Feature: Ford Supervan – White Van Man’s sunday drive

You do not need me to tell you that the Ford Transit is the backbone of Britain. Everyone has at some point had an experience with a Transit -Be it fond or vague.  I for example have travelled several times in a Transit Connect –the smaller Transit. It is a good, honest van which is bigger than it looks inside, and with switchgear sourced for Ford road cars, it has a comfortable interior for covering vast miles; despite having to put a carpet down to stop stuff rattling and making conversation almost impossible. It is ubiquitous, established and has been around for the good part of forty years.

The Transit in most ways is similar to Eddie Stobart. Both are iconic, and both transport goods. However, the Transit lacks the dedicated spotters club and the eye-catching paint. That is not to say that the Transit is not loved, because somewhere deep in Ford, the Transit holds a special place in this companies heart. Nothing displays this love more than the Transit ‘Supervan.’

In its inception, Ford wisely used car parts in the construction of their new van. This enabled the van to have the dynamic capabilities, not dissimilar, to cars. It was a revelation. Previous vans were lumpy, almost barge-like to drive. Not the Transit –in fact, the Transit was often the vehicle of choice for a quick getway, second only to the Mk2 Jaguar. So, at some point in the van’s lifespan surely, a high performance version had to be expected given the dynamic abilities of the van?  Well, Ford –bless them and their engineers- are not ones to miss out in a good PR chance and as a result, gave full backing for a Supervan to be built.

In 1971, the first Supervan fired into life. Essentially a standard Ford Transit bodyshell bolted onto a donor GT40 chassis. The V4 engine gave way to a Ford developed V8 producing 400bhp, and enabled the MK1 Supervan to hit speeds of up to 150mph. A ZF gearbox transferred the grunt to the huge, fat rear tyres. It may have seemed almost Brunelian in terms of its engineering, but you couldn’t argue about the pace of the Supervan.

The Coolest Mk1 Transit?

Like a blockbuster film, a sequel to the hugely successful Supervan seemed likely. It was no surprise that a second one had been built, however, this time; Ford had moved the game on. Ford concentrated and improved the van’s aerodynamics with the addition of a front and rear spoiler.  As with the original Supervan, the gigantic, brutal engine was mid-mounted. This time though, the engine found there was the Cosworth DFV8 (a similar engine to the one Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart and James Hunt all used.)

A Cossie Powered Transit. What’s not to like?

In 1994, a brand new Transit appeared (now in its fifth generation) and to drum up interest, the Supervan 2 was rebuilt to make a third incarnation. Again the work of Cosworth was ever present. The DF engine replaced by the Cosworth HB engine -to be soon found powering Schumacher’s first victory in 1994. The final Supervan is the most famous and most recognised of all the vans.

Hard to the core Phase 3 Supervan.

No wonder, with its off-the-wall performance and exaggerated race prepared body modifications, and having ‘Ford Supervan’ racing warpaint, it clearly was special and helped Ford find more customers which in turn made the Transit the best selling van.

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