Paul Gover, chief re­porter Cars­guide, re­calls when the Blue Oval’s fac­to­ries were lo­cal land­marks.

Australian Muscle Car - - Classified PG -

When the lights go out at Broad­mead­ows for the last time it will be more than just a fac­tory shut­down. It will be a deeply emo­tional day for ev­ery­one who has ever had any as­so­ci­a­tion with Ford Aus­tralia, from the hum­blest as­sem­bly line work­ers up to the great and the good – not al­ways the same – who have oc­cu­pied the cor­ner of­fice at the com­pany head­quar­ters on Syd­ney Road.

How­ever, sad as it is, it’s also sad that it has hap­pened be­fore. It wasn’t that long ago, in the 1990s, that Ford Aus­tralia had suc­cess­ful as­sem­bly plants at Home­bush in Syd­ney and Ea­gle Farm in Bris­bane. There was also a wide spread of sup­pli­ers across the coun­try who de­liv­ered parts and ex­per­tise to the Blue Oval brand. Even Al­bury has played its part, thanks to the Borg Warner gear­box fac­tory that was bolted into the pro­duc­tion plan for the Fal­con.

The crum­bling wreck­age of Ford’s Bris­bane fac­tory still sur­vived un­til a few short years ago, a long time after the fi­nal run of the old-school Fair­lanes that were built there in the 1980s. The last rem­nants of Ford’s Ea­gle Farm pres­ence is in the in­dus­trial waste­land near the air­port and the site is still vis­ited by the friends of Ford who want to see for them­selves the spot where his­tory was writ­ten from the 1930s.

At Home­bush, the for­mer Ford fac­tory build­ing has been con­verted into mod­ern of­fices and it’s ironic that one of the tenants is Sime Darby Mo­tors, the im­porter of Peu­geot and Citroen cars. The build­ing is home to the GT Café, where a group of for­mer Ford work­ers catch up from time to time. Just across from the orig­i­nal red­brick fac­tory, on the same site where Ford once op­er­ated, is the shiny new base for Kia Mo­tors in Aus­tralia.

So Bris­bane and Syd­ney both re­flect the changes in Aus­tralian mo­tor­ing since Ford Aus­tralia was es­tab­lished in the 1920s as a sub­sidiary of Ford Canada. It was a time when there was plenty of lo­cal as­sem­bly work, fit­ting bod­ies to chas­sis – the way Holden got go­ing – and push­ing T-Model Fords out the doors to help put Aus­tralia on wheels.

Driv­ing one of those orig­i­nal Tin Lizzies, some­thing I’ve done a cou­ple of times, shows just how ten­u­ous things were in the early days of mo­tor­ing. The cars were flimsy at best and not easy to han­dle, but could be hooked up to power a wa­ter pump – us­ing one of the back wheels – as eas­ily as driv­ing to work in the big smoke.

I only vis­ited Ea­gle Farm once when it was work­ing, for the press pre­view of a Fair­lane in the 1980s. The build­ing looked typ­i­cally Ford, with the same ba­sic de­sign and bricks and paint­work that’s still fa­mil­iar at Broad­mead­ows and Gee­long. But fall­ing im­port du­ties, and a new post-1984 plan for the Aus­tralian mo­tor in­dus­try that meant cut­ting mod­els and com­plex­ity, em­pha­sised the need to cen­tralise pro­duc­tion for en­sure greater ef­fi­ciency at Broad­mead­ows and the clo­sure of the Home­bush fac­tory.

The Par­ra­matta Road site sur­vived for much longer, be­cause it was the base for small­car pro­duc­tion. In my time that mostly meant the Cortina and Es­cort, which were largely as­sem­bled from parts pro­duced in Bri­tain and shipped down un­der; and the Laser, which was the lo­cal spin-off of the Mazda 323.

Home­bush was a bustling op­er­a­tion in the 1980s and it was con­sid­ered such a threat that Toy­ota Aus­tralia – un­der the di­rec­tion of livewire mar­ket­ing boss Bob Miller – man­aged a sur­pris­ing piece of am­bush mar­ket­ing. It bought the rights to an ad­ver­tis­ing bill­board on the rail line that ran along­side the fac­tory, so Brand T could push its mes­sage in FoMoCo heart­land.

The Ford work­ers in Syd­ney and Bris­bane were just as com­mit­ted and pas­sion­ate as the ones to­day in Gee­long and Broad­mead­ows, as well as the ones who will keep their jobs in en­gi­neer­ing and de­vel­op­ment in Mel­bourne and at the prov­ing ground at Lara.

The full his­tory of Ford at Home­bush be­gins on March 31, 1936 and ends in Septem­ber 1994, when the Laser went out of pro­duc­tion. In between was the RHD con­ver­sion (pic­tured be­low) of the first Mus­tangs sold in Aus­tralia.

It was a long run and a good one, and the site sur­vived for a long time as a dis­tri­bu­tion base for Ford in Syd­ney, but even­tu­ally the eco­nomics meant it was sold and re-de­vel­oped into a busi­ness park. And that’s the irony, as car-mak­ing was a great busi­ness in Aus­tralia for a very long time. Ford help lay the foun­da­tions for our mo­tor­ing cul­ture in the days of the T-Model, long be­fore the Fal­con ar­rived in the six­ties to con­vert fam­i­lies across the coun­try to the Big Aussie Six and spark the ri­valry with Holden which will only be ex­tin­guished when the last Com­modore comes down the line in Ade­laide next year.

The ri­valry between the two com­pa­nies has been as bit­ter as any foot­ball feud – think Colling­wood-against-Essendon in Mel­bourne, or St Ge­orge-against-South Syd­ney in Syd­ney – and that’s down to the peo­ple as much as the cars. But it’s the cars from Ford, and the proud his­tory of lo­cal as­sem­bly in fac­to­ries that are al­ready just a page in the his­tory books, which has sparked the pas­sion and ex­cite­ment through the years.

It could have been a Fair­lane from Ea­gle Farm or a Cortina from Par­ra­matta Road – once the beat­ing heart of the mo­tor­ing world in Syd­ney – but it was a car built with pride and pas­sion by peo­ple who felt they were mak­ing a dif­fer­ence and mak­ing Aus­tralia bet­ter.

It’s been the same, too, at Broad­mead­ows and Gee­long and that’s some­thing we’ve al­ready known but been re­minded about – many times – in re­cent times while talk­ing to the peo­ple of Ford.

They are the un­known sol­diers who fought for Ford and helped cre­ate some­thing spe­cial on the roads of Aus­tralia. And now Broad­mead­ows and Gee­long are go­ing the same way.

It’s sad, des­per­ately sad and dis­ap­point­ing, but at least there are still re­minders of the fac­tory days and the cars they cre­ated to keep us cheer­ing for the Blue Oval.

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