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Thursday 3rd May 2012


DRIVEN: FORD TRANSIT SUPERSPORTVAN

This brash one-off Transit is more than just a natty paint job


More than six million examples of the humble Ford Transit van - "the backbone of Britain", as its advertising slogan used to say - have been built since 1965, and along the way the Blue Oval has forged a habit of slotting a mad engine into the commercial load-lugger.


First came the Supervan I in 1971, based on the running gear of the GT40 Le Mans car, then the Supervan II, and a decade later, you guessed it, the Supervan III. Both sported F1 V8s - the latter giving a colossal 650hp at 13,000rpm.

Of course these three Transits, well, weren't really Transits. They were all based on mid-engined racecar chassis, meaning there wasn't room for so much as a bag of cement in the back.

Not your normal Transit
Ford's latest power-crazed Transit is a proper cargo-carrier, it's way out of builder territory and closer to a touring car racer in its spec. Which, incidentally, is the class the SuperSportVan will be racing in at this year's Cholmondeley Pageant of Power - more on that later.


It's all Transit underneath, but this is definitely not your average blue-collar Ford. White 19-inch split-rim alloys are combined with 40-profile tyres all-round, and the SuperSportVan's muscular bodykit and day-glow graphics not-so-subtly hint at the Transit's sporting intent.

For motive power, the SuperSportVan employs a 200hp 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbodiesel motor - borrowed from the 4.25-tonne Transit Jumbo - shoehorned into the smallest, shortest-wheelbase chassis on you can get in a Transit, and fitted with rear-wheel-drive running gear.

While it has hot hatch levels of power, the real key to the Transit's speed is the engine's 347lb ft of torque. Produced in a nice fat band between 1,700rpm and 2,500rpm - quite wide for a diesel and given the engine only spins to 4,500rpm - it promises more than a smidgen of pace...


Oversteer? In a Transit?
With a live rear axle, very little weight over the rear and more torque than a new Porsche 911 Carrera S, the Transit's 275-section rear tyres struggle to keep traction. Add in some lock and the SuperSportVan will very readily swing its ample rump sideways.

Equally, a standing start or sudden application of the throttle fires the van into a bout of violent axle tramp that can only be cured by lifting off and starting all over again - the traction control makes a valiant effort to curtail the pogo-ing rear end, but it's always fighting a losing battle.

The chassis is stiff - very stiff - and pitches around on the road, while the lack of weight at the rear doesn't help either. But there is some compliancy, even if you can tell a Transit was never designed to ride on 19-inch wheels.


The van's modified suspension geometry - just look at the camber of those front wheels - means the steering is heavy, but it gives great feedback, even if the high, upright driving position seems at odds with the cornering speeds.

Sitting in the Recaro bucket seats, you expect your legs to stretch out in front of you and the wheel to be in your chest. Instead, it's like sitting down for your tea and holding your dinner plate. It's a very weird sensation.

Cholmondeley Pageant of Power
The SuperSportVan is competing in the Rally and Touring Car class at this year's Cholmondeley Pageant of Power - the Cheshire-based event that's grown into one of the largest petrolhead festivals of exotic machinery on offer (Don't call it the Festival of Speed of the North! - Ed).


Alongside the van, there'll be everything from pre-war aero-engined Grand Prix cars to modern-day supercar royalty - such as the Lamborghini Aventador and McLaren F1 MP4-12C - vying to beat the 63.54 second sprint record set by Nikki Faulkner in his Lamborghini Gallardo LP570-4 Performante in 2011.

Alive on track
On the road, the SuperSportVan is good, but on the claustrophobic Cholmondeley track it comes alive. Squeeze the throttle out of the slow turns, wait for the boost to come in, and the Transit's chassis copes much better.

Through the technical chicane section the van shows its weight, though, and the long brake pedal means you always carry a bit more speed into a turn than you intended. But it highlights the machine's surprising agility.

It might look gaudy and brash from the outside (which we secretly love) but the SuperSportVan is a seriously trick machine that proves Ford has a sense of humour.



Author: carse