50 years later, Ford’s Transit Supervan is still outrageous

YouTube/Ford Heritage

In April 1971, Ford wowed the motoring world by unveiling a Transit van at the U.K.’s Brands Hatch Circuit. A race track is not the typical venue for a compact van, but this was no typical Transit. The Essex V-4 normally found under the van’s short hood had been unceremoniously tossed aside; in its place sat, well, nothing. Instead, the van used a Gurney-Weslake-prepped 302 small-block Ford V-8 and a five-speed transaxle. Essentially a Ford GT40 draped in boxy van sheetmetal, it even shared the race car’s “bundle of snakes” exhaust headers and fantastic engine note—plus its 435 horsepower. The absurdity of the Supervan was matched only by its brilliance.

The idea to create a high-performance, mid-engine box-on-wheels was a novel way to advertise the practicality of the European-market van, which had already been on the market for five years in its current form. Doesn’t every bakery need a hot-rodded van to make sure that each loaf of bread gets delivered while it’s still fresh and hot?

According to this video, the “naught-to-60” time was seven seconds, meaning that the Supervan, if lined up against a modern minivan, would end up looking at a Honda Odyssey’s taillights—at least, initially. The Supervan would have made things close with a 14.5-second quarter-mile elapsed time, which is not bad at all for a small-block in the early ’70s.

It’s not really fair to compare the Supervan to a modern car, though, because drag racing wasn’t its forte. With wide front tires that stick out from the wheel openings, Ford’s custom creation had the appearance of a super-sized go-kart. Surely it would fare better on the track? Well, that depends on the track. To no one’s surprise, a blocky van is not the ideal shape to push through the air, but the Supervan certainly looked and sounded good while trying. Top speed was supposedly in excess of 150 mph, although handling became a bit dodgy. Just watch it pull a front wheel way off the ground when cornering. Perhaps this would be better suited to courses without any triple-digit speeds.

Ford would go on to build a Supervan 2 in 1984 and a Supervan 3 in 1994, but neither were quite as cool as the original Transit Supervan, the grandaddy of all sleeper vans. Happy 50th birthday.

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