Weird ways to use a Transit van

  • Ford Transit has been on sale since 1965 – and in some strange situations
  • We’ve raided the archive to dig out photographs of the funnier examples
  • Got your own amusing Transit van stories? Let us know

As the Ford Transit turns 55 in 2020, we’ve dredged this info up from the archive – some of which was actually prepared for the trusty Transit’s 50th anniversary but still makes fun reading now.

The UK’s best-loved van, the Transit has been around for such a long time it has inevitably found itself in some slightly unusual situations – and many of these are illustrated here.

As you’ll see, much of this is just an excuse to publish some excellent archive pictures – which is to say, not all of them are weird at all. Regardless, it’s a good bit of fun. Enjoy.

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Weird ways to use a Transit van: transport an elephant

Ford Transit transports a pair of baby elephants

A pretty famous one, this. In 1965, some keepers from London Zoo used a Transit to move a pair of elephants. Given the date we’re going to guess this might have been a publicity stunt – maybe someone out there can confirm?

An elephant reappeared in a Transit in 2018, as Ford used the jumbo animal for symbolism in a mental health campaign – more on this below.

Weird ways to use a Transit van: enter a boat race

Floating Ford Transit in the Southend Raft Race

There’s disappointing little detail about this one, but apparently in 1985 a group of apprentice Ford engineers from the Dunton technical centre built a floating Transit and entered it into a boat race.

Well, the Southend Raft Race – which used to be an annual event in support of the RNLI. As you can see from the picture, the modified Transit appears to be some kid of pedalo… It reportedly didn’t win.

Weird ways to use a Transit van: transport a dinosaur

Ford Transit transports a dinosaur

Another classic. This is a 49-foot-long model of a Cetiosaurus (we’re reliably informed) on the back of a Transit flatbed, created as a life-size rendition by model makers in Kent.

Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about this is that it’s on its way from Kent to Edinburgh. Not a short distance. Imagine seeing that in your rear-view mirror.

Weird ways to use a Transit van: rolling royal

A royal Ford Transit - not

Supposedly, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge – that’s Prince William and his wife Catherine – used a Transit to get about anonymously when they lived in Anglesey.

This comes from Ford, so we have to assume it’s true. The wags at the Blue Oval point out that the pictured van is not the actual one. Presumably they did without the sun strip.

Weird ways to use a Transit van: turn it into a limo

Ford Transit XXL limo concept

Is this weird? Kind of. Called the Transit XXL, it was created by Ford to celebrate the Transit winning the 2007 International Van of the Year award. It’s over 24 feet long.

It’s also built out of two short-wheel-base Tourneo passenger carriers, and despite its size seats just seven people. It does have four sliding doors, though. Handy.

Weird ways to use a Transit van: movie car chase

Ford Transit in The Fourth Protocol - with Michael Caine

The Ford Transit is a lot of things, but an old C-reg example is not the most obvious choice as the chase vehicle in a car sequence in a spy movie.

But that’s exactly what happens in 1987’s The Fourth Protocol. The weirder part is that the character driving is played by Michael Caine – and he’s chasing Pierce Brosnan, driving an Escort XR3i.

Weird ways to use a Transit van: turn it into a Drift Bus

As it turns out, there are quite a few of these – several old Transits have been subjected to some rather alarming engine transplants in order to make them go sideways.

We’ve found examples on YouTube with Nissan twin-turbo engines and Lexus V8s; the Polish Transit Centre version pictured above is probably the most famous, and powered by a 440hp BMW V8.

Weird ways to use a Transit van: break a record (people carrying capacity)

Ford Transit - record number of people inside

In 1965 – again, the timing is slightly suspicious – 48 students from Barking College near London crammed themselves into a Transit minibus, setting a world record.

Forgive us, but from this distance that doesn’t sound overly impressive. In 2012, 28 gymnasats managed to squeeze themselves into a Mini…

Weird ways to use a Transit van: break a record (endurance driving)

In 1972 Ford added a new 2.4-litre diesel engine to the Transit. To prove its durability, it sent two vans to the high-speed Monza racing circuit in Italy and had them drive flat out – for a week.

This exercise broke three endurance driving records, including the fastest average speed over 10,000 miles – which the Transit set at 73.684mph. Some wag will probably suggest Ford tries the same trick with its latest EcoBlue engines…

Weird ways to use a Transit van: break a record (lap time)

The notorious Nurburgring Nordschleife and the humble Transit van don’t exactly seem like obvious companions, but famously Top Gear did try to drive a Transit round in under 10 minutes.

While they failed, they did set an unofficial van lap record in the process. Guy Martin had a crack at this in 2018, and his Transit (Custom) caught fire. The record is currently held by a VW Transporter.

Weird ways to use a Transit van: break a record (caravan towing)

Ford Transit SUpervan 2 towing a caravan to a world record speed

That’s not the weirdest Transit record, though. The weirdest has got to be setting a world record speed for towing a caravan.

This happened in 1985, and the speed set was a staggering 170mph. That’s obviously not a standard Transit, though…

Weird things to do with a Transit van: racing car in disguise

Ford Supervan 3

The ‘Transit’ towing the caravan above is, in fact, Supervan 2 – you probably knew that because it’s written on the side. It was also the second (duh) time Ford turned a racing car into Transit for promotional purposes..

Supervan 2, which soon became Supervan 3 (pictured), used a Ford C100 Group C racing car chassis and a reduced-size fibreglass bodyshell replica. Supervan 1, however, used a standard steel body and a Ford GT40 chassis. All of them had unfeasibly powerful engines.

Weird ways to use a Transit van: supercar development mule

Ford Transit XJ220 engine development mule at Goodwood Festival of Speed

Perhaps even madder than the official Ford Supervans is G134XVX. This seemingly innocent looking Transit was used as an engine development mule for the Jaguar XJ220 supercar. No, seriously.

The 3.5-litre twin-turbo V6 (in the back…) is the one the XJ220 used to reach 212mph. Nowadays the van is owned by XJ220 specialists Don Law Racing, has 640hp and will go 0-62mph in five seconds.

Weird ways to use a Transit van: run a minibus service from the UK to Australia

Ford Transit Hughes Overland minibus from London to Australia

This isn’t a joke, either. In the 1970s, Hughes Overland ran a minibus service from London, England to Sydney, Australia – a journey of some 10,000 miles, all in a Transit.

It took 10 weeks. In the age before air-conditioning. They must have been out of their trees. The firm was famous for its expeditions, but that’s surely the most extreme?

Weird ways to use a Transit van: getaway vehicle

Ford Transit mk1 - not being used as a getaway vehicle

Maybe that Michael Caine film wasn’t so far-fetched. In the 1970s, the Transit became surprisingly popular as a bank job getaway vehicle, with Scotland Yard reportedly claiming it was used in ‘95% of raids’.

The crims supposedly rated the van for its neat handling and feisty performance – though the space onboard for blagged booty also presumably helped.

Weird ways to use a Transit van: try to fly

Ford Transit jumping gover 15 cars in the hands of stuntman Steve Matthews

Alright, not fly exactly. But in 1985 a stuntman called Steve Matthews did manage to jump a Transit over 15 cars – and survived to tell the tale.

The survival is all the more remarkable, because it’s said the only preparation work done to the van in question was removing the windows and gaffer taping the bonnet and doors shut.

Weird ways to use a Transit van: going underground

Ford Transits in a Cheshire salt mine

There’s a salt mine in Winsford, Cheshire that used Transit vans as part of its underground logistics system. The mine is still operational, the vans… not so much.

However, some of them are still down there. Not least because in order to get them into the lift shaft they had to be cut in two and welded back together at the bottom.

Weird ways to use a Transit van: hovercraft

Ford Transits Hovervan 2

Ah, Top Gear TV again. This time converting a Transit into a hovercraft, for reasons probably best known to their producers.

In fact, the television show had two cracks at this. Hovervan 1 sank as soon as it hit the water. But Hovervan 2 was a roaring success – literally, as it made such a racket headsets were needed for communication inside.

Weird ways to use a Transit van: artist’s canvas

Ford Transits mental health awareness van with elephants drawn in dirt

As part of the mental health campaign we mentioned right at the start, Ford commissioned ‘dirty van artist’ Ruddy Muddy to depict an elephant in the dust on the outside of a van.

The campaign itself was known as ‘the elephant in the van’, and related to stats that suggest people are more comfortable talking about difficult issues inside a vehicle. Ford also supports Bauer Media’s own Where’s Your Head At? Mental health campaign.

Weird ways to use a Transit van: gaming

Modern computer gaming racing simulators are amazing for a number or reasons – not least the sheer variety of vehicles available to drive. But a Transit van?

Yep. In 2019 Forza Horizon 4 added the original Transit to its roster, complete with the original 75hp engine. The digital model is based on the example from Ford of Britain’s heritage collection, and over 1,000 photos were required to recreate it in the virtual.

Weird ways to use a Transit van: birthing centre

Ford Transit - and the baby born in its footwell

Given the Transit has been around for 55 years now, and some three million vehicles with Transit badges have been sold in the UK during that time, we’re sure this isn’t the only time this has happened.

But in October 2013 baby Alfie Kerr was delivered (haha) in the footwell of a Transit when his parents Daniel and Jess didn’t quite make it to Furness General Hospital in time.

Now for some not so weird ways to use a Transit van

Football team transport

Ford Transit and some of the Spurs football team

The above is (apparently) a picture of the Tottenham Hotspur team bus in the 1960s. The geezer in yellow is Jimmy Greeves. We doubt the Spurs bus is quite this basic anymore.

Celebrity fruiterer

Ford Transit and boxer Henry Cooper

This fantastic picture shows boxing legend Henry Cooper, standing in front of the Transit used by his family’s ‘fruiterer’ business. There’s presumably a gag here about bunches of fives / bananas.

Gig van

Ford Transit and The Tremeloes

Vans are the staple transport of aspiring musicians, and the number of Transits used by now extremely famous bands must be legion. This archive example shows The Tremeloes (who formed in Dagenham, Ford’s UK hometown), but others include Coldplay, Status Quo and The Coral.

Campervan

Ford Transit Big Nugget campervan

While the Volkswagen Transporter is the best-known base for campervans, the Transit has a long history of going camping, too – including officially endorsed Nugget models, originating in Germany. Sadly, there are no plans to bring the current Transit-based Big Nugget to the UK, so we’ll have to make do with the smaller version based on the Transit Custom instead.

Also read:

>> Ford Transit turns 55 – but celebrations are on hold as it helps fights coronavirus

>> Ford Transit full review on Parkers Vans and Pickups

>> 70 years of the Volkswagen Transporter

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