70 years of Ford Transporter – VW Bullis’ best enemy

70 years of Ford vans
The best enemy of the VW Bulli

It was in fact the VW Bulli designer who gave shape to the FK 1000, forerunner of the Ford Transit, in 1952. As an “express transport”, the Cologne box gently nibbled the market share of the Wolfsburg bestseller, only to finally surpass the Bulli as a transit in Europe after 1965.

Who doesn’t know them, the little all-rounders Ford Transit and VW Bulli? Light commercial vehicles, which have played a leading role in the Europe of the economic miracle such as vans and motorhomes. But hardly anyone knows that this duo has the same father: designer Alfred Haesner first finalized the VW T1, then in 1952 he designed the forerunner of the Transit FK 1000 and the following year marketed it as an express freighter, until this VW chaser transformed into a Transit in 1965 and established itself as the European market leader among lightweight “utilities”. In terms of cult status, the Bulli is further ahead, but the Transit has long since achieved legendary status.

Even in the age of construction, the Ford FK 1000 made a sensation as the fastest van, from the 1960s onwards, many pop bands put their faith in the Transit tour bus talent, and finally Scotland Yard declared l ‘Fascinating Ford Most Wanted Van in Britain: “In 95 per cent of all bank robberies the perpetrators are in transit,” said a police spokesman in 1972. Ford immediately promoted this image of the need for speed with supervans. for world speed records.

Ford and VW – a long tradition

In the 21st century, the Transit has grown to be a model family in four dimensions, only to discover the subject of electrification. The Transit Custom has been available as a plug-in hybrid from 2019 and the E-Transit will follow the 70th anniversary of the Ford van. Above all, the Transit Connect was born as the first child of a collaboration with VW, which will also create a common platform for future generations of Transit and Bulli.


In the 1960s, the Ford Taunus Transit was also popular with firefighters.

(Photo: Ford)

This global cooperation with Volkswagen, signed in 2020, was hardly something CEO Henry Ford II could have imagined when he said “No!” after the Second World War. he refused the offer of the victorious allied powers to independently manage the Wolfsburg plant. On the other hand, in those dark post-war days, rivals Ford and VW began to work together for the first time, because in 1948 the relaunched Ford Taunus was initially assembled at the Wolfsburg plant.

FK 1000 with a payload of one ton

Right next door, Alfred Haesner designed the Volkswagen Transporter T1, but had to take into account the Beetle’s design with a too weak rear engine for heavy loads, delivering 25 hp. Haesner, who switched to Ford Cologne in 1952, found the engine of the Taunus 12 M limousine, with its mighty 38 hp, even more exciting, which started the modern Ford FK 1000 ass.


Ford FK 1000, FK 1250 and Taunus Transit, production models from 1953 to 1962.

(Photo: Ford)

FK 1000, this type code stood for Ford Cologne and a proud 1000kg payload (compared to 750kg on the first VW T1), but the model designation also inspired the advertising slogan “Firefighters drive 100 things” and the term cargo express. The media dubbed it the “raging room,” but they also quickly recognized the raging Ford’s Achilles heel.

The Cologne light truck, fitted out by coachbuilder Drauz in Heilbronn, suffered from a structural weakness that developer Haesner and chief engineer Alfons Streit had accepted in favor of maximum cargo volume. When it was unloaded, the FK 1000 was very heavy due to the front engine positioned far in front and then reluctantly jumped through the streets, especially as these were often cobbled.

A success story in Germany

Only a modified platform made it possible to move the four-cylinder towards the passenger compartment and therefore a smoother ride. Now the sales figures for the transporter, called Taunus Transit since 1960, have risen to new heights, albeit mainly in Germany. The comparison with the competitors of the Borgward Group, of Tempo or DKW was positive, but the Bulli, which from the beginning sold the world VW, played in a superior championship: 255,832 Transit against 1,535,595 Volkswagen Transporter was the conclusion in 1965 when the first Transit has given way to a new generation.

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The Ford Transit didn’t just serve as a tour bus for The Tremeloes, Coldplay and Status Quo.

(Photo: Ford)

Henry Ford II personally pushed the successor as a global project. “Little Red Riding Hood” (English: “Redcap”) was the code name of the new Transit, designed at Ford’s American headquarters and then prepared for series production in Germany and Great Britain. Indeed, this Transit, later sold worldwide, has revolutionized the transport segment since 1965 with over 50 different extension and body variants, optional diesel engines and as a cult box for families, leisure or pop groups. For many Ford employees in Cologne, the handy cargo giant became the family car of choice when they traveled to their Turkish homeland during factory holidays. It is no coincidence that the Transit plant in Kocaeli (Turkey) was one of the most important production sites for the bestseller, which had sold five million times since 2004.

Even the useful Ford was able to unleash a lot of emotions right from the start. Whether it’s a wild driver galloping at 240 km / h with the Le Mans engine of the Ford GT (from 1972), like a fast 270 km / h Supervan 2 with a coupled caravan (1985), like Transit Supervan III (1995) with a 485 kW / 650 hp Formula 1 Cosworth V8, an unglazed van that has completed stunt jumps on 15 cars (since 1972) or as a seaworthy amphibious vehicle for fun English boat racing (since 1980).

The convertible transit

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The Ford Transit once also served as an animal transport for the London Zoo.

(Photo: Ford)

Then there were the newsworthy photos of Transit as a mobile home for elephants (1965), Transit’s regular bus service over the London-Australia marathon distance (16,000km), and relaxing buses from bands like The Tremeloes, Status Quo. or Coldplay. Not to forget the appearance of the spectacular 7.40 meter long Transit limousine (2007) or that white Transit van desperately wanted by the paparazzi, which British royalty William and Kate used for undercover tours during their Anglesey engagement in 2013. .

There were also dynamic models like the 2006 Transit Sport, the first production van with Le Mans decor, or the nugget in the popular RV club. Transit should be one for all from the very beginning and this is reflected in the seven generations of Transit to date. Since 2012, the three formats Transit Courier, Transit Connect and Transit Custom have complemented the range below the full-size Transit, which now competes with the VW Crafter or Mercedes Sprinter.


The Transit Supervan III (1995) had a 650hp Formula 1 Cosworth V8 under the hood.

(Photo: Ford)

Additionally, passenger car versions from Tourneo Courier to Custom round out the portfolio, as some Ford dealerships also lose track. Ford has thus confidently secured the crown of the class leader as the most successful light commercial vehicle brand since 2014, not only Volkswagen, but also the emerging competition from Mercedes, Peugeot, Citroën and Fiat.

From the first express truck to the modern family and leisure vehicle, the Transit wrote a similar amount of everyday history as VW’s vans. In the future this will happen together, from 2023 the commercial vehicle version of the VW T7 Bulli will also share the basics with the next Transit Custom: everything will be different and at the same time the two will remain best friends and enemies on the market.

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