PH Heroes Christmas Special: Ford Transit

‘It’s a rear drive, front-engined motor and you need to pick it up on a Dagenham trading estate,’ the bloke told me over the Sharon Stone. Lovely, I thought, nice little Sierra Cosworth or maybe a 2.8 Capri – should be perfect for the job.

I need to pick up the shooter (his name is Jonathan and he uses a Canon) beforehand and then go to Essex to grab the motor. Except when I get there it isn’t exactly what I'm expecting – it's a 1965 Transit Van.

You’re having a Steffi Graf, I think to myself, how are we supposed to get around in that? But I might have misjudged this tea, two and a bloater. You see, not only has the Transit been the best-selling light commercial vehicle in Europe for 40 years, in the sixties the rozzers reckoned 95% of all robberies involved a Transit.

That’s probably down to the fact that not only do they have a front-engine, rear-drive layout, but many of the parts come from Ford’s car range, meaning it had decent handling for a van. I was hoping the milk wouldn’t turn out to be sour with this one, and the Transit would live up to its reputation.

The Transit has in fact been one of Ford’s best selling vehicles ever, and Jimmy ‘The Nonce’ Malloy said that he always remembers his encounter with the Tranny. The Transit we would be driving is thought to be the oldest known original model and has been restored with a period paint job.

The corn on the cob was simple: get the van, get the snapper to get a few shots, buy a pasty, read the Sun, drive around for a bit leering at women, buy another pasty, then dump the van before the fuzz catch up with us. The 1.7-litre Essex V4 in this Transit produces just 73bhp, which is probably a good thing as there are no seatbelts, and I'm guessing the only way we are going to lose the heat is if they are on mountain bikes.

But as with all Transits any kind of progress is always fun, fuelled by the camaraderie, banter and constant wolf whistling. I’m aware this thing won’t be a rocket ship on the straights but no doubt it will come alive in the twisties, what with its sporting layout.

As I nearly slide off a roundabout at 10mph I reconsider this earlier thought. There is a distinct lack of grip from the tyres and no amounts of Alessi-style lean seems to be getting the van back on track. Floor it and the rear wheels will actually start to spin, setting you up for a 1mph drift.

It’s crazier than a bad day in Bosnia and more fun than a barrel of monkeys. But worst of all my copy of the Sun repeatedly flies off the dashboard and there are no pasty holders. Worried that the Old Bill might be on to us it’s time to get rid of the van, sharpish.

The East End is too far to go and the speedo doesn’t seem to work, which isn’t Easter bunny with all those Gatsos around. Swinging right into an old council estate the Transit understeers manically but a squeeze of the accelerator and a dab of oppo sees us through, narrowly avoiding the hoodie on a skateboard who overtook us earlier.

We jump out and swing open the back doors. All that’s left to do is grab the bottle of Cherry Coke that’s been rolling around on the floor and a half-eaten Chicken and Mushroom Slice. As we leg it through the estate I consider how I would sum up my time with the Transit? Well, it’s been emotional…

Comments (36) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Beyond Rational 25 Dec 2008

    It's like reading sniff petrol, minus the punchlines

  • Accelebrate 25 Dec 2008

    Top Gear Transit review meets Sniff Petrol?

    (Although I am whinging on PH on Christmas Day... paperbag)

    Edited by Accelebrate on Thursday 25th December 11:10

  • mr_spock 25 Dec 2008

    Another peach from the Ford Heritage Collection.

    Hi Ivan, happy Xmas!

  • elster 25 Dec 2008

    Fantastic vehicle!

    Sh!t write up.

  • tr7v8 25 Dec 2008

    elster said:
    Fantastic vehicle!

    Sh!t write up.
    Agreed I had a 66 which had been coneverted into a campervan.That was 1.7V4 & went well but kept blowing HG. Couldn't really afford to run it as an RAE Apprentice so chopped it for a profit for a Triumph Herald 13/60 which I hated!

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