For two weekends a year, I used to 'own' a Ford Transit.
I’d grab one from a local hire firm over the nearest weekend to each of my two boys’ birthdays (when they were between about eight and 14), fill it with the local urchins who were their friends and set off to some kids’ pleasure-dome such as Alton Towers, Laserquest or (if they were ever in a mood to do improving things) the Science Museum.
Such memories come to mind this week, because it’s 50 years since the first Ford Transit rolled off its Langley production line in 1965 and started building an owner base and a reputation so big that even the white-van efforts of Vauxhall, Peugeot, Mercedes and the rest came to be labelled as 'Transits'.
At one stage the Metropolitan Police even issued a release revealing that “the Tranny” was involved in the majority of bank robberies, which can hardly have hurt the image of the Ford carry-all. Over 50 years, most have been driven as if they were leaving the scene of the crime…
At the wheel of my hired Trannies, I was always more careful. Driving a 12-strong band comprising mostly other people’s kids requires care and attention, especially when they’re hell-bent on having fun, loudly.
You can enjoy it yourself for the first miles or so, provided you can live with their choice in music, but double or treble the distance (we lived in the country) and it becomes an exercise in concentration.
But I always loved the way the vehicle was so obviously up for the job. It was roomy enough, robust enough, comfortable enough and far enough off the ground to provide the junior travellers with a decent view of the surroundings - which they (predictably) used for gesticulating and making faces at other long-suffering road users.
The best bit was always taking my hired Tranny back where it came from. The kids would be gone and I’d be perfectly adapted by then to the Tranny’s size, controls and performance. Only the quietness would be unfamiliar.
Talk to anyone who knows them - even the earliest models - and he or she will soon tell you how appealing any Transit can be, combining panoramic viewing, great stability, lots of road presence and a surprisingly comfortable sit-up-and-beg driving position with car-like controls and a thoroughly decent level of refined performance.
The fact that they moved beyond Transit age is one of a very few reasons why I’m sorry my kids grew up.