Museum Outtake: 1962 Ford Taunus Transit Ambulance – The Forgotten Transit That Started It All

Some names for cars and vehicles just work. Mustang. Mini. Interceptor. Land Rover. Voyager.  Spider. Thunderbird, perhaps my favourite. But of the names still in service, perhaps the best for describing the vehicle, defining its segment, endurance and a clear bright future is Transit. Heck, Mum knows what a Transit van is.

How many conversations have there been at a British van hire office over the last 40 or more years, along the lines of “What is a Bedford CF/Vauxhall Vivaro/Renault Trafic/Leyland Sherpa/Citroen Despatch/Toyota Hiace?” that have been quickly resolved by someone saying “It’s like a Transit but built by….”.

Like Hoover, Biro or Kleenex, the trade mark name has become the identifier for the market sector. In the UK, through the process of geneticisation (a word that has the ring of being developed in business school, and over used by people with whiteboards or a PowerPoint addiction) we have Ford Transit vans and other transit vans.

In the UK, for nearly 50 years the home of the Transit manufacture, the name goes back to 1965 and what is often referred to as the Transit Mk1. But from 1961 to 1966, Ford of Germany produced the Taunus Transit.

At this time Ford of Germany and Ford of Britain were separate, and if not exactly competing, didn’t work to be complementary either.

Hence, Germany got a series of Taunus saloons and the FK 1000 van , and the UK got Zephyrs, Cortinas and Thames Trader vans and chassi cabs (above). Ford of Germany used Taunus as a brand for many of their saloons in the 1950s through to the 1970s, and exported some to North America.

Which gives me an excuse to show this wonderful shot of Schuss Lincoln-Mercury’s Taunus selection, in Oxnard, California, in 1959.

The Taunus Transit traces its roots back to the Ford FK1000 (as in Ford Köln, 1000kg) van of 1953, which had a 1.2 litre engine driving the rear wheels and shared a lot with the contemporary Ford (of Germany) Taunus saloon.  This was front mounted, in fact ahead of the front axle, aiming for maximum space efficiency and cab comfort at the expense of a nose heavy weight distribution and the handling consequences.

Initially power was 38bhp: that may not seem a lot for a ton of payload but it was significantly ahead of the 25 bhp VW Type 2, for example, and meant 95 km/h or 60 mph could be attained. With a long run up, one suspects.

In 1955, Ford offered an option of a 55 bhp 1.5 litre and 4 speed gearbox, and moved the engine rearward, between the driver and passenger seats. This also assisted legroom and access across the cab as well as obviously easing the weight distribution.

In Germany, the main competition came from the VW Type 2, and here the Ford has a distinct advantage in having a full length, full height load bay. A full height and width single door at the rear, rather than the more usual twin door usually seen on a British van or the stable door favoured by the French, and matched by the side door gave flexibility for loading standard pallets. Not an exciting topic maybe, but an important part of choosing a van for many operators.

From 1958, a 1.25 ton 1250kg version was available, known as the FK1250. The usual range of options from vans to minibus to chassis-cab and small tipper trucks was available through Ford and partner specialists.

In 1961 the Taunus Transit name was adopted, as the Ford FK series was withdrawn and Ford of Germany abandoned the truck market.

The feature ambulance is a 1962 Ford Taunus Transit 1000, a 1000kg payload version with the 1.5 litre engine. It clearly dates from the period in which ambulances were used purely to get patients to hospital, and were not equipped for anything beyond bandaging and splints, and perhaps supplying oxygen. Inside ambulances has changed a lot since then.

It was used in the Munich area, based in Garching for many years. It is now on display at the Deutsches Museum Verkehrszentrum in Munich.

In 1965, Ford of Europe produced the first Ford Transit, built in Britain and sold across Europe, and replacing all Ford of Britain and Germany vans. It was larger, principally in width, than the vans that had gone before, and had a style and format based on contemporary American practice.

And four, or even eight depending how you count,  generations later, the Transit is still arguably, commercially, the most important vehicle Ford built in Europe and is generally accepted to have made more money for Ford than all the European cars put together.

No wonder Mum knows what a Transit is.