Some bonkers publicity vehicles have been made over the years. The Ford Transit Supervan was one of the craziest
You won't see many other commercial vehicles in Below The Radar, but there's something deeply special about the Ford Transit, as it's been such a big part of our lives since it was introduced way back in 1965. And it was very special indeed in the case of the Supervan (which would retrospectively be named Supervan 1, once a sequel had arrived in the 1980s).
When the Transit-based Supervan 1 made its public debut at the Easter race meeting at Thruxton in April 1971, Ford could never have predicted just what an icon this ludicrous machine would become. The bodyshell was a standard Transit Mk1, but it hid a rather barmy secret; this delivery van was based on the chassis of a Ford GT40, complete with mid-mounted 5.0-litre V8.
In Peter Lee's book Ford Transit, fifty years (Crowood, ISBN 978-1-84797-873-8), racing driver and record breaker Terry Drury recalled: "Ford apprentices at the Trade school stuck a V8 in a Transit with a Ford Transit V6 gearbox and drove it around at a show. John Dale, a Ford promotional rep, was at the show and after seeing the public's reaction asked me if we could build a really fast Transit. So we did it and it was road tested on 6 May 1971.
"John told me the idea was to retain the complete look of a Transit van. I know the later Supervans were made of other materials but to use a real van was important. We tried to keep it as near to the everyday Transit as possible".
Despite its relatively standard looks (monstrously huge tyres and very noticeably flared wheelarches notwithstanding), with 435bhp on tap the Supervan's performance was shattering. Autocar drove it and clocked a 0-100mph time of just 21.6 seconds at Ford Motorsport's Boreham airfield. The same magazine also saw 102mph on the clock – in second gear – with 134mph possible in third, with two more gears still to go.
It was reckoned that the original Supervan's top speed was 168mph, but its aerodynamics were so poor that taking it to that speed would have been a frightening experience. Although there's usually somebody around who is mad enough to take on such challenges… The ludicrous top speed projection was all down to the use of the GT40 transmission with its ratios unaltered; that car had the aerodynamics to do around 200mph, but the Supervan most certainly didn't!
It was Terry Drury who had built the original Supervan, in his own workshop. Although the Transit's bodyshell was used, it was bolted to a tubular chassis with everything worked out as the project progressed. That race-tuned V8 featured Gurney-Weslake cylinder heads and its power was sent to the rear axle via a five-speed ZF transaxle; to accommodate the massive wheels the rear wheelarches had to be completely remodelled.
Of course the rest of the running gear had to be uprated in a bid to tame the enormous power available. To that end the front suspension used Jaguar XJ6 parts while the rear was based on Cooper F1 components. The rack-and-pinion steering was from a GT40 while the brake discs were Can-Am spec. The Revolution wheels were specially made and were a faintly ridiculous 15 inches in diameter as well as 15 inches wide; they were wrapped in Goodyear tyres.
Having made its debut, Supervan became one of Ford's most popular promotional vehicles, always drawing huge crowds who were desperate to see and hear it in action. When it went to the Nurburgring to notch up some laps on a touring car race weekend it proved faster than some of the race entries, taking just nine minutes and 13 seconds to despatch a complete lap. Despite its popularity Supervan 1 was scrapped in the 1970s, thanks to increased demand for genuine GT40 parts, not least of all the ZF transmission. But later would come a Supervan 2 and then a Supervan 3.
Mid-mounted, 4736cc, V8
5-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
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