Ford's iconic van had humble beginnings, but has risen to become one of the most iconic vehicles in the UK

It's official - the Ford Transit was the most frequently stolen car in the UK in 2015.

Even more worryingly, according to the National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service, only one third of stolen Transits are ever recovered. It's easy to see why the Transit is the target of such attention, though. It's still one of the best commercial vehicles around, and few cars have gained such an iconic status in Britain as the mighty Tranny.

The Transit is no stranger to crime, either. In 1972, the Metropolitan police dubbed the Transit 'Britain’s most wanted van'. It said: “Ford Transits are used in 95% of bank raids. With the performance of a car and space for 1.75 tonnes of loot, the Transit is proving the perfect getaway vehicle.”

Celebrating the Ford Transit - a history

History books will tell you much about 1965. Jim Clark won the Indy 500 and F1 world championship. Mary Quant invented the mini skirt. More significantly, a commercial vehicle launched that revolutionised the market and transformed the nation.

That van was the Ford Transit. Now, the van transports billions of pounds of goods around the UK, and contributes even more value to the British economy in mobilising countless trades. There’s barely a builder, plumber or electrician who hasn’t once counted a Transit as their most important tool.

No wonder Transit has become a byword for any kind of big van.

The Transit was originally co-developed by then-rivals Ford of Britain and Ford of Germany, a relationship which became the prototype for today’s Ford of Europe. It entered production at Ford’s Langley facility, which previously built the Spitfire. Later, it moved to the former Hawker Hurricane site in Southampton. With a heritage like that, the legend of the Transit started on a strong footing.

The Transit did for vans what the Mini did for cars. It replaced the narrow, slow and poorly packaged Thames and the German-market FK, which was coincidentally also called the Ford Taunus Transit. The new Transit was spacious, fast and good to drive. Like the smaller, aging Bedford CA, it shunned the front-mid engined layout to adopt a front-engined configuration to maximise space.

The latest Transit is offered with short- and long-wheelbases, and as a double cab, panel van and minibus – more than 5000 theoretical configurations are available. And that’s just for the Custom. The full-fat Transit offers even more choice, and the new smaller Transit Connect and Transit Courier vans means that Ford delivers on the promise of building a Transit for every occasion.

The importance of the Transit cannot be understated. It is the third biggest-selling Ford in the UK, behind the Fiesta and Focus, with over 88,000 units sold in 2015 - equal to a 20.6% share of the UK's commercial vehicle market. 

The Transit is the only van - and one of a handful of cars full stop - to be a household name, but it has also been endlessly reinvented. A series of Supervans, which kicked off with a GT40-based Mk1, kept the tradesman in a hurry interested. And in 2007, he could get the look, if not the power, with the striped-up Sportvan complete with 18in alloys and a bodykit.

The Transit is an excellent tool, and very cool. Clever marketing and a self-effacing image have allowed it to warm in the nation’s consciousness. It's also an award-winning van. Since the International Van of the Year award was founded in 1992, the Transit has scooped the award five times.

A Ford advertising campaign in 1999 suggested the Transit was the backbone of Britain. Today its impact is felt more than ever. It is, by any measure, an icon.

And yes, it is available in white.

Our Verdict

Ford Transit
Power for the new Transit comes from a 2.2-litre turbodiesel that's offered in a range of outputs

Leading-edge tech and superb refinement and load-carrying capabilities ensure the Ford Transit remains the UK’s biggest seller

Join the debate


30 July 2013

I hope people will start buying more Vauxhall Vivaro, built in the UK, or I presume the Renualt Trafic its sister is built here aswell?

30 July 2013

MooMooHead wrote:

I hope people will start buying more Vauxhall Vivaro, built in the UK, or I presume the Renualt Trafic its sister is built here aswell?

The issue is whether Ford had a morale obligation to continue production in the UK and keep people in a job or, from a business case, move production to another plant where it is cheaper to build the same vehicle and allow for greater proft margins. There's probably no right or wrong answer.

30 July 2013

As long as its good value, reliable, could not care less about were my next van,car, bicycle, sofa, washing machine etc etc was made. Many millions agree me thinks.....

Also i believe the rumours are now that GM may follow Ford out of Australia after swearing blind they would not leave. Too right if you want a british built Vivaro, best buy now.


30 July 2013

The lead engineering for the Transit is still in Dunton, UK of course.

And the Trafic/Vivaro are engineered by Renault just outside Paris, right?

Add your comment

Log in or register to post comments

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • Jaguar XF Sportbrake TDV6
    First Drive
    19 October 2017
    The handsome Jaguar XF Sportbrake exhibits all the hallmarks that makes the saloon great, and with the silky smooth diesel V6 makes it a compelling choice
  • Volkswagen T-Roc TDI
    First Drive
    19 October 2017
    Volkswagen's new compact crossover has the looks, the engineering and the build quality to be a resounding success, but not with this diesel engine
  • BMW M550i
    First Drive
    19 October 2017
    The all-paw M550i is a fast, effortless mile-muncher, but there's a reason why it won't be sold in the UK
  • Volvo V90
    First Drive
    19 October 2017
    The Volvo V90 is a big estate ploughing its own furrow. We’re about to see if it is refreshing or misguided
  • Kia Stonic
    First Drive
    18 October 2017
    Handsome entrant into the bulging small crossover market has a strong engine and agile handling, but isn’t as comfortable or complete as rivals