Rusty's TL;DR Essays #327- The Ford Transit And Me.

20140406_161306 Caterpillar, Land Rover, Transit, each of these brand names have become synonymous with certain motorised activities, and this recognition has been hard earned. Whether you’re a builder, a courier, a housewife or a terrorist, The term “Transit” slips off the tongue very easily whenever a manageable beast of burden is required. On BBC crimewatch, that late-night extravaganza of wrong-doing that people watch in gruesome fascination, so often the murderer or bank robber escapes in a “Transit-type vehicle”. Whether out of fame or infamy, Transit is king. When I hired a van for a weekend of county-wide removals tasks I was greatly comforted when it turned out to be a Transit. Of course, there are many excellent vans out there and a Merc Sprinter or a Renault Master would have been fine, but my heart wouldn’t have been in it. I wanted to do this properly. Real men drive Transits. 20140406_165704 Throughout my school learning career in the late ’80s and early ’90s, any trip away from the premises would invariably have a Transit involved in some capacity. D35CDX, a red petrol-fuelled example (which the DVLA tell me became bean-tins nine years ago) figured prominently in me and my mates being ferried around on the Tendring peninsula. After school in the ’90s, a white Transit crewbus would whisk us off to sailing club, I vividly remember discussing the vans total inability to cushion the blows of the violent road humps on the final approach. We would chorus loudly from the back “THIS VAN HAS NO SUSPENSION” Of course, being that Mr Eastman was far from a household name back then, and the prototypes of the Land camera were fiercely protected and well beyond the financial reach of mortal child, no photographs exist of this Transitionary period. Fast forward to the time immediately before, during and after I went to University, and I found myself actually behind the wheel of a Transit. To try and give myself half a chance against the costs of education and those expensive peripheral activities that go with it, e.g alcohol and hi-fi equipment purchases, I worked for a popular British supermarket who specialize in frozen food. This meant spending five days a week behind the wheel of my very own Transit. Here it is, in glorious first-gen camera-phone resolution. IMG0150 It was a medium-wheelbase 2.0 litre diesel, coughing out some 85 horsepower, the majority of which presumably went straight to the fridge unit on the back because precious few of them ever made it to the wheels. Unfortunately, the languidness of the power plant was directly at odds with the nature of the van’s employment. The supermarket offers a home delivery service, by which customers may either do their grocery shopping as normal in branch and then hand it over for delivery after paying, or they could just do the whole hog from home via the internet and somebody would pick their groceries on the customer’s behalf. Either way, what I would end up with is a red, plastic crate or several, full of perishable goods, that I was charged with delivering to the customer within a certain time-scale. The day would be split into four delivery slots: 8-10, 10-12, etc. There would typically be four deliveries per slot, sometimes more. One fun issue was that there wasn’t really any particular attention given to geographical matters during the booking. A delivery slot might involve me driving from base to any corner of the Tendring Peninsula, making drop-offs as I go. Of course, the delivery addresses could be either nice and local or out in the middle of nowhere, but the customer had the same expectations of timeliness either way. On delivery slots where I found myself ricocheting off all four corners of the map, I became more demanding of any turn of speed that the van could deliver. There was nothing I could do about the lack of horsepower so I had to do what I could to work with it. Pretty soon I had it sussed. IMG0149 As well as having a profound effect on the available motive power, the addition of a refrigeration unit to a Transit van has a notable effect on its centre of gravity. This became exacerbated by certain heavy items being free to roll around their crates; bottles of Pepsi, that kind of thing, would inevitably be flung towards the wall with any cornering moment applied, and as such the Transit could feel completely different from one load to the next. I became adept at jealously guarding any momentum I had gathered; I had worked hard on accelerating to sixty, there was no way I was going to give those fought-for MPH away for nothing. As a result the Transit would be made to endure some pretty radical lean angles on some of the more demanding corners in Tendring. Making good progress took me back to that after-school sailing club; the feeling when leaning the van into the bends was much like that of sailing close hauled, my upper body would be arched and canted much like hanging off a dinghy’s trapeze while ringing out every possible knot. I apologise to all those residents whose eggs arrived pre-scrambled. 20140406_161342 Now it’s ten years later and I find myself once more at the helm of a Transit, but with my own property in the capacious load bay rather than other people’s groceries. The van is mine for the weekend, we have a lot of to-ing and fro-ing around the peninsular to shuffle furniture around and eventually end up with the right bits in the right places. And this Transit is a big one. This one is the full long-wheelbase, with a high roof. Power is from a diesel engine this time driving the rear wheels, and hence mounted north-south unlike the transverse mill in the FWD machine. It’s a 2.4 litre with Ford’s TDCI injection system, and judging by the lack of specific badging I’d guess it’s one of the low-output ones. Probably 115hp. But really, for the tasks of the weekend, that’s enough. The stuff we were moving around (wardrobes, a metal garden swing-seat and a folding stepladder) were bulkier than they were heavy, so weight never came into it. That said, there was considerable fun to be had driving unladen. A rear-wheel drive Transit, like most vans, has very little weight over the back wheels when empty, which means not much pressing the rubber onto the blacktop. The result of this, combined with granite-compound tyres, is that the traction control warning light on the dashboard blinks away like a strobe at a KLF concert whenever power is applied. 20140405_152507 This is excellent. Any opportunities for mischief should have been eagerly accepted. Drifting a Transit on a roundabout is a very fun and amusingly easy thing to do, the only thing that needs to be borne in mind other than that you’re in quite a big vehicle, is that the steering takes about a thousand turns lock to lock, so grabbing “an armful of oppo” takes a lot of swirling and requires reflexes that are right on the limit of what I can cope with. A note to the hire company: I didn’t actually do any of this; but I could have done. The rear-wheel-drive diesel transit just invites this kind of abuse. Of course, that’s only when it breaks traction naturally. Under most circumstances it can’t be provoked to do so under power alone, there simply isn’t enough on a 115hp model to do so. I’d imagine that a hopped up Transit should be quite the drift monster. A potential weapon with which to embarrass the AE86 crowd at the drop of a hat. Maybe. 20140405_122052 The crazy thing is, though, I had just as much fun when I was carrying a load of old crap around in the back. With an assortment of randomly shaped pieces of furniture on board, along with a bicycle, a Yamaha keyboard and a cast-concrete bird-bath, a degree of care was required in avoiding a very messy consolidation of the whole incompatible mass. With that in mind, items were arranged using my best Tetris-derived skills, to hopefully interlock as best as they could be expected to. Then it was down to me to moderate my driving inputs to avoid the inevitable thunderous crash from the load compartment. This meant, almost completely inadvertently, some very economical progress. Throttle efforts were measured and gradual, steering moments were fluid; none of the neck-snapping flicks of the wheel that become habitual when otherwise driving for fun. Driving like this the range-’til-empty display counted down an awful lot more gradually than it had before. But I didn’t want to go TOO slowly. To get all the necessary sorties completed over the timescale, average speeds needed to remain high. This would be hard across town, but on the sweeping rural roads that characterise where we live, it was another matter. Suddenly I was transported back to driving that Delivery Van in 2004, where I would frequently take corners at such speeds that the doorhandles would scrape the tarmac. But unlike back then, I actually cared about the contents of the loadspace. This was MY furniture, not somebody else’s frozen sausages. So this time I would plan the corners well in advance, looking for oncoming traffic and reviewing my trajectory accordingly. Apexes would be clipped if at all possible and straight-lines taken if road space allowed. I would drive on the torque, not the power; revs would rarely exceed 3000. And it was brilliant fun. 20140405_152352 In those circumstances the steering wheel felt more like the tiller of a yacht than a wheel. Though the Transit’s was never the most feedback-rich steering setup, through the wheel you can at least feel that there’s something mechanical going on. You can sense the correlation between wheel angle and heel angle; best progress is made by holding it at that sweet spot beyond which the lean becomes unmanageable, which is exhilarating in itself because a Transit can achieve astonishing angles of inclination without toppling. We made excellent progress and heard no sign of activity from the rear end; indeed our artfully tessellated belongings remained largely where we had put them. No costly breakages and very little fuel used. A most economical endeavour all round. But what my overriding impression was that of just how suited to task the Transit had been; just like it always was. It was comfy to drive; though the bulkhead restricted my seatback angle rather a lot; and the gear selector was stubborn to the point of mutiny. Other than that the interior appointments were just what was ever needed from a working van; loads of storage space including two enormous bottle holders and a pair of holes to accommodate even the most jumbo of beverages. A good stereo (well; good and full-bodied when played loud; a bit feeble at low volumes) and excellent visibility. Would have been nice to have had air-conditioning though; the big windscreen made for a very noticeable greenhouse-effect. So we wound the keep-fit manual windows down and felt the wind in our hair. And that, in itself, was an experience after spending so many road miles in a sterile, dull, air-conditioned environment. 20140406_165758 All too soon my Transit experience was over again. It left me wondering two things. Firstly, what the new Transit will be like; it all looks a bit too style-heavy to me, but I assume the years of lessons learnt in development won’t have been forgotten overnight. But secondly, with this weekend’s experience having been one of comparative comfort, sufficient speed and acceptable economy, together with unparalleled practicality; exactly what advantage does a car have over a van anyway? For that 85% of everyday driving where sheer performance and exhilaration aren’t required, where mere adequacy will get the job done, a van makes perfect sense. In fact, with its commanding view from the helm and distinctive road presence, in some ways you’re better off. 20140406_165733 And although the market is flooded with vans from numerous marques, none of them carry quite the same bearing and reputation as the big Ford. As mentioned at the top, the very name has become a synonym. If your builder turns up in one it’s kind of reassuring. Call it Transit Authority. (Photos copyright Hooniverse / Chris Haining, 2004 and 2014)

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5 responses to “Rusty's TL;DR Essays #327- The Ford Transit And Me.”

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  2. tiny fishing Avatar

    I had just as much fun when I was carrying a load of old crap around in the back.

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