What would result from the unlikely “marriage” of a low-roof, highly practical Ford Transit Connect van with the power unit and brakes from Ford’s legendary high-performance Focus RS? The answer is the 'vantastic' Transit Connect X-Press - the fastest and most dramatic version of Ford’s tough and highly versatile small commercial to hit the tarmac.
Lower (by up to 70 mm), meaner (with 18-inch OZ alloys) and emitting an exhaust note more akin to that of Ford’s Focus RS WRC, X-Press is an undeniably special Transit Connect. Even if you fail to spot the integral, “race-spec” roll cage fitted inside this one-off vehicle, it would be almost impossible to ignore the pearlescent white paint job set off with tri-colour X-Press graphics.
Built Ford Tough
Ford of Europe's Chief Engineer for Commercial Vehicles, Barry Gale, explained: "Transit Connect is such a strong and dynamically capable vehicle to begin with, that we knew this project would be feasible from the outset. Certain drivetrain and suspension components are common with the first generation Ford Focus, so the transformation was relatively straightforward from an engineering point of view. We now have a unique commercial vehicle that performs like no other. If pushed, it is capable of a 0-60mph time in less than 7 seconds and a 130mph top speed. As you might expect from a Ford, it handles, steers and stops like a sports car.”
Once having seen and heard Transit Connect X-Press, the casual observer would be entitled to wonder why a small and otherwise apparently sensible group of Ford engineers, based at Ford of Europe's Lommel Proving Ground in Belgium, would have devised a plan to build such an unlikely machine. The same observer may be surprised to learn that there are perfectly credible reasons behind the creation of Transit Connect X-Press!
Above all, the team of dedicated engineers who developed the Transit Connect range was eager to demonstrate, in a memorable way, the inherent strength and versatility of the base vehicle. Clearly, it would not be possible to contemplate fitting a high performance, turbocharged and intercooled 215PS engine into such a vehicle with just minimal changes required, unless it was constructed very robustly in the first place.
In short, X-Press provides a clear reminder that Transit Connect is not based on a modified passenger car platform; rather, it was developed, from the ground up, to cope with the tough, unremitting demands made of hard-working commercial vehicles everywhere.
It also underlines the fact that Ford's commitment to developing vehicles that offer a rewarding driving experience applies not just to passenger cars, but equally to Ford commercials. Given that the production Transit Connect has been much praised for its overall driving quality the X-press team had no problems leaving the original suspension system largely intact.
Performance Van Heritage
Transit Connect X-Press joins a memorable line-up of dramatic, one-off Ford commercials created over the years both to entertain and to remind the general public of the roles these much-loved workhorses play in everyday commercial life.
These ranged from the original Transit Supervan of the late-1960s, with its mid-engined, Ford “big-block” V8, through the 1980s Cosworth-powered, Formula One-inspired Supervan 2 and 3 models. More recently, the rally-oriented Ford Transit WRT proved that Ford Transit is as tough as ever, even taking a key supporting role in a Playstation 2 rally computer game alongside the Ford Focus RS WRC. The latest Transit 'special' is the stretched Transit XXL limousine, which joins the Transit Connect X-Press in showing off the fun side of Ford's European CV range.
Classic Focus RS power still excites!
The base ingredients from the renowned yet still exciting 2004 Focus RS and the tough Transit Connect Light Commercial combine perfectly in the X-Press.
From the 2004 Ford Focus RS, engineers took the powerful 215PS 2.0 litre turbocharged and intercooled 16-valve Duratec RS engine. Its 310Nm of maximum torque is fed to the front wheels through a heavy-duty AP racing clutch, a robust, five-speed gearbox with a short-throw shifter and a motorsport-inspired Quaife limited slip differential. Also recognisable from the Focus RS are the Brembo 325mm ventilated front disc brakes teamed with 280 mm solid discs at the rear.
In terms of its suspension the X-Press is almost pure Transit Connect with the McPherson strut front end matched to a classic light commercial vehicle beam axle at the rear.
It has to be said, though, that the front suspension is redesigned and lowered with up-rated offset coil springs and Sachs-provided racing dampers. There are revised lower A-arms with increased roll-centre height and 23 mm anti-roll bar incorporating unique roller bearing locating fixings. At the rear, along with the lowered ride height there are up-rated leaf springs from Olgun Celik and a 22 mm anti-roll bar incorporating roller bearing locating fixings.
Inside, the cabin is unmistakably Transit Connect, but obvious changes like the Sparco race-style leather/Alcantara trimmed bucket seats in black and white, plus a Ford Racing driver / co-driver intercom give the game away. There is a unique-to-the X-Press steering wheel and a flocked interior and centre console with an engine start button, plus a revised instrument binnacle with new graphics and instrumentation incorporating a turbo boost gauge and change-up light.
Labour of Love
The Transit Connect X-Press was created by a small team of Ford engineers at Ford's Lommel Proving Ground in Belgium in 2004, and was updated in late-2006 to reflect the latest exterior detail changes to the Ford Transit Connect range.
Since its creation, the Transit Connect X-Press has been seen all over Europe at key motor shows and Ford events, as well as starring in many magazine and newspaper stories at the hands of the media.
A team of key specialists gave up their spare time to develop the vehicle.
"It wasn't difficult really," said Gale. "Once everyone understood what we were doing they all offered to help in their spare time to make special parts or work on the vehicle. It became a true labour of love and as we're basically all car nuts, we're very pleased with the end product."
FORD TRANSIT CONNECT X-PRESS: SPECIFICATION
|Engine type||2.0-litre, 16v Duratec RS, air-to-water intercooled turbo|
|Fuel type, grade||Unleaded petrol|
|Max power ISO kW/PS||158 / 215PS (212 bhp)|
|At engine speed (rev/min)||5500|
|Torque ISO Nm||310 (229 lb-ft)|
|At engine speed (rpm)||3500|
|Cylinders||Four in-line, with forged pistons and connecting rods|
|Cylinder head||Cast aluminium alloy|
|Cylinder block||Cast iron equipped with improved oil system|
|Valve gear||DOHC, modified valve seats, sodium-filled exhaust valves|
|Engine management||Ford EEC-V|
|Induction||Garrett stainless steel, water-cooled turbocharger, 1-bar maximum boost, large bore stainless exhaust system, water-cooled intercooler, new throttle body with improved sealing, redesigned air induction system|
|Engine Construction cont'd|
|Injection||Sequential electronic fuel injection (SEFI) High flow rate injectors|
|Fuel System||60 litre fuel tank|
|Ignition||Ford electronic distributor-less|
|Exhaust||Tuned low back-pressure, increased volume, sports exhaust system, supplied by Bosal|
|Emission controls||Closed-loop; 3-way catalytic converter with close-coupled catalyst|
|Cooling||Increased capacity water pump, high efficiency oil cooler, water-cooled intercooler, upgraded engine cooling fans, turbo heat shielding|
|5-speed, with revised gear ratios, Quaife automatic torque biasing differential, up-rated drive shafts. New sports short-throw shifter mechanism|
|Clutch||Heavy duty AP Racing|
|Suspension and Body|
|Front||Redesigned and lowered McPherson strut suspension with up-rated offset coil springs/Sachs racing dampers. Revised lower A-arms with increased roll-centre height and 23 mm anti-roll bar incorporating unique roller bearing locating fixings.|
|Rear||Hotchkiss beam axle with up-rated Olgun Celik leaf springs and lowered ride height. Revised elasto-kinematics for optimised high-speed stability. Unique shackle design featuring tapered roller bearings and 22 mm anti-roll bar incorporating roller bearing locating fixings. Bespoke Sachs twin-tube dampers.|
|Front||Brembo 4-pot, twin-opposed piston callipers and 325 mm ventilated discs|
|Rear||Two pot callipers and 280 mm solid discs|
|Anti-lock braking||MK25 Bosch ABS system|
|Steering||Rack-and-pinion with hydraulic assistance, 2.6 turns lock-to-lock|
|Wheels and tyres||OZ alloy 18 x 8inch rims with bespoke Michelin 225/40R/18Pilot Sport low profile tyres|
|Body||Short wheelbase low-roof, 2 door with tailgate for optimum stiffness/weight ratio. Exterior finished in pearlescent white with tri-colour X-Press graphics. Unitary-welded high-strength steel body incorporating safety roll cage, under-body bracing and reinforced front sub-frame. Front and rear energy absorbing crumple zones. Side impact protection system.|
|Interior||Sparco race-style leather/Alcantara trimmed bucket seats in black/white. Ford Racing driver / co-driver intercom. Unique steering wheel. Flocked interior and centre console with start button. Unique door handles and matching window regulator handle. Revised instrument binnacle with new graphics and instrumentation incorporating turbo boost gauge and change-up light.|
|Equipment||Air conditioning, six-stack dashboard mounted CD player, fire extinguisher, 2 spare wheels to accommodate the directional tyres|
|Security||Ford Passive Anti-Theft System (PATS) immobiliser|
Text and photos: Ford