A South Wales-based conversion company is producing a rally-themed version of the UK’s best-selling van. James Dallas reports.
In an age when most vehicles are mass-produced by robots, MS-RT’s operation in Gwent, South Wales, is a breath of fresh air.
Inspired by Ford’s works-backed rally team, M-Sport, the business makes hand-finished sports van conversions of the recently facelifted Ford Transit Custom.
Priced from £32,995 to £36,490 excluding VAT, the MS-RT Custom is available in two wheelbases, based on the 290 and 320 versions of the factory Transit Custom, and as a panel van with two or three seats or crew van with five or six seats.
All of the Sport Van models are powered by the Transit Custom’s top-of-the-range 170hp 2.0-litre engine, which delivers maximum torque of 405Nm and comes with a choice of six-speed manual or automatic gearboxes.
The drivetrain is one element of the donor vehicle the MS-RT team cannot tamper with for fear of invalidating Ford’s three-year/100,000-mile warranty. The firm’s founding director Ed Davies explained: “You can’t touch the engine or it’s [the warranty] gone.”
In most other areas, though, the vehicle bears the MS-RT stamp. It’s exterior styling includes a full front bumper and grill replacement with integrated factory fog lamps, extreme front diffuser, wide body arch extensions, sills, rear diffuser and rear spoiler, all of which are manufactured by MS-RT at its UK factory in Pontypool, South Wales. It also comes with a British-made twin sports exhaust system, along with unique MS-RT exterior branding and decals. The result is “a fusion of style and practicality offered by no other vehicle on the road”, according to Davies.
The MS-RT Transit Custom also gets 18in Anthracite OZ Racing alloys with 103 XL load-rated Hankook Ventus S1 evo2 tyres, along with Eibach performance lowering springs. The combination improves handling and responsiveness, claims the converter, without diminishing payload capacity.
Inside, the performance theme continues with handcrafted MS-RT leather and suede seat facings, along with an MS-RT sports steering wheel with carbon-fibre inlays. The rally-inspired interior theme is completed with MS-RT branded floor mats and dash clocks.
Being based on Ford’s top Limited trim level all MS-RT vehicles come with the brand’s latest Sync3 entertainment system with satellite navigation, dual side loading doors, loadspace lighting, a 230V power convertor, parking sensors, reversing camera, heated windscreen, heated seats, and upgraded high-intensity discharge (HID) headlights with integrated daytime running lights.
Davies, said: “The new MS-RT Transit Custom takes an already excellent van and turns it into something really special, which owners are bound to cherish, and which businesses will use to make their brands really stand out.”
Davies had the idea of producing a fast road Transit Custom inspired by Ford’s rally team in 2015 and produced the first customised van, based on the previous-generation model, in September of that year.
Production now runs at about 50 units a month, although March 2018 saw the firm turn out a record 108 models.
Last year, MS-RT built 740 vans. The firm has a 44-strong workforce, nearly all from the local area, and has invested £100,000 in its factory. Parts are sourced from Europe and all the vehicles built in Wales.
While focusing on the Transit Custom at present it also has the capacity to convert full-size Transits, the Transit Connect light van and the Ranger pick-up.
Davies explained that MS-RT does not work with the Transit Courier or the car-derived Fiesta van because “smaller vans are already over-engineered”.
MS-RT director Joe Pace said there is a 60/40 short-wheelbase/long-wheelbase split on Customs with a third being panel vans and two-thirds crew cabs.
He said there is a three-week turnaround to complete the transformation into an MS-RT Custom from when the vans come in from Ford and remarked that matching Ford’s colours in the factory’s paintshop had caused “some headaches”.
MS-RT has applied to join Ford’s Qualified Vehicle Modifier (QVM) list, which currently encompasses 15 converters.
“Ford has said we are on the list for QVM, the next step is to be told formally we’ve got it,” Davies said.
Achieving QVM recognition would open the door to the international market, he claimed.
The MS-RT Transit is sold through 15 Ford Transit Centres and Davies said the aim is to get into all of them. The challenge, he says, is to teach the centres’ staff about the MS-RT brand and how to sell its products.
Davies claimed the MS-RT Custom is a far more radical reworking of the product than Ford’s own Custom Sport Van and cites Volkswagen’s Transporter T6 Sportline as a rival.
He said self-employed business owners and lifestyle customers looking for a dual-purpose vehicle are among those attracted to the van, rather than operators requiring a workhorse.
A big difference to the conventional Transit Custom is that the MS-RT version is designed to ride well without a load in the back, although, as mentioned, the vehicle retains its payload capacity.
“Our customers won’t typically want to use the full payload,” said Davies. “They won’t be builders.”