On October 9 1965, Ford introduced the commercial vehicle that would rule British roads.
A Ford Transit Mk1 is now a rarer classic than a Jaguar Mk2, but there was a time when no high street would have been complete without at least one. Back then, the average delivery van driver might have favoured a Shane Fenton quiff, a brown shop coat and an artfully angled Woodbine, plus an interesting approach to driving. A dab on the throttle, a hand signal not officially approved by the Highway Code, and it was off to the next shop with Hillman Avengers scattered in the Transit’s wake.
The Transit was the first joint project undertaken by Ford GB and Ford Germany, the first British light commercial vehicle to offer car-like comfort and handling qualities, and a vehicle that became so popular that within months of its launch on October 9 1965, an entire market sector became known as “Transit-sized”.
The driving seat (the passenger seat cost extra) was limousine-like compared with the upholstered planks fitted to rivals, a floor-mounted lever controlled the all-synchromesh gearbox and power was from the V4 engine that was also used in the Capri and Granada. In short, this – as your friendly local Ford dealer would have told you – was a van for the “Motorway Age” and, indeed, Ford regularly tested prototypes on the still speed limit-free M1.
The Ford Transit has become the definition of a van and is now in its seventh generation
The message to large and small businesses alike was clear: for just £542 you could own a panel van that was actually fun to drive. This was a phrase rarely used to describe the Transit’s main rivals
The Transit’s lines were a balance between form and function and as Ford had spent £10 million on “Project Redcap”, it was understandably keen to produce a van suitable for all of its key markets.
Forward control – the driver being stationed above, or in front of, the front axle – maximised load space but made maintenance an utter misery, as any firm that used Commers or J4s would have reported to Molyneaux. And something else to be avoided was the independent front suspension fitted on a Bedford; inexperienced drivers were prone to running into high kerbs, incurring time-consuming and expensive repairs, so the Transit featured more robust cart springs.
To reinforce the message, boxer Henry Cooper appeared in early PR shots to highlight the new Ford’s strength and durability, while an appearance with the Small Faces in pop film Dateline Diamonds emphasised that here was a van that was truly swinging.
An early high-profile role for the Transit was distributing London’s Evening News and in 1966 there were few pedestrians who were not aware that the sight of a black-and-yellow van might mean a bundle of papers being hurled out of the passenger door!
A true Brutish icon!
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