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FORD TRANSIT CONNECT RS: COMMERCIAL SUCCESS

Posted by Matt Bell on 23rd July 2021

The MS-RT Transit Connect is pretty cool in stock form, but pretty cool was not enough for Jo Lawrence. Behold, the world’s first Ford Transit Connect RS.

Feature from Fast Ford. Words: Dan Bevis. Photos: Ade Brannan

Vans. They’re sensible and functional things, aren’t they. People buy them because they need to haul stuff about – they’re rugged, dependable, practical and versatile. What they aren’t, though, is exciting. At least, not usually.

“I didn’t buy this Ford Transit Connect with the intention of doing what I’ve done to it,” says Jo Lawrence, gazing at his extraordinary van with the dazed expression of a man desperate to reconcile how he got from that point to this.

He continues, “After all, it is still my daily-driver. I sleep in it, throw mountain bikes in the back, go to the tip, take my daughter to nursery; it’s still very much used as a van.”

Perhaps we oughtn’t be totally surprised. Modifying cars – and Fords in particular – has been Jo’s modus operandi since he was a kid. The tuning adventures started when he became a mechanic at the age of 15; things got serious when he met like-minded enthusiast Will Robson, and the pair eventually formed WRTuning.

Jo fell in love with the idea of the Mk2 Focus RS when it was released, and he just had to have one; after owning and modifying that for eight years he levelled-up to a Nissan GT-R – only to find that it was actually a bit too PlayStation (“Fast, but no fun”), so he downsized to a Fiesta ST180, before moving back into Focus RSs with a vengeance.

So when someone with this sort of background buys a van, it’s not just going to be any old van. Indeed, Jo went for a 2017 MS-RT Transit Connect – the rakish variant packing a full aggressive bodykit, chunky OZ Racing wheels and a quad-exit stainless exhaust. It was already modded from new, so that’s job jobbed, right?

Ah, no, it doesn’t quite work like that. The MS-RT Connect may be very cool, but for people like Jo, any newly-acquired vehicle is a blank canvas. The mods started small with a gentle ‘I’ll just change this and upgrade that…’ mentality, before getting steadily sillier.

Some simple speaker upgrades came first, along with soundproofing and carpeting the rear, and then the thought occurred to make a custom roof-lining in the style of the starlight setup you find in Rolls-Royces. Having drilled 450 separate holes to feed through fibre-optics, Jo was starting to feeling quite connected to the Connect, and then the thing happened that so often transpires to push a build forward: Jo and his brother-in-law had a few drinks, and reality began to get distorted.

Jo says, “The idea of fitting a bigger engine was just a silly thought at first. But after a few beers on the sofa, my brother-in-law happened across a damaged Mk3 Focus ST on Facebook that was complete but couldn’t go back on the road. It looked like the perfect donor, and suddenly that silly thought became a reality; a few messages later, the deal was done.

“The initial plan was a long-term project, but that quickly changed as Ford Live at Knockhill was only a week away, so it had to happen ASAP.”

The game was afoot. Jo and Will dragged in the Focus, tore it to bits, then pushed out the empty shell and brought in the Transit. Now, it takes a certain strength of character to pull a perfectly good and functional vehicle to bits just for the sake of it, but Jo was focused on a higher purpose: big power, right now – and so within a few hours the Focus engine was in, and then the fun could really start.

The gearbox, shafts, radiator and intercooler all bolted in largely without hassle, so then it was a case of modding the Focus fuel pump to fit the Transit tank and various other detail jobs.

He says, “After what felt like days, but was actually only hours, we fired it up. Basically nothing worked – the airbag light, ESP light, EML… The dash was like a Christmas tree!. But after some fiddling with Forscan and UCDS software, we managed to code the ABS module, get some lights gone, and then moved on to basically a full rewire of all electrics: wipers, speakers, windows, lights – you name it, we did it.”

The van made the Knockhill deadline (as if there was ever any doubt); it even enjoyed a few laps of the track, and everything was looking rosy. But fast-forward six months and disaster struck: a misfire developed.

Jo says, “It turned out that the block was scrap. And I thought instead of sourcing another 2.0 EcoBoost, it was time for the 2.3 from the Focus RS, so it was back into the workshop for me and Will.”

Engine duly sourced, the game of swapsies commenced, with Jo opting to fit a Quaife LSD to the six-speed ’box. Having enjoyed such immediate success with the ST transplant, a few unexpected hurdles presented themselves owing to the fundamental differences between the ST and RS engines.

Jo says, “The mechanical side of things was simple, but the van required a full engine loom, including engine bay loom, full rad pack, lambda sensors, modifications to the downpipe, another Airtec intercooler… And then I ran into ECU issues. The van would start, but ran horribly. After a few days of head-scratching and many phone calls, help came in the form of Peter Tranda, ECU god at TRS Performance.”

With Peter working his magic, the Transit believed itself to be a Mk3 Focus RS. Jo ran it in for a few days to ensure all was well, then applied Revo Stage 2 software. And, just like that, he had a daily-driver Transit with somewhere north of 400bhp.

Jo smiles, “Since the van thought it was an RS, I decided to go all-in and turn it into the world’s first Transit Connect RS. With the Mk3 RS leather Recaros, steering wheel, cluster and boost pod, it’s now complete.”

It’s simple when he puts it like that. Like any van should be, the Ford Transit Connect RS is still practical and versatile. It’s just that now, with that RS DNA, those nursery runs and trips to the shops happen a lot more rapidly.

Tech Spec: Ford Transit Connect RS

Engine:

2261cc EcoBoost (Mk3 Focus RS), Revo Stage 2 software, Revo RS carbon intake, Revo sound suppressor, Milltek downpipe, custom cat-back exhaust system by Calum Hayes Fabrication (retaining MS-RT quad tails), Airtec RS intercooler

Power:

400bhp-plus (owner’s estimate)

Transmission:

Focus ST250 gearbox, Quaife LSD, RS clutch

Suspension:

Front: KW V3 coilovers; rear: custom coilovers; poly wishbone bushes

Brakes:

Mk3 Focus RS Brembo brakes

Wheels & Tyres:

8.5 x 19in Revo RV019 wheels, 245/40×19 Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres

Exterior:

Original MS-RT bodykit

Interior:

Mk3 Focus RS heated Recaro seats, Mk3 Focus RS steering wheel, Mk3 Focus RS Mountune gearknob, Focus centre console modified to fit, Focus gauge pod moulded into dash, fully carpeted and soundproofed rear, custom Rolls-Royce-style starlight roof, bulkhead removed, rear seat conversion

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