Welcome to 2015. What a year of anniversaries we have ahead of us: 800 years since the signing of Magna Carta; 200 years since the Battle of Waterloo; 70 years since the end of World War Two; 60 years since the complete publication of the Lord of the Rings; and plenty more. Yet, as we know, one date stands above them all. In October of this year, it will be 50 years since the first Ford Transit van was produced.
Or will it be? Technically, the first Ford vehicle to be called ‘Transit’ was birthed over 50 years ago. This was the FK 1000, a van which first rolled off the production line at Ford’s factory in Cologne, Germany, in 1953. But by 1961 the German manufacturers had bulked up the engine and renamed the vehicle: the Ford Taunus Transit. This particular Transit was then discontinued in 1965. Happily, this left the name badge free for another model to claim.
This other model arrived that same year, in 1965 – and that’s the one whose birthday we’re celebrating this year. It was really quite different from the van made in Germany, and not just because it was simply called the Ford Transit and its production took place in good ol’ Blighty. Where the German vehicle was cute and curvaceous, the British one was stocky and straightforward [pictured above]. Where the German vehicle looked like a pinup, the British one was like a mate you’d share a few drinks with in the pub. It would get the job done.
And oh how the Ford Transit has got the job done. There have been several further versions of the van since that original Mark I, as well as numerous other refinements along the way. But one thing has remained consistent through the years: its versatility. The Transit has been a minibus, an ice-cream truck, a film star – and more. Ford’s own website has listed some of its most peculiar roles, in advance of this year’s anniversary. Did you know? Wills and Kate were thought to have used one to travel unnoticed through Anglesey.
Where is the Transit at now? The latest version – the fifth generation – was released only last year. It’s a more international effort than its predecessors. The Ford hierarchies in both Europe and North America were involved its design, and it will be the first Transit to be sold in America and Canada, replacing the old E-Series/Econoline. Yet this internationalism does have its casualties: the last Transit plant in Britain was closed in 2013, with production moving to Turkey. After forty years, and over two million vehicles, Southampton’s assembly lines were silenced.
But let’s not end on such a sorrowful note, for the Transit’s birthday ought to be a happy occasion. Ford are doing their bit to mark it, not least by wheeling out a deluxe, touchscreened version of the van. And we shall be doing more ourselves, with more features throughout the year. This is, after all, the vehicle that launched a thousand small businesses and entrepreneurial endeavours. Let’s take the time to raise a glass and say ‘cheers!’