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.