The Ford Transit Van is no stranger to the disability sector and has been popular on the international market for many years due to the space and potential for conversions for drivers and passengers with disabilities.

It was assembled in Port Elizabeth from 1967-74, but then it disappeared. South Africans had to wait 39 years before it came back to our shores. It went through many changes and facelifts during that period, but always recognisable as a Transit van.

It is a hardworking, capable vehicle with lots of space, which is why it has been the market leader in the UK for 47 years and has been known as the ‘backbone of businesses in the UK.’ Anyone needing to transport medium sized items used the Transit van.

The Ford Transit was re-launched in SA in 2013 and is available in 2 versions – the 8-seat passenger carrying Tourneo Custom, and the Transit Custom, which is a panel van capable of hauling loads of up to one tonne. Both are available in short and long wheel base and with the same 2.2l Duratorq turbo diesel engine, and they come out of the same mould.

When Lindsay Walsh saw a photo of the Tourneo advertised in an airplane magazine, she recognised immediately that it would work for them. Peter and Lindsay Walsh had 4 children to transport around, the younger 2, Kerry and Jade, are twins, however Kerry lives with Spinal Muscular Atrophy and this means that she is dependent on a wheelchair for her mobility. So the Walsh family were looking for a vehicle that that had enough space to accommodate the whole family including a large electric wheelchair!

When Kerry was younger they managed with a Mazda 5 which involved lifting her through the side sliding doors. At that stage she had a foldable wheelchair so it was possible, however as she got older and heavier, her mom found that her back started giving her warning signs. So they bought a Vito and used ramps to get Kerry in and out. This worked well for a few years but as Kerry grew and when she got a bigger wheelchair, she started having difficulty getting through the door as she needed to duck her head, but with her poor neck control this became a problem. Plus her head was almost touching the roof when she was sitting inside the vehicle. The Tourneo has more internal space with the floor to roof height between 1385mm at the highest points and 1300mm at the lower areas. This gives Kerry plenty of head room – and room to grow!

The versatility of the Tourneo meant that minimal adaptations to the vehicle were required. They removed the double seat in the back row – which is designed to clip in and out, and they fitted a restraint system to secure Kerry and the wheelchair. The width of the vehicle leaves space for a seat next to the wheelchair which means Kerry does to have to sit alone at the back of the vehicle. This is normally her twin sister’s choice of seat.

The family decided to opt for lightweight manual portable ramps, which give them added versatility as they often have the challenge of one step when they get to a destination. The ramps only required a basic attachment to the floor of the vehicle to ensure that they were properly secured as Kerry manoeuvres up and down them.  

Kerry’s wheelchair driving skills make this look easy, although reversing down these narrow ramps is not for the feint hearted! The relatively low floor of the Tourneo – at 540mm off the ground, means that the standard 2 meter ramps give a gradient of close to 1:4 which is the minimum gradient required by SABS for assisted access into a vehicle.

The twin sliding doors providing access at the rear compartment of the vehicle, along with 6 well designed seats that can be easily folded or removed, add to the ease of converting this vehicle for transporting a person in a wheelchair. If a side entry lift is fitted there is still an alternative access door on the other side, and the easy to remove seats with the 1:2 split provide multiple options for rear seating arrangements that can accommodate a wheelchair.

David Bodenstein is another person who recently discovered the joys of easy transport thanks to the Tourneo. David got used to life as a paraplegic after a motorbike accident in 2005. He lived a full active life, running his own business and driving a BMWX6, however he then had a second blow, breaking his neck in a car accident. This left his a high quadriplegic, unable to transfer himself and no longer able to drive himself. He was rapidly becoming more and more isolated as his wife, Petro, was unable to transfer him by herself into a vehicle. They could only get out together if they had extra helping hands. When David bought the Tourneo his plan was to be transported in the back of the vehicle in his wheelchair, but then Petro discovered the Auto Adapt Turny seat, which Shoprider fitted to the front passenger seat. This makes it possible for David to sit up at the front of the vehicle, next to his wife and they can get him into and out of the vehicle without any other assistance. This new found shared independence has given David and Petro a new lease on life. Their second weekend of owning this vehicle saw them heading off to Kimberly for a long awaited weekend away, with the vehicle packed to capacity as they shared their independence with 6 friends joining them in the comfort and versatility of the Tourneo.

The comfort of the Tourneo comes as a surprise for a vehicle that has developed from a commercial hard working van. Ford has clearly used all their passenger vehicle experience in the creation of the Tourneo and has created two models - the Ambient and the Trend. The Ambient produces 74kW and 310Nm and the livelier Trend produces 92kW and 350Nm. It has a five-start EuroNCAP crash protection rating, and has all the luxury features that one would expect to find in a top of the range passenger vehicle. As far as economy is concerned, Ford claims that it uses less than 7.3l per 100km on a combined cycle. In SA it is currently only available in a manual gearbox.

The prices of the SWB Tourneo Ambient start at R429 900 (Incl VAT), ranging to R454 900 for the LWB Trend, and being a fully imported vehicle it will qualify for a the disability rebate.