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The Ford Transit is a van produced by the European division of the Ford Motor Company. The Transit's design is reflected in other manufacturers' designs, like the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter.
It was originally introduced in 1965, and has been in continuous production in three basic generations to the present day (2005). The van was produced initially at Ford's Langley facility in Berkshire (a former WW2 aircraft factory which produced the Hawker Hurricane fighter), but as demand outstripped the capability of the plant, production was moved to Southampton, where it has remained ever since. Transits have also been produced in Ford's Genk factory in Belgium.
The Mk.1 Transit was introduced to replace the Ford Thames, a small van noted for its narrow track and was in direct competition with similar looking vehicles from Rootes's Commer range. The Thames failed to win over company users in significant enough numbers, so Ford went back to the drawing board. Henry Ford II's revolutionary step was to combine the engineering effort of Ford of Britain, and Ford of Germany together to create a prototype for the Ford of Europe of today - previously the two subsidiaries had been in direct competition with each other.
The Transit was a huge departure from the European commercial vehicles of the day - its broad track and American-ized styling gave it a huge advantage in carrying capacity over comparable vehicles of the day and revolutionised light goods transport. Most of the Transit's mechanical components were adapted from Ford's car range of the time. Another key to the Transit's success was the sheer number of different body styles - panel vans in long and short wheelbase forms, pick-up truck, minibuses, crew-cabs to name but a few. The engines used were the Essex V4 for the petrol engined version in 1.7 L and 2.0 L capacities, while a 41 bhp (31 kW) diesel unit sourced from Perkins was also offered. The Perkins diesel engine was too long to fit under the Transit's stubby nose section, which had to be restyled for the diesel version.
The 1978 Transit Mk.2 was essentially a facelift of the predecessor, with a restyled nose section, new interior, and the introduction of the Pinto engine from the Cortina in place of the Essex V4. High performance versions intended for police or ambulance use used the 3.0 L V6 version of the Essex engine. Ford's own "York" diesel engine was made available during this time also in place of the rather underpowered Perkins unit. Today most Transits sold are diesel-powered.
The Mk.3 version appeared in 1986 and was notable for its all-new bodyshell, which was of "one-box" design (i.e the windscreen and engine hood are at the same angle), and the front suspension was changed to fully independent configuration. A major facelift in 1995 gave the Transit a new nose and dashboard, along with the DOHC 16 valve version of the Pinto engine in the gasoline-powered versions.
The current Transit was introduced in 2000 and borrows styling cues from Ford's "New Edge" designs like the Focus, and Ka. Developed by Ford in the United States, the main innovation is that it is available in either front or rear-wheel drive. This model features the Duratorq turbo diesel engine.
The Durashift EST automatic transmission (optional on all rear-wheel drive and standard on the 2.4 L, 125 bhp (93 kW) Duratorq TDdi engines) features controls mounted on the dashboard, a specially adapted manual gearbox, tow-haul mode, economy mode and winter mode.
Two years later, Ford introduced the Transit Connect, a smaller panel van aimed at replacing the older Escort and Fiesta based models. It shares very little with the full-size Transit in terms of engineering, although is produced alongside the larger van in a new purpose built facility in Turkey.
The five-millionth Transit rolled off the Southampton line on Monday, 18 July 2005 and was donated to an English charity. The Transit has been the bestselling light commercial van in Europe for 40 years, and in some countries the name "Transit" has passed into common usage as a term applying to any light commercial van.