Home » Happy Turkey Day! Here’s A Car You Know That’s Secretly From Turkey

Happy Turkey Day! Here’s A Car You Know That’s Secretly From Turkey

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It’s Thanksgiving! A holiday with some troubling history but, fundamentally, a solid message: be thankful for things. We at the Autopian are thankful for all of you readers, for example, and we’re a lot more fun to hang out with than that pack of weird buckle-hatted Puritans that started this whole thing. Today is also the day when turkeys get the most publicity, and as a result, traditionally I’ve tried to use this day to focus on Turkish cars. Most often, these would be Anadols, interesting fiberglass-bodied cars with input from Reliant of Britain, but all but unknown here in America. This year, I want to do something different, and focus on what may be the most well-known Turkish-built car in America: the first-gen Ford Transit Connect. Oh, and in addition to Turkey, there’s some chicken involved in this story, too.

There’s actually an Anadol connection to the Ford Transit Connect; the company that actually builds the Transit Connect is Ford Otosan, originally known just as Otosan when founded in 1959. They started building Ford Consuls under license, and then in 1966 began to build Anadols, the first mass-produced vehicles to be developed in Turkey.

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By 1977, a deal was struck with Ford, and Otosan became Ford Otosan, which built a lot of Ford models. A plant was opened in Gölcük, Turkey in 2001, and Transit vans and Transit Connect smaller commercial vehicles were built there, with the Transit Connects coming to America. It’s a very modern, advanced factory, as you can see in this video commemorating the six millionth Ford Transit built there:

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I just want to focus the first-generation Ford Transit Connect, built from 2002 to 2013 not just because it’s a car built in Turkey that has roamed American streets for years, stealthily, but also because I think it’s a genuinely wonderful design, and it has a fascinating and absurd secret related to the infamous Chicken Tax.

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The Transit Connect could be had with a diesel engine and five-speed manual, but in America we only got it with a four-speed auto and a 136 horsepower 2-liter Duratec four-banger. A manual one would be pretty sweet to find, though.

Peter Hornby, the famous designer who penned the sporty-wedgy Volvo 480 and more recently, the Lynk & Co 01, was the force behind the Transit Connect, and I think the result is one of the most stylish and appealing mass-market commercial/utility vehicles of the modern era. It’s not a large vehicle, but it maximizes its useful volume, with a stubby hood and a large, tall cab/cargo area right behind. The side window line features an interesting little jog up, and there’s a series of three corrugations on the lower body sides, reminding me a bit of old Citroën 2CV-based commercial vehicles:

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These little commercial vehicles managed to have a bit of charm despite their entirely utilitarian purpose, which I think is a pretty grand achievement. You could get Transit Connects in three common variants: the pure cargo version, lacking rear side windows and almost invariably white, but there were versions that had a rear side window and sometimes seats, as well as an actual passenger-hauling version with rear seats and multiple rear windows.

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These passenger-carrying variants lead me to my favorite fact about the Transit Connect. You see, for a lot of complicated and now-ridiculous seeming reasons, after WWII the United States got into trouble because we flooded Europe with plump, juicy chickens, severely impairing the European poultry industry. European countries retaliated with a big tariff on American chickens, and in 1963, a pissed-off President Lyndon Johnson slapped a huge 25% tariff on potato starch, brandy, dextrose, and, most significantly for what I’m talking about, commercial vehicles.

The focus of the tariff was really aimed at West Germany and the Volkswagen Type 2 cargo vans and pickup trucks, which were making significant inroads into the American commercial vehicle market at the time.

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The thing is, long after air-cooled VW Type 2 vans and trucks were gone and the whole chicken business had long been forgiven and forgotten, the Chicken Tax remained. And still remains. That’s why if you see a commercial vehicle from a foreign carmaker in America, it’s likely built in an American factory or some manner of shenanigans are used to get around the tariff, like how  Mercedes-Benz’ Sprinter van factory in South Carolina is actually just re-assembling Sprinter bodies to their chassis, which have been shipped on separate vessels from Germany, so that they are technically “built” in America.

Perhaps even more bonkers was Ford’s approach with the Transit Connect. They all came to America from Turkey with rear windows and back seats, as “passenger vehicles,” not cargo/commercial vehicles and hence free from the Chicken Tax. This is sort of the same approach Subaru took with the BRAT, which had a pair of absurd seats stuck in the bed to make it a “passenger” vehicle.

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Unlike the Brat, which just kept the seats, Ford actually removed rear seats and rear side windows from Transit Connects, converting them back into cargo vehicles when they got to America, circumventing the 25% tariff.

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In 2013, US Customs and Border Protection decided that Ford shouldn’t get away with such a hilariously obvious work-around, and charged the company for all the back tariffs on the imported vans. I really want to know what they did with all the removed rear seats and windows, though – were they sent back to Turkey for re-use? Were they the same ones as used for the actual passenger variants? I haven’t found out yet, but I’m terribly curious.

Modern versions of the Transit Connect are made in Spain, and while the new one is a respectable machine, I think it lacks the charm and appeal of the original. I’ve always thought that a passenger version of the first-gen Transit Connect would make a great family car, and I stand by that.

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So, the next time you see an old Transit Connect trundling around, take a moment and reflect on the fact that this little van is a low-key Turkish immigrant, and came to America pretending to be a passenger car, which it (usually) very much was not.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody! I hope you have whole full-sized Transitfuls of things to be thankful for.

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Alexander Moore
Alexander Moore
3 months ago

Peter Hornby

This man did not die to get called ‘Hornby’ ???? Also arguably the P2 S80/V70 are much more Horbury’s claim to fame rather than the rather early 480ES (still quite good) or the Lynk & Co range (definition of design by committee).

Do You Have a Moment To Talk About Renaults?
Do You Have a Moment To Talk About Renaults?
4 months ago

Turkey car day came earlier this year for me; just a couple of weeks back I got myself one of the most unexpected aliexpress items I ever found: a 1/36 model of the Renault 12 Toros sedan, which for some reason is listed as an Anadol model (not just the listing, the model actually has Anadol SL decals in the rear – a very puzzling mixup of aguably the two most iconic Turkish Domestic Market cars).

W124
W124
4 months ago

I’ve driven 1st gen diesel manual Transit Connect panel van. It was surprisingly nice and fun to drive, but the engine felt quite asthmatic at highway speeds.

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