- Find out how MS-RT and M-Sport vans are made
- Quality and attention to detail is first class
- Four-week build process, bespoke parts
While there are doubtless many people out there who totally fail to grasp the appeal of a tarted-up Transit van, the radical-looking Ford Transit Custom M-Sport has proved something of a hit.
Owners love them, the residual values are among very the best in the medium van sector, and although they are only available through dealer group Hartwell Ford, over 1,000 have found homes since production started in 2015 – and this despite commanding a chunky premium over the Transit Custom Limited they’re based on.
In fact, it seems the only people who aren’t keen on these spectacular-looking vans work for BMW, since the German car company has quietly made clear its objections to the similarity between the choice of name and that of its specialist performance division (you know, the guys who build the M3 and the like).
As a result, earlier this year the M-Sport range – which also includes an extremely aggressive Transit Connect and a bonkers Ranger pickup – underwent a rebranding exercise, and re-emerged as MS-RT, initials that stand for M-Sport Road Technology.
Click here for the Ford Transit Custom MS-RT review, or keep reading to find out more about MS-RT and Van-Sport.
The Van-Sport factory – where Ford MS-RT models are made
If you’re imagining the MS-RT production line is basically a couple of blokes in a shed, sticking on bits they’ve bought on the internet, you’re going to need to readjust your brain.
Arriving at the industrial estate in Pontypool, South Wales, that Van-Sport calls home, we find the company in the midst of shipping no less than 40 completed vehicles – quite the sight first thing on a Thursday morning.
Van-Sport director Joe Pace is quick to point out that this is an unusually large number to be going out at once, but it nonetheless sets the tone for our visit. For parked up inside and out of the brick-built factory unit are many more as yet unmodified Transits and Rangers awaiting the full MS-RT treatment.
The scale of this operation is way beyond your typical customisation shop. Van-Sport is genuinely running a production line.
Can I buy MS-RT parts to put on my van?
Van-Sport does not sell its upgrades as a kit or offer individual parts for sale – you can only buy a complete MS-RT vehicle.
The reason for this, Pace explains, is to ensure the proper MS-RT quality is maintained.
Van-Sport founder Edward Davies is something of an obsessive in this regard, insisting on the best possibly quality for everything that’s used.
This ranges from the bespoke MS-RT parts – such as the bumpers, which are now moulded in impact-resistant plastic like the original items, rather than potentially fragile fibreglass – to the choice of Michelin tyres and OZ Racing alloy wheels, which are made specifically for the Custom MS-RT.
The vans also feature Eibach lowering springs at the rear – the same brand that produces the springs for Ford’s rally cars – while the Ranger is available with a raised-suspension kit from Australian off-road specialist Pedders.
Boxes and pallets of these and other top quality parts line the Van-Sport warehouse.
Where did Van-Sport and MS-RT come from, and who’s behind them?
Davies is the mastermind – but though the original M-Sport branding was initially just a licence agreement between Van-Sport and motorsport legend Malcom Wilson’s race and rally car-building business of the same name, the two firms have subsequently come to work more closely together.
Indeed, regular readers will recall that when we drove the full M-Sport van and pickup range in 2016, we did so at M-Sport’s base in Cumbria. The visual appearance of these and the MS-RT models are heavily influenced by the look of the Ford Fiesta World Rally Car, which is designed, engineered and built by Wilson’s company.
Davies’ background is in the VW scene, where van modification is relatively common. MS-RT is an effort to bring that ethos to the UK’s most-popular vans – the Transit Custom is by far Britain’s bestselling light commercial vehicle – a canny move that’s clearly been well-received by the enthusiastic Ford-owning community.
How long does it take to build an MS-RT van or pickup, and what’s involved?
Underlining the commitment to quality, it takes four weeks to turn a factory-fresh Ford into an MS-RT special.
The process includes carefully stripping all the parts that are to be completely replaced, removing the seats and door cards so they can be retrimmed in high-quality leather, changing the steering wheel, upgrading the suspension and then fitting the new, bespoke, MS-RT components – all of which are painted on site.
In the Transit Custom’s case, this includes adding sideskirts and wheelarch extensions to the exterior as well. Plus optional ‘rally’ graphics packs, if specified by the customer.
For the MS-RT Ranger things are even more involved, as Van-Sport carefully de-chromes the exterior, too – including re-finishing the factory sport bar in black where fitted – and changes even more of the interior to its own specification.
The Ranger MS-RT bumpers also require a two-stage painting process, with contrasting gloss and ‘raptor’ surfacing helping to create the super-tough appearance.
Once assembled, the MS-RTs are then valeted before being passed through a quality-control station. And that’s not just paying lip-service; we’ve seen the check sheet – which runs to multiple A4 pages – and met the bloke responsible for signing everything off. He takes his job very, very seriously.
Does MS-RT offer any performance upgrades or is it just cosmetic stuff?
Aside from some wacky one-offs – such as a Transit Connect with a Fiesta R2 rally car engine – Van-Sport has largely shied away from increasing performance. And with the move to the 2.0-litre EcoBlue Euro 6 engine, you get 170hp as standard in the Transit Custom anyway.
However, there are plans for more upgrades in the works. Including an induction kit, intercooler and tuning box for the engine to liberate more power, and a big-brake conversion.
Such items are common for VW vans, but rare for Fords. Both elements have undergone development on the £50,000 Ken Block Transit Custom we reported on last year.
Are Ford MS-RT vans worth the cost?
The finished articles are not cheap. The most popular MS-RT model is the Transit Custom, and at the time of writing this starts at £28,995 excluding VAT for an L1 panel van.
The Ranger MS-RT 3.2-litre auto starts at £35,995, with the off-road pack (including the Pedders suspension and additional underbody protection) representing excellent value as a £1,399 extra.
It’s that concept of value that’s the critical thing. Because for all that MS-RT isn’t cheap, it’s also immediately apparent where your money has gone – the quality is first class, and the resulting vans enormously distinctive as well as nicer to live with.
Better yet, they hold their value well. So once you factor this in you may find that total cost of ownership is little different to a more ordinary van. And the potential boost to your business from driving something so eye-catching is of course also worth considering…