The Transit hits its stride.
Let us move on to 1972, a momentous year for the Transit in the UK and Europe. Despite a house move, British production reached a new high at just over 55,000 units. Genk managed 37,000. Rival manufacturers had yet to follow Bedford’s example with a serious Transit challenger, although British Leyland were, shall we say, working on it. The Toyota Hi-Ace had recently arrived in the UK, finding favour with small businesses and motor-caravanners, but was not selling in the sort of numbers which would concern Ford.
From 1972 the British Transit had a new home. The former Briggs Motor Bodies facility at Swaythling, a northern suburb of Southampton, had produced Transit bodies from 1965. In a logical move, Ford invested £5 million to introduce full assembly lines at the site, increasing production capacity to a potential 75,000 per year, and freeing space at the Langley truck plant.
Also in 1972 the pig’s snout had a new incumbent, with the introduction of the York engine, Ford’s all-new, home-grown 2360cc indirect injection diesel slant-four with Ricardo Mk.Vb combustion chambers, in low rating (54bhp) and high rating (61bhp) forms. The all-iron, naturally aspirated pushrod engines with moderately oversquare (93.67mm / 3.68in, 85.58mm / 3.36in) proportions were unadventurous in their engineering, but closed the performance gap between the diesel and petrol options. A six cylinder 3540cc York was also produced, but only for heavier vehicles than the Transit.
In April 1972 the York option cost £155 over the 1.7 litre V4 in low rating form, and another £15 for the high rating engine. The entry level price for a basic van was around £900. Six months earlier the Perkins 4.108 had been offered at £145 extra over the base engine.
On the road and heavily laden, the torquey 2.4 litre had ground-covering ability easily matching the 2.0 litre V4. The acceptability of the new engine, and rapidly rising fuel costs resulting from geo-politically driven energy crises over the decade ensured that the York engine production facility in Dagenham was soon working at its full 50-60,000 unit annual capacity. The new engines also gave the territories served by the Genk factory their first sniff of heavy oil in their Transits.
Given its sales success, and the march it stole so effortlessly over its rivals, the Ford Transit might have appeared to be The Perfect Van. It wasn’t. Flaws and fallibilities were not hard to find.
Ford may have invented the acronym NVH – Noise, Vibration and Harshness- but the Transit had all three, in pallet-loads. An undamped metal box on wheels is inevitably resonant, but the inherently rough 60° V4 made matters worse.
The Essex V4, for all its packaging virtues, was ill-suited to life in a commercial vehicle. Its massively oversquare proportions militated against low-end torque, so had to be worked hard to compensate. Fuel efficiency was poor compared with rivals, and the pre-1972 Perkins diesel alternative was expensive and delivered feeble performance. The Essex engine was also prone to head gasket failure (and it had two of them), premature wear of the balance shaft bearings, and crankshaft bearing failures.
To this litany can be added the notorious fibre-composite timing gear which had been specified in the cause of refinement, but was prone to catastrophic failure as the bowl-in-piston head’s geometry resulted in ‘interference’ – valves and pistons colliding – if the camshaft drive system disintegrated.
In 1975, Essex V4 engine production was rationalised, dropping the 1663cc short stroke version. To fill its place, Ford UK’s engineers pulled off a minor miracle by redesigning the Transit’s engine compartment bulkhead to incorporate a recess which allowed fitment of the 1.6 litre Kent in-line four, without recourse to the pig’s snout, and keeping to the holy writ that the gearbox could not be moved back.
The newcomer was not a complete success. Despite being slightly squarer in its proportions than the 64cc larger V4, and around 65lb lighter, the Kent engine demanded an ultra-low 5.8:1 rear axle ratio to compensate for its woeful shortage of low-end torque. In its Transit application, the giant-killing little engine was just too hard-worked to deliver the fuel economy and refinement benefits which might have been expected.
In October 1975 the Transit reached its tenth anniversary, with its UK market leadership unchallenged. The magic million was some time away, achieved on 15 September 1976 with a Southampton built LHD minibus destined for Nigeria.
Ford had paid attention to what operators required, and delivered it through a process of evolutionary development. By 1974, earnest efforts had begun on an all-new, and very different looking replacement, codenamed “Triton”. However, even mighty Ford could be blown off course by the crosswinds of a turbulent decade, and the Transit’s development would soon follow a rather different flight plan.
 In the early ‘70s, British Leyland had a Transit-like van proposal codenamed CV154 at an advanced stage of design development. However the cost of tooling was beyond the firm’s means and instead a low-cost design (CV306) was cobbled together from adapted J4 and 250JU parts and anything suitable from the passenger car range. It was launched in 1974 as The Leyland Van from Austin-Morris, and renamed Sherpa within a year. The oddly appealing product’s strengths were cheapness, simplicity, and being narrow enough to go where a Transit wouldn’t fit. The basic design went through four facelifts, numerous engine changes, and three different manufacturer ownerships before British production ended in 2006.
 Except for the Australians, who immediately hated the V4 in their first Transits, domestically assembled from 1970. From 1973 onwards the body and chassis were adapted to accommodate the Falcon’s 3277cc straight-six in a Bedford CF-like arrangement, intruding partly into the driving compartment. The early generation Transits were never strong sellers in Australia. Annual production never exceeded much more than 1800 units, and ended in 1982 with Mazda-sourced vans taking the European designed vans’ place.
 If you were a big enough fleet customer, you could opt for a down-rated 2 litre V4. Peak power was reduced by inserting restrictors into the inlet manifold, and a smaller-throated carburettor, but torque was less affected. The carefully calibrated low output V4s were reported to consume far less fuel than the overworked 1600cc in-line engines.