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body mini-hauler, which shares a platform with the Focus, for commercial-vehicle duty: A boron steel front crossmember combined with twin side crossmembers provide stout chassis strength and integrity right out of the box and presumably will delay the onset of middle-age sag for those who plan to work the Transit long and hard.

The last small vans in this class to be considered even marginally fit for commercial duty were Ford's Aerostar and GM's Astro/ Safari clones, discontinued in 1997 and 2005, respectively. Sure, Ford secretly released a cargo version of the Windstar in the mid-'90s, but gas prices were at an alltime low, and the Windstar never quite earned the rugged reputation of its predecessor. With the Transit, Ford's betting there are plenty of small businesses out there (bakeries, floral shops, and mobile DJs come immediately to mind) either nursing along tired minivans or making due with a repurposed passenger vehicle such as the Chevy HHR, which—as Ford is quick to point out—offers less than half the cargo capacity of the Transit Connect.

If talk is cheap, banter in the paddock is downright free of charge, and an unfailingly consistent Q-and-A pattern quickly develops: Excited onlooker approaching: "Hey, canyouget a bike in there?"

Onlooker: "Hmmm, what kind of mileage does it get?"

Me: "Empty, I got about 23 on my6oo-plus-mile trip down here from Detroit, averaging about 74 mph."

Onlooker, pretending to perform complex mileage calculations in his head involving every motorized vehicle he's ever owned and several he didn't: "The}'gonna bring the diesel here?"

Me: "It could happen."

Onlooker: "Do they come with windows?"

Me: "Yep, and you can get rear seats, too."

Onlooker, now inside the van, sizing up the interior and quizzically eyeing the DeWalt Tool Link [see sidebar, page 100] device mounted above the driver's-side rear wheel well: "Man, I just wish it was a foot longer."

Me: "Uh,you mean the Transit, right?"

Speaking of which, women who know of such things invariably say the Transit Connect looks like a "cute little mini-Sprinter," and children say it looks like the Fisher-Price Little People Van.

When the racing starts, conversation is squelched by the collective awakening of the primordial motorbike beast. Bikes of every

make and vintage fire to life, sonically chronicling a century of motorcycle evolution, in a real-time, internal-combustion homage to the legacy of Alan Lomax.

For all the camaraderie and good times over the course of the weekend, when it's time to go, people leave the track with the urgency of those who suspect they may have just done something illegal. And for many of these guys, it probably feels like they have. You don't need to be Dr. Phil on a very special episode of Oprah to figure out that a middle-aged guy doing 140 astride a Kennedy-era motorcycle might be having some issues concerning mortality.

Ford's published cargo-hold length of 72.6 inches falls nearly six inches short of the Norton's 78.5 overall length, the pre-trip theory being that the bike's front wheel would slip right between the seats, which it did, perfectly. Plan B was to disassemble the bike until it fit. It's now clear that the Transit is a one-bike, two-people vehicle at max. In contrast, a HondaTRX40o quad should just squeak in, at 71.7 inches long overall and 45.5 inches wide, just 2.5 narrower than the Transit's 48 inches between the wheel wells.

Ford provides two beefy tie-down cleats in the rear of the Transit, but up front we're forced to attach the strap hooks in a narrow slot underneath the front corners of the load floor. It worked, but the hooks move under hard braking, requiring an occasional readjustment. The floor on either side of the bike quickly fills with toolboxes and related gear, and, even with about 1300 pounds of passengers and payload aboard, the Transit's suspension doesn't flinch. The reasoning behind Ford's insistence on a solid-rear-axle, leaf-sprung suspension is beginning to make sense, although, surprisingly, towing is not endorsed with the Transit.

We're on point for the first leg of the trip back to NYC, Team Spannerland's Euro-Van and Sprinter falling in close behind. In the deep South, the unlikely sight of the three European-bred vans running in unison doesn't go unnoticed, and rightly so: The Transit is so new that it'svir-tually unknown outside of Ford showrooms, and the EuroVan has spent its entire life in the States as an automotive apparition, visible only to a small legion of Volkswagen believers. Granted, the Sprinter is familiar to certain cartage companies and a growing number of effete tradesmen, but its Teutonic-breeding still sets it apart from the ubiquitous Ford E-series.

Assembled in Spain, the all-aluminum, DOHC Duratec four-cylinder produces a maximum of 128 pound-feet of torque at 4750 rpm, with all 136 horsepower present and accounted for by 6300 rpm—relatively lofty power points for those who honed their commercial-driving skills in diesels but positively pedestrian among motorcyclists accustomed to making powerwell into double digits on the tach.

In top gear, the Transit turns 3200 rpm at a dashboard-indicated 77 mph, and only the steepest Appalachian hill-climbs require a downshift to maintain speed, perfectly placing the engine in the meat of its diminutive torque curve. The EuroVan is running at seven-tenths of its limit in order to keep up, its chassis so ravaged by age and miles that you don't steer it so much as simply try to keep it out of a ditch. The full-size Sprinter remains firmly ensconced in third place, stoic and purposeful. Unwavering.

Approaching speeds generally associated with two-seat vehicles of the sporting type, we arrive at the bottom of a steep downhill

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Clockwise, above: The Transit turns into a Tokyo hotel room, in Alabama. It certainly isn't any homelier than more traditional vans. Cummings explains the packing plan to a curious civilian. With the front wheel placed snugly between the seats, a bike fits in nicely.

to find an off-camber, tight right-hand curve with a bedroll-size expansion joint in the middle. Too late for evasive maneuvers of the mere mortal kind, we place all of our vehicle-control cookies squarely in the basket of Ford's Roll Stability Control and emerge unscathed.

If any one factor can be credited with detracting from the Transit Connect's appeal as a long-range highway cruiser, it's range. Its 15.1-gallon tank and 22 mpg on our trip returned only about 330 miles per fill-up. The Sprinter easily goes 600 between stops, and even the team's well-worn Euro-Van can check off more than 400 miles before refueling.

Back in NYC, the Transit Connect feels like it's returned to its spiritual home, as if all 3400 pounds of it are smiling in some mechanistic way. I'm bopping around the East Village, headed for the exclusive Rising Wolf motorcycle-only garage, diving for late apexes and outbraking taxicabs. At 11.1 seconds to 60 mph, it's pretty slow off the line, but the 39-foot turning diameter and power rack-and-pinion steering allow for several quasi-legal U-turns, behavior that would have been impossible in the full-size trucks I drove on these not-so-mean-anymore streets many years ago. In the formerly notorious Meatpacking District (where, apparently, neither kind of which goes on anymore), the front strut suspension rolls through the wavy, broken-brick pavement with a minimum of steering-wheel kickback.

But really—safety and maneuverability issues aside—when it comes to a purpose-built vehicle aimed at the commercial market, any in-depth analysis detailing the vehicle's handling traits beyond "it does" is beside the point. You turn the wheel, it turns; then you park and unload whatever you're hauling. Lexus dealers aren't going to lose any six-figure LFA deposits due to the Transit Connect.

A dose of soul-sucking gridlock helped me channel my inner teamster, allowing for

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