They claim that the low-profile tyres fitted to the 18ins alloy front wheels of their vehicles on the production line have worn out prematurely and that Ford doesn’t want to know. The 235/45 Z R18 Sport Contact 2 tyres under the spotlight are made by Continental. “My first set lasted just 3,000 miles,” complains bathroom fitter Keith Wardrop, who drove his SportVan all the way from Hamilton in Scotland to join the demonstration.

“My first set were illegal at only 6,000 miles,” states Bedford-based Gary Callaghan of S T Windows, one of nine SportVan owners who parked their vehicles right outside Ford’s front door.

“I only got 4,900 miles out of mine,” says Simon Jackson of S J Autos, based at Withernsea not far from Hull. “Ford’s customer relations people told me that I was the only SportVan owner who had reported tyre problems but that’s clearly not true.” Jackson specialises in 24-hour vehicle recovery as well as running a mobile tow-bar fitting service.

“The problem is that Ford has fitted car tyres to a van and they’re just not suitable for the application,” says another aggrieved owner. “It’s as simple as that.”

Excessive tyre wear isn’t the only fault thrown up by SportVan owners claim. Jackson has had to have dampers and power steering components replaced on his Transit. Callaghan’s van has had steering rack, wheel bearing and exhaust gas recirculation valve problems. “The dashboard lights failed too,” he says.

Some of the faults that have arisen will be covered under warranty. “But don’t forget that when your van’s off the road, you’re not earning,” says Callaghan. Courtesy vehicles may be available while a van is in the dealer’s workshop, but they don’t always match the operator’s needs.

Contemplating a stack of worn tyres, and clearly surprised by the demonstration, Ford executives were in conciliatory mood when they spoke to the protesters. “The wear pattern of these tyres has clearly not matched the expectations of some of our customers,” says commercial vehicles director, Steve Kimber. Last November Ford stopped fitting Sport Contact 2 on the production line and started fitting Michelin’s Primacy HP 235/45 R18 instead.

“Our customer relationship centre is talking to a small number of the 750 customers with Transit SportVans purchased before November last year,” says Ford in a statement issued after the protest. “Where the vehicles have been driven normally, and tyre wear still did not meet customer expectations, a goodwill gesture towards replacement tyres has been paid.”

One protester who contacted What Van? after the demonstration was happy with this outcome. “I was surprised and pleased with the way we were treated by Ford,” he says. “I’ve always been a Ford fan; cut me in two and you’d find a blue oval in the middle. “It seems a pity though that we had to go to all this trouble to get the response we wanted.”

In the light of the foregoing other owners of early SportVans who have experienced problems with abnormal tyre wear may care to contact Ford customer relations on 0845 841 1111.