Ford Transit

The Transit changed the perception of commercial vehicles in Europe but also brought a cohesion to Ford subsidiaries that has remained ever since

All vehicles, along with other goods and services, have a shelf life. Only so much tinkering can be done before OEMs decide a change of direction and a fresh start are required. The end result is that a new model, with a new name, is developed to replace the tired, ageing model.

This process of replacement occurs far sooner for some vehicles than others. One that has yet to go through such events is the Ford Transit. Recently celebrating its 50th anniversary, the van has retained its appeal and become a truly global vehicle, while its name has become synonymous with light commercial vehicles.

However, the first Ford van to adopt the Transit name was entirely different from the one that has proved such a success. This ‘pre-Transit’ Transit, built in 1953, was initially called the FK 1000 – owing to it being built in Ford’s Köln plant in Germany and being capable of carrying up to 1,000kg. The vehicle was renamed the Ford Taunus Transit in 1961 and competed with the similarly shaped VW camper van, but ceased production four years later.

The same year it was retired, the first generation of the light commercial vehicle that is more commonly associated with the Transit name was introduced. 

Although the previous vehicle had been exclusively the responsibility of Ford of Germany’s team, this replacement was a collaboration between the OEM’s workforces in Britain and Germany – a first for Ford. Whereas previously the two Ford subsidiaries had tended to compete in foreign markets, Henry Ford II was determined to make the two see each other less as rivals and more as colleagues. 

Ford invested £10 million in the Transit project but, after it found the collaboration had saved as much as £16 million in design costs alone, the OEM’s senior management saw the European market in a new way and laid the foundations for what became the Ford of Europe of today.

The development of the Transit was a secretive affair, with a covert title of Project Redcap assigned to it to help keep the vehicle under wraps. The brief from the US was to build a low-cost van with an increased payload, while improving safety for the occupants. 

tags: September 2015 Ford