Ford Europe has issued the following press release:
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 high-performance, top-of-the-range, 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 in World Rally Championship trim, 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. Extrovert? Most definitely – but not over the top!
Built Ford Tough
X-Press Lead Engineer, Paul Sluimer, explained: "Transit Connect is such a fantastically 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 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. We estimate a 0-60mph time of under 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 is the latest in a memorable line of dramatic, one-off Ford commercials created over the years both to entertain and to remind the general public, from time to time, of the roles these much-loved workhorses play in everyday commercial life throughout Europe, and in many other parts of the world.
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.
Transit Connect X-Press may be physically smaller than its crowd-pleasing predecessors, but it packs a mean punch.
RS and LCV Connect Perfectly!
The base ingredients from the exciting Focus RS and the tough Transit Connect Light Commercial combine perfectly in the X-Press.
From the Focus RS comes the undiluted and mighty 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 the familiar RS start button, plus a revised instrument binnacle with new graphics and instrumentation incorporating a turbo boost gauge and change-up light.
The end result will undoubtedly thrill everybody who comes in close contact with the vehicle while perhaps still leaving them slightly puzzled. That puzzlement is perhaps something to do with the Transit Connect X-Press being a perfect marriage of such unlikely partners!
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 during late 2003. Project Manager, Philippe Castro, used the art of persuasion in getting key specialists to give up their spare time to work on the vehicle.
"It wasn't difficult really," Castro admitted. "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."
The Lommel team also asked some key Ford supplier partners to help out with special and very important parts. Sachs willingly offered some racing dampers, Olgun Celik provided upgraded rear leaf springs and a tuned, low back-pressure, increased volume, sports exhaust system was supplied by Bosal. Without the support and enthusiasm of these specialist suppliers, the end result certainly would not have been possible!