January 3, 2007 Though Ford’s Transit Van has now been around since 1965, it’s very much like Grandpa’s axe, in that the head has been replaced many times and the handle many more than that. With the seventh complete redesign of the classic workhorse, Ford picked up the International Van of the Year 2007 and the euphoria of the win seems to have inspired some remarkable custom engineering from Ford Europe's Commercial Vehicle development team. Two stunning new Transit-based concepts have resulted: one is the Transit XXL, a stretched Transit Tourneo passenger vehicle and the other is the Transit X-Press, a modified version of the normally sedate Connect model fitted with the power train, suspension and brakes of Ford’s high-performance Focus RS. Remarkably, neither are planned for production, though we’d warrant the queue would stretch further than the XXL. Perhaps lobbying your local Ford dealer might help convince them that their engineers are indeed not bonkers, but have identified a lucrative niche market.
The Transit XXL
Designed and built by the Transit team at Dunton as a special project, Transit XXL uses 'off the shelf' Ford Transit components throughout. It is based on two short wheel base Transit Tourneo models which have been meticulously joined together to deliver a bespoke limousine that carries the driver plus seven passengers in full 'first class' comfort.
Every passenger benefits from a leather-trimmed, seven-way fully adjustable Transit 'Captain's Seat' complete with heating, lumbar adjustment and armrest. As you would expect, legroom and shoulder room are extensive!
This one-off vehicle has been designed to further demonstrate the Ford Transit's flexibility and capabilities. It measures 7.4 metres in length and has a wheelbase of 5.9 metres. This compares to the standard Tourneo length of almost 4.9 metres and wheelbase of 2.9 metres.
Transit XXL also features four full sliding doors – two on each side – while the entire vehicle benefits from privacy glass allowing occupants to be transported in appropriate anonymity. The four opening side doors of the Transit XXL are complemented by the fact that it's a right hand drive van. When used in left hand drive countries, the Transit XXL driver can stop at the kerbside and be ready quickly to help passengers get in to or out of the vehicle – something that drivers of long limousine vehicles understand and appreciate.
The interior also features a fully fitted carpet made from the standard Tourneo item, and a floor to roof carpeted bulkhead behind the rearmost pair of seats which creates a separate luggage compartment accessible only through the tailgate-style rear door.
Passenger comfort is maximised through the use of front and rear air conditioning, with the rear being controlled via the passenger compartment making this literally the coolest Transit to travel in.
The team isn't finished yet, and has plans to install a full in-vehicle entertainment system, including DVD player and games consoles, with individual monitors.
Transit XXL is powered by a completely standard Ford 2.2-litre, 130PS Duratorq TDCi engine, though the 5-speed gearbox has been specially adapted and tuned for optimum gearing to deliver enhanced mid-range performance. The braking system has also been upgraded and uses self-adjusting, servo-assisted front and rear discs. The body construction for Transit XXL features extensive strengthening under the floor and in the roof to ensure that the vehicle is torsionally rigid and safe. It has an unladen weight of 2500kg. Using an FT350 front wheel drive model, the suspension has been enhanced to give the necessary gross vehicle weight of 3500kg, enabling Transit XXL to be fully laden with passengers and their luggage
Finished in Frozen White, the Transit XXL retains many of its original standard features, including satellite navigation, Bluetooth capability, top-of-the-range Ford audio equipment, heated front screen and – perhaps most importantly – reversing sensors.
"The Transit team spent a huge amount of their personal time putting together the Transit XXL, and we're delighted with the result," said Barry Gale, Ford of Europe's Chief Engineer for Commercial Vehicles. "It was a challenging project but the core vehicle's strengths and flexibility have helped the end result to be easy to drive and very comfortable to ride in.
Ford Transit X-press
Resulting from the unlikely marriage of a low-roof, highly practical Ford Transit Connect van with the power unit and brakes from Ford’s legendary high-performance Focus RS, the Transit Connect X-Press is the fastest and most dramatic version of Ford’s tough and highly versatile small commercial to ever hit the tarmac.
Lower (by up to 70 mm), meaner (with 18-inch OZ alloys) and emitting an exhaust note more akin to that of Ford’s Focus RS WRC, X-Press is an undeniably special Transit Connect. Even if you fail to spot the integral, “race-spec” roll cage fitted inside this one-off vehicle, it would be almost impossible to ignore the pearlescent white paint job set off with tri-colour X-Press graphics.
Ford of Europe's Chief Engineer for Commercial Vehicles, Barry Gale, explained: "Transit Connect is such a strong and dynamically capable vehicle to begin with, that we knew this project would be feasible from the outset. Certain drivetrain and suspension components are common with the first generation Ford Focus, so the transformation was relatively straightforward from an engineering point of view. We now have a unique commercial vehicle that performs like no other. If pushed, it is capable of a 0-60mph time in less than 7 seconds and a 130mph top speed. As you might expect from a Ford, it handles, steers and stops like a sports car.”
Once having seen and heard Transit Connect X-Press, the casual observer would be entitled to wonder why a small and otherwise apparently sensible group of Ford engineers, based at Ford of Europe's Lommel Proving Ground in Belgium, would have devised a plan to build such an unlikely machine. The same observer may be surprised to learn that there are perfectly credible reasons behind the creation of Transit Connect X-Press!
Above all, the team of dedicated engineers who developed the Transit Connect range was eager to demonstrate, in a memorable way, the inherent strength and versatility of the base vehicle. Clearly, it would not be possible to contemplate fitting a high performance, turbocharged and intercooled 215PS engine into such a vehicle with just minimal changes required, unless it was constructed very robustly in the first place.
In short, X-Press provides a clear reminder that Transit Connect is not based on a modified passenger car platform; rather, it was developed, from the ground up, to cope with the tough, unremitting demands made of hard-working commercial vehicles everywhere.
It also underlines the fact that Ford's commitment to developing vehicles that offer a rewarding driving experience applies not just to passenger cars, but equally to Ford commercials. Given that the production Transit Connect has been much praised for its overall driving quality the X-press team had no problems leaving the original suspension system largely intact.
Transit Connect X-Press joins a memorable line-up of dramatic, one-off Ford commercials created over the years both to entertain and to remind the general public of the roles these much-loved workhorses play in everyday commercial life.
These ranged from the original Transit Supervan of the late-1960s, with its mid-engined, Ford “big-block” V8, through the 1980s Cosworth-powered, Formula One-inspired Supervan 2 and 3 models. More recently, the rally-oriented Ford Transit WRT proved that Ford Transit is as tough as ever, even taking a key supporting role in a Playstation 2 rally computer game alongside the Ford Focus RS WRC. The latest Transit 'special' is the stretched Transit XXL limousine, which joins the Transit Connect X-Press in showing off the fun side of Ford's European CV range.
The base ingredients from the renowned yet still exciting 2004 Focus RS and the tough Transit Connect Light Commercial combine perfectly in the X-Press.
From the 2004 Ford Focus RS, engineers took the powerful 215PS 2.0 litre turbocharged and intercooled 16-valve Duratec RS engine. Its 310Nm of maximum torque is fed to the front wheels through a heavy-duty AP racing clutch, a robust, five-speed gearbox with a short-throw shifter and a motorsport-inspired Quaife limited slip differential. Also recognisable from the Focus RS are the Brembo 325mm ventilated front disc brakes teamed with 280 mm solid discs at the rear.
In terms of its suspension the X-Press is almost pure Transit Connect with the McPherson strut front end matched to a classic light commercial vehicle beam axle at the rear.
It has to be said, though, that the front suspension is redesigned and lowered with up-rated offset coil springs and Sachs-provided racing dampers. There are revised lower A-arms with increased roll-centre height and 23 mm anti-roll bar incorporating unique roller bearing locating fixings. At the rear, along with the lowered ride height there are up-rated leaf springs from Olgun Celik and a 22 mm anti-roll bar incorporating roller bearing locating fixings.
Inside, the cabin is unmistakably Transit Connect, but obvious changes like the Sparco race-style leather/Alcantara trimmed bucket seats in black and white, plus a Ford Racing driver / co-driver intercom give the game away. There is a unique-to-the X-Press steering wheel and a flocked interior and centre console with an engine start button, plus a revised instrument binnacle with new graphics and instrumentation incorporating a turbo boost gauge and change-up light.
The Transit Connect X-Press was created by a small team of Ford engineers at Ford's Lommel Proving Ground in Belgium in 2004, and was updated in late-2006 to reflect the latest exterior detail changes to the Ford Transit Connect range.
Since its creation, the Transit Connect X-Press has been seen all over Europe at key motor shows and Ford events, as well as starring in many magazine and newspaper stories at the hands of the media.
A team of key specialists gave up their spare time to develop the vehicle.
"It wasn't difficult really," said Gale. "Once everyone understood what we were doing they all offered to help in their spare time to make special parts or work on the vehicle. It became a true labour of love and as we're basically all car nuts, we're very pleased with the end product."