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With a new Ford Transit coming to the UK market, BSM takes a look at the history of the great vehicle.
Bristol Street Motors

Ford Transit: A true motoring icon

Ford Transit: A true motoring icon

Asking a motoring enthusiast what the most iconic mass-produced car of all time is like asking a foodie what their favourite meal is - almost impossible to answer.

Invariably the Ford Escort, Sierra and Fiesta are put forward as viable candidates but there is often a difference of opinion.

Tweak the question so it refers to the commercial vehicle market however, and the argument is over with just two words: Ford and Transit.

The Transit has been in constant production in the UK since 1965 and is so popular its name is used for most of its competitors.

In the same way that vacuum cleaners are often called Hoovers and cola is referred to as Coke, commercial vans of a certain size are almost always referred to as Transits.

The model has existed in various guises over the years and the Blue Oval has been tinkering with the set-up again in order to bring the Transit in line with Euro5 emission regulations.

So, with a new model in the offing, Bristol Street Motors thought it was an ideal time to have a brief look at the history of the UK's (if not the world's) most popular van.

And while the Ford Transit may be as British as fish and chips, the Rolling Stones and rainy days, its name has German origins.

Indeed, the first production Ford to carry the Transit badge was a van built in Ford's Cologne plant on the mainland.

Introduced in 1953 as the FK 1000, which stood for Ford K´┐Żln carrying 1,000 kg, the model adopted the name Ford Taunus Transit from 1961 until its demise in 1965.

This paved the way for the first run of Ford Transits as we know and love them, which were built as a replacement for the outgoing Ford of Britain Thames 400E and Ford of Germany Taunus Transit.

What set the Transit apart from other vehicles of its kind was Ford's instance that the vehicle be based on the same set-up as other cars from its line-up and it was this ethos, and the company's decision to take its styling tips from the US, that ultimately set the van on the road to success.

Another key difference between the Transit and its rivals was the sheer number of options available to customers.

With the Mark II Transit, spanning 1978 to 1986, coming in six body styles including the Van, Kombi, Chassis Cab, Parcel Van, Bus and Crewbus models - all available in short-wheelbase and long-wheelbase form - the Transit was able to build instant brand recognition and a wide customer base.

It has been in continuous production since 1965 and high demand from the onset quickly saw production move from Ford's Langley facility in Berkshire to a plant in Southampton, where models are still rolling off the production line today.

Since then the model has become a global phenomenon and it has been built at one time or another in England, Belgium, Turkey, Holland and China among other places.

Commenting on the Transit in a recent feature, What Van had this to say about the model's early days: "Light years ahead of its predecessors and of anything else on the market at the time, it was an immediate sales success thanks to its own virtues and some remarkably astute marketing.

"The Transit soon accounted for one-in-three sales of medium-sized vans in the UK and was hitting 40 per cent by the mid-1970s."

Ford has overhauled the design of the model many times, most notably in 1978, 1986 and 2000, but each time the Transit retains the features that made it such a huge success in the first place.

In order to meet new environmental regulations, Ford has removed the 2.2 and 2.4-litre diesel engines and replaced them the new Duratorq TDCi 2.2-litre unit.

Owners of the new model can opt for 100, 125, 140 and 155 horses, while a six-speed gearbox is standard issue regardless.

What Van explained that the new models come with an emphasis on economy.

"The short-wheelbase, low-roof, 100hp T280 Econetic van [is] ... one we felt was likely to be kind to wallets and atmosphere alike," the magazine said.

One thing is for sure, regardless of the tweaks that are made, the Transit's history speaks for itself and the Blue Oval will have a best-seller on its hands for many a year to come.