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A brief history of the Mark I & II Ford Transit

Synonymous with tradesmen the length and breadth of the UK, the Ford Transit is everyman’s most valuable tool. Emerging from the mid 60s at a time when Britain was rebuilding its infrastructure with an eye to the future, the Transit arrived to lend a helping hand. 

It’s as popular now as it’s ever been - buyers are purchasing both the newer and older second-hand models for renovation and conversion projects. If you’re thinking of purchasing a previously owned Transit, you’ll likely have to fix up the bodywork. Paint chips, scratches and patches of rust are all commonplace on second-hand Transits, especially the older classics. All are easily fixed to get your Transit looking in great shape. 

But before we delve into restoring your second-hand Transit, let’s look at how it became so popular. 

Birth of a hero: the Taunus Transit

Although it is officially recognised that the Transit was first put into production in 1965, it can be said that the first Transit was built in 1953. This was called the Taunus Transit. 

Built in Ford’s factory in Cologne, Germany, the Taunus was available exclusively on the German market. It went to market with  a 1.2L four cylinder engine and, two years later, was upgraded to a 1.5L engine.

On release to the German market, the Taunus hit the ground running. Ford saw its popularity and capitalised on it, using it as a base to create the iconic Transit in 1965, replacing the Taunus Transit.

Renovating a second-hand Taunus?

Now viewed as a classic vehicle, you can still get your hands on a Taunus Transit. Many are viewed as collectables and have been renovated to  pristine condition - great if you’re not looking for a huge DIY job with copious amounts of rust converter and colour matched paint

Having said that, it's always worth checking under the vehicle and inspecting the chassis! Check the Taunus for rust spots on the underside - while they are out-of-sight, rust is a problem that will only get worse if you don’t tackle the issue with a rust converter

The Ford Mark I Transit - a maverick of its time

At a time when the majority of vehicles were equipped with a dynamo, the Transit didn’t conform to convention as it came with an alternator as standard. While it was based on the Taunus, the first Ford Transit did away with its VW camper-like style. Instead, the first Transit was released with the capacity to carry 1.75 tonnes of load and an Essex V4 1.7L or 2L petrol engine, with the option of a 43 bhp Perkins diesel engine.

The Transit also has a unique design. While the majority of cars in the 1960s had a uniquely British style, the Mark I Transit was distinctively square-shelled and sported a flat bonnet. With these aesthetic qualities along with its wide axle, it's safe to say that the Mark I Transit was a definitively American style icon.

Britain’s ‘most wanted’ van - the Transit Mark II 

The Mark I Transit was on the roads for 12 years before it was succeeded by the Mark II. Unfortunately, the Mark I gained a less than desirable reputation in its 12 year reign. The Mark I was designed as a hardworking tradesman’s vehicle. However, the Transit was also discovered to be a great vehicle for less wholesome uses.

In 1972, a Scotland Yard spokesperson famously stated that Ford Transits were used in a staggering 95% of bank raids. Due to its large load capacity of 1.75 tonnes, coupled with either a 1.6L Ford Kent crossflow engine or a high-performance 3L V6 Essex engine, it was the perfect combination of strength and speed for bank robbers to escape police pursuit. From ice cream vans to school buses, police vans to campers - the Transit has been utilised in a great deal of ways throughout its long history. 

In 2005, Ford announced that its 5 millionth Transit had emerged off the production line. By 2015, a total of 8 million Transits had been sold worldwide, making it the third best selling van of all time. In 2022, nearly 43,000 Transit Custom vehicles were sold in the UK and Transit sales constituted 36.3% of the one-tonne van sales. Second-hand transit vans are going to be around for a while yet.

Restoring Mark I and Mark II Transits

With the versatility of the Mark I and Mark II, it will come as no surprise they make excellent restoration projects. However, if you’re looking for a classic Transit with no signs of rust or van paint damage, you may as well search for a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow too. Don’t let this put you off though - applying a rust converter and touching it up with colour matched paint, you can soon have your old Transit in great looking condition.

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Our car touch up paint is precision-measured and mixed to the highest specification. It’s bodyshop quality, durable and easy-to-use to achieve a good result. It’s available as a precision pen, bottle with brush, and aerosol. We also supply it in larger 500ml/1 litre quantities to trade customers.

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