“Many envious eyes were directed towards us as we motored along the challenging route,” writes JARLATH SWEENEY, editor of Ireland’s Fleet Magazine, about a very special, customised Ford Transit.
Hidden within the scenic valleys of South Wales is a growing, relatively new startup company that is gaining strength in terms of reputation and sales by customising Ford commercial vehicles. But what happens at Mamhilad Park Estate near Pontypool under the MS-RT banner is not bespoke customisation on behalf of clients.
The high-quality conversion is undertaken by Van-Sport under the auspices of Malcolm Wilson’s M-Sport Rally Car preparation teams and Ford Europe. Within two and a half years from set-up, the progress made at MS-RT Road Technology has been noteworthy: more than 1 200 examples of their work on the Ford Transit and Tourneo Custom have been built, with additional creations on the Ford Transit Connect and Ford Ranger pickup.
Company founders Edward Davies (who has 20 years of experience in the van-conversion business) and Andrew Wheatley from M-Sport initially devised the concept to develop and build these special vehicles.
“We fuse tough and reliable Ford commercial vehicles with a sporting edge. Each one is created by hand; all at an affordable price. With over 20 years of motorsport experience behind us, including the World Rally Championship, Global Rallycross and GT3 racing, the rally stages run in our veins,” explained Davies from the MS-RT showroom at his Sunnyvale home base – where two examples of the MS-RT Ford Transit Custom are flanked by M-Sport’s Ford Fiesta WRC, which was driven by Sébastien Ogier, five-time World Rally Champion and reigning title holder with M-Sport Ford.
Not to be confused with what Ford offers as its Sports Van versions, the MS-RT types come in above these editions. All of the parts and embellishments are made and installed in-house at the facility, which once was a nylon-spinning fabric factory dating back to 1945, and at its peak employed 5 000 people. Behind the red brick walls, more than 40 employees undertake the transformation job.
(Derelict sections of the antiquated building made stand-out backdrops for some of the photographs you see here).
“We believe in dedication and quality, and in never following the pack. We bring together some of the most experienced designers, advanced production techniques and skilled craftsmen in our workshop. We assemble our customised vehicles especially for our clients – upgrading interiors, remodelling external features and creating the ultimate in unique commercial vehicles,” said Davies.
Intricate work in making the new body kit was demonstrated by staff members during the factory visit, with Joe Pace, MS-RT’s development director, as our tour guide. He explained about the sections where the moulding takes place, which had a strong “smell of science” about it. Bumpers, wheel arches and other side panels are precisely manufactured with the correct amount of time given, with the injection of the secret liquid material into the shaped steel pressing boxes, in order to eliminate the risk of any air bubbles forming.
To produce the new front bumper, eight pieces of mould are put together. Trimmings squeezed out of the pressing boxes are then recycled. This process helps owners to minimise replacement parts after a pride-hurting incident. After several coatings of paint the kit is fitted to the stripped-out vehicle.
As 75 percent of MS-RT Transit Custom sales are with the Crew Cab version, the bulkhead is replaced behind the two front seats and a new, more curve-shaped one moved back to the rear of the new three-person race-type bench seat with its special themed trimmings and stitching. The front seats get the same high-quality treatment.
Other modifications include the fitting of a new steering wheel and new blue-toned M-Sport illumination. Additional work is done on the suspension, brakes and exhaust system. Most units specify the 170 PS (125 kW) version of the 2,0-litre TDCi diesel, available on the Transit Custom range. This can be raised to 208 PS (153 kW) if specified, but this is carried out by M-Sport, under licence.
On the narrow, twisty and hilly roads around the majestic Brecon Beacons, the MS-RT Ford Transit Custom was surefooted and powerful and drove like a dream. Many envious eyes were directed towards us as we motored along the challenging route, surrounded by the beautiful peaks, in bursts of sunshine between the early summer showers.
We were also chauffeured from the factory to the showroom on a specially commissioned official Guy Martin Proper Customised Ford Transit two-tonne, number 14 from 500 limited editions. In the factory we caught a glimpse of a rather special homage to multi-MotoGP champion Valentino Rossi on a Transit Tourneo Custom, with its bright-yellow 46 livery, fittingly dedicated to “The Doctor”.
With authorised converters appointed in Norway, South Africa and Australia, further expansion is planned, with Europe the nearest location. However, the right partner has to be found for these overseas markets, Davies noted.
This may be done by fabricating the parts in-house and sending over to agents in a finished state, ready for assembly from the specially packed shipping boxes. In preparation, a second shift can be implemented to further enhance local employment and benefit the local community in general.
As regular readers of FOCUS know, this magazine has been appointed an associate member of the International Truck of the Year (IToY)! FOCUS is the sole South African magazine to have joined this prestigious body. One of the advantages of this association is access to exclusive articles, specially written for FOCUS by ITOY jury members. This is one such article.