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Ford’s CEO gives us a ride in the crazy electric transit Supervan 4.2

Enlarge / Everyone loves a good van, and Supervan 4.2 is a very good van.

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Concorde, NC—On Wednesday, Ford Performance held an official launch event for the 2024 season. The new GT3 version of the Mustang makes its competition debut at next weekend’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, marking the start of a new approach to racing for the Blue Oval, one that involves selling customer race cars as a business line, not just a factory team. While we were there, we also rode in a new electric racing truck demonstrator, but the main reason I got on the short flight down to Charlotte was to check out one of the most delightfully weird race cars of the past few years, the Ford Transit Supervan 4.2.

It’s the latest in a line of wild demonstrator vehicles based on the venerable Transit van, Ford’s commercial workhorse in Europe and, increasingly, the US. Ford started making an electric version of the Transit a couple of years ago, and when we drove that electric van, I might have driven a couple of the engineers and PR people to tears by repeatedly asking them, “So, are you going to make a Supervan version of this, too?”

The first Supervan dates back to 1970 (or maybe 1971), when someone had the bright idea to stick a Transit body shell on a Ford GT40 race car chassis as a way to promote the new van. The 1980s and 1990s saw two new Supervans, this time using Formula 1 engines. Now that EVs are the new hotness, the appeal of an electric Supervan probably seemed obvious.

Ford worked with an Austrian motorsports company, STARD, to develop Supervan 4, which made its debut at the 2022 Goodwood Festival of Speed. Last year, a heavily revised version, now called Supervan 4.2, was built for the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, one of the more challenging races still held today and an event where EVs excel—unlike internal combustion engines, electric motors and batteries don’t lose any power as they climb into thin air above 14,000 feet (4,270 m).

Like the previous Supervans, this did not start with a production vehicle that got souped up; it’s a custom spaceframe with composite body panels that just happens to look mostly Transit-shaped, albeit with some wild aerodynamic appendages to keep all four wheels pressed to the ground. It does have some cargo capacity behind the two-seat cockpit, though, and a tow hook at the back. Strapped into the passenger seat, I couldn’t help noticing an infotainment screen from a Mustang Mach-E.

Supervan 4.2 is actually a little less powerful than the 2022 version, going from a 1,973-hp (1,471 kW) four-motor arrangement to a 1,408-hp (1,050 kW) three-motor configuration for Pikes Peak. The motors draw energy from a 50 kWh battery pack, complete with a CCS fast charging port capable of up to 350 kW fast charging. (At Charlotte Motor Speedway, the mechanics and engineers used a portable 60 kW fast-charger connected to a 600 kWh storage battery in the paddock to top up Supervan between sessions.)

Getting a ride in something cool like Supervan 4.2 is an occupational hazard in this job. What’s less common is being chauffeured for that ride by the company’s CEO. But our driver was indeed Ford CEO Jim Farley, who is rather handy behind the wheel.

“We don’t want to make generic vehicles at Ford anymore,” Farley told us that morning before explaining that the company’s new strategy is for Ford Performance to become a sustainable business and not just a marketing strategy that ebbs and flows depending on whether there are enough motorsport fans in the C-suite. After all, Ford got its start after Henry Ford proved his new creation in competition.

But Farley explained that he also learned from the late Ken Block that “he taught us… that in this world of enthusiasts, digital content is super-important for customers and brands. And so we continue to commit to doing demonstrators like the Supervan 4 and others that are there for one reason: to have fun. To generate digital content so people can just enjoy having fun in vehicles, and some of them don’t make any sense, like Supervan 4.”

My ride was brutal—1,900 lb-ft (2,576 Nm) has that effect—and rather brief—it took about 90 seconds to leave the pit lane, negotiate the relatively tight infield at Charlotte, then return back to the pits, where Farley brought us to a halt with a nicely executed 180-degree turn.

Come for a short ride with us in Ford’s Supervan 4.2 EV demonstrator.

Supervan 4.2’s next adventure is going to be a trip Down Under—Ford is taking it to Mount Panorama in Australia to put on demonstration runs ahead of this year’s Bathurst 12 Hour race. It won’t be defending its class win at Pikes Peak in June, but Farley told us to expect a different, as-yet unrevealed EV demonstrator for the 2024 event.

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