It may be a van, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less a vehicle.
The Ford Transit has been the byword for sturdy reliability, practicality, space, flexibility and performance since its launch in 1965. Before the Transit appeared, panel vans such as the Ford Thames and various Commer vans were as slow as slugs and performed just as well while also being heroically unreliable and even harder to maintain. The Ford Transit on the other hand took the idea of the panel van, gave it the space it deserved and then threw some Jalapenos into the mix. The result was a panel van that could fly up to speed in half the time of its competitors while being able to whisk through the narrow streets and down the country lanes of the UK without even a hint of either sliding or falling over.
Small wonder then that the Transit van became the vehicle of choice for people in all walks of life. Many of our most famous rock bands such as the Rolling Stones, the Who, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath started their budding careers in the back of a Transit, ferrying them on drug-fuelled binges down the M1 Motorway from gig to gig. The van was also the weapon of choice for bank robbers, its incredible speed, capacity and handling making it the ultimate in getaway transportation. The police would eventually draft a fleet of Transits for themselves in order to even the playing field.
However, by the time the 1980’s came along the Mk1 Transit was looking very archaic; a real carryover from the 1960’s. Although facelifted in 1977, the general design of the van was still very much the same as it had been upon launch in 1965. Seeing this, Ford released the VE6 in 1986 to a hail of acclaim, this version of the van largely being considered the ultimate model. With a long, sloping nose for better aerodynamics and a much larger body, both in length and height, the van was the ultimate in flexibility and practicality.
Perhaps the most notable change in the VE6 Transit was its improved comfort and added features. Seeing the popularity of the Transit, Ford decided to indulge the white-van man by giving them springy seats and many features carried over from the Ford Fiesta; such as the radio and climate control. Compared to the likes of the Bedford CF, it was the Bentley of panel vans and adored by one and all. Such was the demand for this machine that Ford created thousands of variants which could cater to every sector of society and perform every function imaginable.
Everything about this van was right from day one, so much so that the VE6 was still produced under-license in China until as late as 2017!
Since the VE6, the Ford Transit has developed from the same theme this van started, adding extra comforts and features that have made it less a utilitarian vehicle and more a larger but much more useful alternative to a regular car. Today, you can get bluetooth, climate control, cruise control, comfortable seats, the latest selection of infotainment systems and so much more; essentially making it a brand new Ford Fiesta in the shape of a van.
So, what’s the Transit like to live with?
Driving the Transit will require some getting used to. You have to remember that it is still a van; thus acceleration, handling, braking and its physical dimensions will be a touch larger than those of a regular car. However, unlike even the modern competition such as the ghastly Vauxhall Vivaro, the Transit is the most car-like you can get. It’s acceleration and handling are not as bad as you’d be led to believe and is only hampered by the weight of what you intend to bring along with you on your journey.
Reliability on older models, while once renowned, has come a long way and thus many of the earlier VE6’s are starting to be a little tired. Mk1 Transit’s you’ll barely find but those you do encounter will likely have been cossetted as the faithful family camper for those long weekends to Cornwall. At the same time, the condition of these vans is a touch hit and miss. VE6’s especially, which continue to be worked to this day, will be incredibly battered and bruised both externally and internally. When buying a Transit, don’t judge it by external looks alone because these vehicles are utilitarian; designed to be beaten up and knocked in the line of duty but without affecting the mechanical fidelity.
Check the exhaust to make sure there’s no blue smoke polluting the atmosphere and listen out for any grinds or taps from the engine. Either of these could spell an upcoming disaster for the powerplant that will probably write-off the van several times over. As you can imagine, Transit vans haven’t always worked on the solid comfort of a tarmac road, with many having been put to work in quarries or factories. Always take a look at the chassis, axle and suspension to make sure they aren’t riddled with rust and hanging on by a thread.
In terms of which Transit variant to buy, if you want something truly useful you need to go for either camper vans, minibuses or panel vans as these will deliver the internal space desired by so many during the 1980’s and 1990’s. Tipper vans, flatbeds or pickup vans on the other hand are a touch more specialist and would only really work if you wanted to start your own landscaping business. Of course, you could always snaffle yourself an ex-Ice Cream van, but I feel the Transit’s legendary practicality may be lost with one of those!
But hey, free ice cream! 😀
- Comfort – 8/10 – Not exactly comparable to a Roller on its own, but you can easily refit it for your own comfort needs
- Practicality – 10/10 – It’s true claim to fame
- Reliability – 10/10 – The longevity of some examples is a true testament to their design prowess
- Speed – 4/10 – Sluggish just isn’t the word!
- Handling – 10/10 – Surprisingly sure-footed for its size, great for bank robbers making a daring escape!
- Looks – 9/10 – Among the most handsome van designs ever made
- Equipment – 6/10 – A touch sub par in stock form, but there are opportunities for improvement
- Price – 10/10 – As a van, you can pick up mint condition examples for next to nothing
- Value – 5/10 – However, being a van does have its downsides
- Total – 67/90 – It may be a van, but it’s almost car-like in performance.