as the wheelbase was increased by 550 mm in order to suit the revised axle loadings brought about by the switch to a single wheel rear axle.
The new 1991 model was notable, too, for the introduction of a turbocharged diesel in a Transit. This new derivative of the 2.5 litre DI featured the first-ever use of electronic management on a medium commercial, and was key to it producing 100 PS and also meeting stringent exhaust emissions standards. A new 80 PS naturally aspirated 2.5 DI diesel, which used a ram effect inlet manifold and complemented the existing 70 PS unit, was also introduced.
Ford produced the three millionth Ford Transit on September 15, the same month in which the current Transit was introduced.
Easily recognisable by its friendly oval shaped grille, the current Transit was the most refined, secure and safest Transit ever built. Sound levels measured at the ear were 5dBA lower than before, representing a dramatic reduction in perceived noise level of almost 70 per cent. In-cab sound quality was approaching reached car levels, with the characteristic diesel engine knock being drastically reduced.
The security of all van and chassis cab models was significantly improved by a number of specifically designed deterrents including central lock, a perimeter alarm, double locking and Ford's electronic, passive anti-theft system which prevents the engine from being started without the correct key.
Occupant safety was further improved by the introduction of a full three-point lap and diagonal seat belt for the front centre passenger and the availability of driver and dual passenger airbags. Seat belt pre-tensioners are now standard on the two outer front seats and the dual passenger seat now has an anti-submarining seatpan.
On a damp night that year, a short wheelbase Transit carrying a half-tonne payload was driven by British freelance journalist Simon Harvey around one complete lap of the infamous M25 London orbital motorway at an average speed of 50.02 mph and an average fuel consumption of over 40mpg. The whole exercise was witnessed by the Royal Automobile Club.
Supervan II was transformed into Supervan III with a new-look bodyshell and one of Ford's latest Grand Prix engines.
From the Spring, the simple lap belts fitted to all rear seats of 12- and 15-seat Transit buses, have been replaced with three-point, lap and diagonal seat belts, all of which are fitted with grabbers to maximise their effectiveness.
Driver comfort is improved by a restyled cab interior which features new trim materials in lighter, brighter colours, a completely revised dash incorporating a Mondeo-style instrument cluster and new climate control system.
The next chapter of the Ford Transit story begins, as the first all-new Ford Transit is produced at Ford's Genk Assembly Plant in Belgium, and makes its public debut at the RAI 2000 European Road Transport Show in Amsterdam.
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