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the Ford Transit has over 50 years and eight million sales under its belt

With a range of second hand Ford Transits now on, we take a look at the history of this hugely popular cargo van.

April 25th 2019 info

the early years

In 1966, England took on Germany in what became one of the most famous FIFA World Cup finals ever. A year earlier, however, both nations found themselves on the same side: Ford of Britain and Ford of Germany coming together to work on a new project – one that would revolutionise both the motor and transport industries.

That project? The Ford Transit.

A range of light commercial vehicles, Transit was the big van big on performance, driveability and reliability. Boasting a plethora of configurations and a front engine to create more space, Ford's vision sought to provide a welcome change to the narrower, slower and clunkier alternatives that were available at the time. Produced at the brand's Langley plant, the first generation of Transits (Mk1) were very much inspired by American styling; incorporating a wide body and square shell as a result.

Something which – combined with a choice of diesel and petrol pick-ups, minibuses, panel vans and crew cabs – made Ford's new offering an instant success. (Such a success, in fact, that production was moved to Ford's larger Southampton facility to keep up with demand.)

Perhaps the strangest testament to the Mk1's initial success, however, came in the form of a statement from a Scotland Yard spokesman, who said that: “Ford Transits are used in 95 per cent of bank raids. With the performance of a car, and space for 1.75 tonnes of loot, the Transit is proving to be the perfect getaway vehicle.” The Transit became known as “Britain's most wanted van”.

gaining momentum

Thirteen years later in 1978, it was time for the Transit's first face lift.

With updated interior and a restyled, longer bonnet to contain its new Pinto engine (taken from Ford's equally iconic Cortina), this new-and-improved version became known at Ford, internally, as the Transit 1978 ½.

To consumers, however, this was the Transit Mk2.

With the introduction of automatic transmission and 'fast' Transit options (the latter boasting an Essex V6 engine), the Mk2 enjoyed an eight-year lifespan, before a total visual overhaul saw the Mk3 hit Britain's roads in 1986.

And hit Britain's roads it did; the Mk3's distinct slanted windscreen and simple-yet-pleasing boxy design helping make it a ubiquitous staple across the UK.

Even though the Mk3's engine remained the same, the independent front suspension system found on its shorter wheelbase versions made for superior handling and ride quality. In 1994, the Mk3 enjoyed another significant makeover in the form of a new dashboard and front-end, not to mention the debut of air-conditioning, airbags, central locking, electric windows and electric mirrors.

By the turn of the millennium, the Transit had firmly established itself as 'The Backbone of Britain' - thanks in part, no doubt, to its self-proclaimed advertising campaign of the same name.

Mk4 to present day

Never ones to rest on their laurels, however, Ford released the Mk4 Transit in July 2000. Marking the range's third all-new platform, the Mk4 was now available in both front and rear-wheel drive; offering lower loading height and increased space, or better towing and increased load capacity, respectively.

Thanks to sleeker, more modern, Ford Focus-esque styling, it's hardly surprising that the five millionth Transit was produced in 2005.

And, following the Mk5's release in 2014, the Transit, unsurprisingly, continues to go from strength-to-strength. Because, in an industry where reliability is key, the Transit has truly earned its status as one of the best small vans available over the past 54 years – something it will no doubt continue to do over the next 54, too.

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