A fond look back at the Ford Tran­sit

Let's Talk - - CONTENT - Peter Lee’s ‘Ford Tran­sit Fifty Years’ is out now and his forth­com­ing book ‘Ford Tran­sit – The Mak­ing of an Icon’ is out soon. The web­site for all things Tran­sit can be founds at: www.tran­sit­van­ If you used to own or reg­u­larly drive a Ford Tran

I ’m not proud of what I’m about to tell you, but when my old DJ mates and I get to­gether we re­call it with much mirth.

Let me set the scene. Back in the day we had a Ford Tran­sit van and in it we car­ried the para­pher­na­lia of a mo­bile disco hither and thither across East Anglia. There were disco decks, speak­ers, lights and - long be­fore the age when a DJ could put thou­sands of tunes in his pocket on a tiny mem­ory stick - lots of hefty record boxes.

By the time we ac­quired it, the ‘Tranny’, as we af­fec­tion­ately called it, had al­ready seen ster­ling ser­vice with a well-known se­cu­rity firm and as such, had a small oval win­dow set at the top of one of the van’s sides. This, we as­sumed, was to spy on pos­si­ble as­sailants when large sums of money were trans­ferred. It held lit­tle pur­pose for us - un­less heav­ily ‘tooled’ thieves were about to rob us of the lat­est T. Rex sin­gle!

When empty of gear the van had a cav­ernous load space and, de­spite us hav­ing a very com­fort­able coach seat in­stalled in the front, it was huge fun to ride in the back sit­ting on the metal floor.

Do put this down to the reck­less­ness of youth, be­cause the gen­eral slid­ing about be­came known as the ‘Tranny Slalom’.

If three or four of us were in the back, the driver would en­deav­our to turn late into bends, seek out a rare un­du­lat­ing route around these parts and, when empty roads per­mit­ted, would feel the need to test the brakes.

This ad­vanced ver­sion of the ‘Tranny Slalom’ had a brave soul stand­ing up and try­ing to main­tain his bal­ance. I’m sure we suc­cumbed to the odd bruise, but in the end, all we can re­call as we sit around now with a beer, is hys­ter­i­cal laugh­ter. It prob­a­bly stretched a law back then and would surely break one now. Sorry Of­fi­cer!

We loved the Tran­sit. Not only was it per­fect for a mo­bile disco, it was a nice van to ride in. When Ford launched it in 1965 it was dif­fer­ent from what went be­fore, of­fer­ing car-like com­fort for the driver and front pas­sen­gers.

How­ever, a mo­tor­ing writer who test-drove it at the time

main­tained that the Tran­sit would never catch on be­cause it was just a bit too wide for the do­mes­tic drive­ways of the plumbers, elec­tri­cians and builders it was aim­ing at.

Much to the on-go­ing stress of my mother, it just squeezed be­tween the gateposts on our drive­way with an inch to spare on each side. I be­came quite adept at re­vers­ing it in. She was also wor­ried what the neigh­bours would think as the large van rather dwarfed the drive, garage and front gar­den.

Tran­sits caught on quickly and very soon were ev­ery­where on our roads, es­tab­lish­ing them­selves as an ef­fi­cient and stylish work­horse. The trans­verse en­gine saved space and was in front of the driver. Up un­til then, most vans had the en­gine pretty much be­side the driver.

As a mo­bile disco, we’d stepped up from a Bed­ford CA van which was noisy, as the driver and pas­sen­gers sat ei­ther side of the en­gine com­part­ment. In fact, we only had to re­move a slop­ing panel be­tween us to see it! We could cer­tainly hear it and smell it.

In praise of the Tran­sit

Thanks to Peter Lee who runs the main Tran­sit en­thu­si­asts’ web­site, I’ve delved back into its his­tory and it was Henry Ford Ju­nior who had the vi­sion to build one van for the whole Euro­pean mar­ket.

Up to that point, Ford in Ger­many was mak­ing a van and so was Ford in the UK. They were vir­tu­ally com­pet­ing. Un­til the first Tran­sit rolled off the pro­duc­tion line for sale in 1965, Ford had in­vested some eight or so years get­ting it right. It went to great lengths, spend­ing months watch­ing builders load and un­load stuff from lor­ries and vans. Re­searchers went around with milk de­liv­ery peo­ple not­ing what would make their life eas­ier. In short, the re­search was thor­ough and more to the point, not rushed.

Pan­els of any sort don’t take kindly to be­ing propped at an an­gle, so one of the first things to be in­sisted on was the van had to be big enough and wide enough for a builder to lay a sheet of some­thing eight-feet-by-four-feet flat on the floor.

Peter says Ford engi­neers used to bomb up and down the A2 in Kent with the pro­to­types, pil­ing on the test miles to check for any flaws. In the end, they handed over an em­bry­onic Tran­sit van to some mo­tor­ing jour­nal­ists who took it out but came back com­plain­ing of a thun­der­ous roar com­ing from the back of the ve­hi­cle. Puz­zled, the Tran­sit boffins couldn’t repli­cate the prob­lem. They in­vited the journos back at Ford’s ex­pense and off they went again, this time mon­i­tored. A warm day had meant they had opened the slid­ing doors and once up to speed the

noise ap­peared. It was sim­ply the air rush­ing into the van and hav­ing no means of es­cap­ing so the side pan­els were vi­brat­ing and rum­bling in just the way a sound ef­fects man would cre­ate thun­der. So, three small vents were cut into the back panel on ei­ther side – prob­lem solved. That’s how thor­ough the devel­op­ment was!

Peter has 10 - yes, 10 - Tran­sits of his own! He has one of the oldest Mk 1s from 1965 and just loves driv­ing them. He re­mem­bers them com­ing out, as his Dad ran one of the largest Ford deal­er­ships in the country and would bring all sorts of ve­hi­cles home to try out. Peter then went on to work on the Tran­sit pro­duc­tion line at Lan­g­ley.

He takes his vans to mo­tor shows and says he should make a video booth for peo­ple to record their Tran­sit sto­ries - he’s heard loads.

When Ford launched it in 1965 it was dif­fer­ent from what went be­fore, of­fer­ing car­like com­fort for the driver and front pas­sen­gers.

He knows of some Scouts who took a trip round Europe in one, found them­selves on the Blue Peter TV pro­gramme then, em­bold­ened by their fame, went off to Aus­tralia in a Tran­sit – and made it there and back!

It was the favoured trans­port for bud­ding bands be­fore they had chart hits and could af­ford tour buses, so Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich crammed them­selves into a Tran­sit, as did The Small Faces, El­ton John and Jools Hol­land on the way to build­ing their pop ca­reers.

Tran­sits have been con­verted into all sorts – Dor­mo­biles, am­bu­lances, ice cream vans and it’s pretty cer­tain most of what we con­sume has found its way to us thanks to a Tran­sit, at some time.

Peter says his at­tach­ment to them is largely around the fact the Tran­sit has pro­vided for his fam­ily. It’s how he’s earned his liv­ing, put food on the ta­ble and a roof over his head. He’s still earn­ing it with a splen­did book and an­other com­ing out soon.

All I know is, I’d still love to have my Tran­sit – but these days, don’t ask me to stand in the back!

Ford Tran­sit, Fifty Years by Peter Lee.

Mo­tor­ing writer David Clay­ton shares his mem­o­ries of the Ford Tran­sit - and meets a real fan of the van.

David Clay­ton fondly re­mem­bers his Tran­sit van.

The Ford Tran­sit club’s dis­play at an ex­hi­bi­tion at the NEC ear­lier this year.

The Ford Tran­sit club shows off its love of the van.

David Clay­ton and his mo­bile disco friends with the DJ equip­ment they used to carry in the back of the Ford Tran­sit.

The iconic Ford Tran­sit.

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