Ford Motorsport Works Transit Support Vehicle, on view in our Morecambe Showroom

By Jen Hyslop

It isn’t often that I get the chance to meet a vehicle that has been to more (hot) countries than I have, and less often still that that vehicle is a van! Let me introduce you to a very special van, owned by a local devoted enthusiast and collector. I’d say he’s lucky to own it but, in this case, I think the van is very lucky to be owned by him.

We (and Ford) are very fortunate that he has lent us FPU900T, a Ford Motorsport Works Transit Support Vehicle operated by David Sutton Motorsport and bearing the Rothmans livery. You can see the van at our Morecambe Transit Centre where Ford have granted us special exemption and permitted it to be amongst our showroom display until the end of March.

It’s only right and fair that we allow the collector to write about the vehicle in his own words. So, find a quite spot for 5 minutes and take in the history of a very special van…

In early March 1979, a Ford Transit leaves the production line in standard diamond white colour scheme powered by a 2.0 litre pinto engine in Left hand drive format. It was registered as FPU900T on the 20th March 1979 by the Ford Motor Company LTD.

This was also the year that Ford announced it wouldn't be continuing in rallying motorsport for two years whilst they focused on developing a new version of the Ford Escort.

Not wishing to be completely absent from the rallying scene, Ford’s director of motorsport, Peter Ashcroft, handed cars, equipment, and contracted drivers over to David Sutton Cars LTD to run a quasi-works team for the 1980/81 season.

David Sutton Cars LTD was run by David Sutton and operated out of a small garage in Acton, London. David had previously worked in Ford's motorsport department and had a proven track record for preparing privateer cars, mainly the Ford Escort mk2.

Rothmans Rally Support Vehicle

Amongst the cars and equipment handed over to the Sutton team, was the Ford transit FPU900T and its sister van 899T. It was decided that these vehicles would become the service vehicles for the team. However, they would need modifying in several ways to cope with the equipment needed to be carried as a support vehicle. The main modifications were to remove the underpowered 2 litre engine and install the proven 3.0 litre Essex V6. This was coupled to a manual 4 speed gearbox with overdrive to help with long journeys between stages and events. For handling, front and rear anti roll bars were fitted and the suspension was upgraded to carry the additional weight of tools spares and tyres. As can be seen from this picture, all available space was utilized.

A funding deal with Rothmans International plc, a British tobacco manufacturer was brokered by David Richards (current chairman of Prodrive and chairman of Motorsport UK). This partnership resulted in the unmistakable livery of the team, commonly known as the “Rothman Colours”. FPU900T and FPU899T spent 1980 and 1981 traveling across Europe supporting the teams attempt to win the world rally championship. The vans were home and workplace to the team of mechanics that ensured the cars were always ready to race.

The 1981 World Rally Championship for Drivers was won by Ari Vatanen driving a David Sutton prepared Ford Escort RS1800, the only time a privateer team has won the Drivers' Championship until 2017.

Rothmans Rally Support Vehicle In The Pits

FPU900T was sold at the end of the season in 1981 and went into private hands. The history after that is not clear and the van faded into obscurity. At some point it was repainted bright yellow and used as a builder’s van until it was abandoned in a field at a farm on the outskirts of Oxford. It remained there until the current owner rescued it. Initially, there was no clue as to its provenance, it was purchased mainly for the engine and gearbox for another project. Once the strip down of the van started it became clear from the modifications that the vehicle had been purpose built. A detailed internet search started to reveal interesting clues, and this was finally confirmed when some of the original Rothmans colours were found under the yellow exterior paint.
The restoration of the van was entrusted to a specialist restorer on the outskirts of Manchester and over the next 3 years a complete restoration was carried out.

Restoring the Rothmans Rally Support Vehicle

Once the restoration was completed the van went into long term storage with several other vehicles.

The classic Ford scene has gone from strength to strength over the past few years, in particular the escort mk2 has a very strong following. The escort mk2 will always be remembered for its rallying heritage and several tribute cars have been built.

The current owner felt the time was right for FPU900T to come out of storage to be appreciated. I hope you visit the Morecambe showroom and enjoy the vehicle.