The SuperVan … stuff of legend, the sort of bonkers stuff car nuts love. Especially car nuts with a thing for vans and 1960s Le Mans racing. After all, the original SuperVan was basically a commercial van wrapped around a Ford GT40’s running gear, with 435 horsepower and a hilarious lack of body control. Vintage footage of it is pure madness. Remember, this was just a few years after the GT40 had won Le Mans—a cutting-edge, full-competition powertrain Frankensteined into a big ol’ van. Of course, it’s 2022, and Ford can’t just cram a Ford GT LM GTE-Pro motor into a Transit. That’d be too … retrospective.
Instead, Ford Pro—the company’s new commercial operations umbrella organization that includes commercial vehicles as well as telematics and servicing—created something that’s very prospective: an electrified van with supercar performance. This new SuperVan packs nearly two thousand electric ponies (1,973, to be exact), which is far more than contemporary Le Mans Hypercars produce. They also rely in part on a gasoline internal combustion engine, which is so old-school. The new SuperVan? Nary a drop of hydrocarbons to be found. Instead it’s stuffed with a 50-kWh battery and four electric motors. That makes it far more radical than the original SuperVan or its subsequent incarnations in several respects.
The fourth SuperVan is also, by far, the most powerful. The final previous SuperVan, which packed a Cosworth-built Formula 1 engine, could only muster 641 hp. Not to diminish their legend; all three über-vans have a devoted following, and as awe-inspiring as the new SuperVan is, it can’t produce those old-school motorsport noises like its predecessors. All, however, manage to capture the irresistible appeal of seeing something with the shape and general aerodynamic qualities of a brick blast past.
And Ford claims it’ll hit 62 mph in less than two seconds, a very impressive figure for any vehicle, let alone an electrified commercial van made to resemble one of the company’s European vans, the front-wheel-drive Transit Custom, which is a bit smaller than the rear-drive version sold here (or our E-Transit, which is equally unrelated to the new SuperVan). We say “resembles” because not much of the Transit Custom remains, besides the floorpan. The rest is a blend of a bespoke steel spaceframe and composite body panels.
The body itself looks the business, with big aero aids and an aggressive cutaway in the rear section that reminds us a bit of the Ford GT’s buttresses and cutaways. It’s stuffed with a full safety cage and bevy of FIA safety equipment, but Ford Pro won’t take it racing. It’s a one-off demonstration vehicle, like its predecessors, built to inspire customers, fans, and the like, as well as providing a testbed to surely gains some useful high-performance EV data.
Experiencing the SuperVan
We got the chance to ride along in the new electric SuperVan at the Dunsfold Aerodrome (home of Top Gear UK) as it was being prepped for its run at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, with French racer Romain Dumas at the wheel. The man is no stranger to EVs of this sort of potency, having snagged the all-time record at Pikes Peak a few years back in a VW ID.R.
The experience was both thrilling and surreal: Thrilling because of the catapult-like acceleration of a high-powered, four-motor EV (something we’ve experienced in a couple of vehicles, and of which we will never tire); surreal because it’s so odd to be thrown around a track at racing-car-levels of acceleration and braking with none of the drama an engine and transmission brings.
In the SuperVan, there’s no change in acceleration as there might be with an engine, which can move on and off of its torque peak; the electric powertrain delivers a relentless and seemingly endless supply of thrust. Neither is there the drama of downshifting which—even with the best race-tuned automatics—must be done judiciously to avoid sudden weight transfer that could affect the car’s balance. When Dumas wants the SuperVan to speed up, he floors one pedal; when he wants to slow down, he floors the other pedal. It’s like a video game, but with actual scenery being flung towards your actual head.
The soundtrack is a whirr of cooling fans that are quickly drowned out by gear whine raised to the level of an incessant scream. It’s what we imagine riding in a life-size Traxxas remote-control car might sound like. The lack of fore-and-aft motion imparted by the shifting of a transmission amplified Dumas’ corrections and acceleration and braking inputs (and, we imagine, his efforts to fine-tune them). It struck us how revolutionary the prospect of electric power in racing could be; the lack of a transmission eliminates one of the most challenging aspects of power management.
It also struck us how fleeting this could be. Much as we enjoyed our lap, there was no chance of getting a second one, because what power was available in the batteries had to be meted out judiciously. One more lap for us would impair the team’s ability to get on with their testing.
Up the Hill
Ford will send the new SuperVan up the hill at the Goodwood Festival of Speed this weekend with Dumas at the wheel. Based on our wild ride, it should be fun to watch him work the new van up the winding, hay-bale-lined English driveway.
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