10 THINGS: Da­gen­ham

Classic Ford - - CONTENTS -

Facts you didn’t know about the plant.


The pres­ti­gious HS1 (High Speed) rail­way, which now links Lon­don with France and Bel­gium via the Chan­nel Tun­nel, runs right through the cen­tre of the Da­gen­ham es­tate. Al­though not yet up to their max­i­mum cruis­ing speeds, the trains are al­ready ex­ceed­ing 100mph at that point.


Al­though Da­gen­ham was a prime site for en­emy bomb­ing dur­ing the Sec­ond World War, and was hit re­peat­edly, it was rarely out of ac­tion. Dur­ing that con­flict, many thou­sands of con­verted vans, trucks and trac­tors were pro­duced for the mil­i­tary ef­fort, along with thou­sands of V8 en­gines, which went into mil­i­tary ma­chin­ery like the ubiq­ui­tous Bren gun car­ri­ers.


What be­came Ford’s vast Da­gen­ham site was no more than a boggy waste­land un­til the com­pany bought it in the mid1920s. The Lon­don sub­urb we now know as Da­gen­ham didn’t ex­ist ei­ther. The first ve­hi­cle to roll off assem­bly lines at Da­gen­ham in 1931 was a truck. The first pri­vate cars — the 60 mph, 8 bhp Model Y sa­loons, fol­lowed a year later.


Many years ago, the same site re­ceived iron ore by ship to the Thames-side foundry, along with huge rolls of sheet steel, and the en­tire car was then com­pleted on site, with only spe­cialised items such as elec­tric com­po­nents, tyres and glass hav­ing to be supplied from else­where. At its peak, Da­gen­ham could build up to half-a-mil­lion ve­hi­cles a year — in the mid-1960s, for in­stance, up to 250,000 Corti­nas were pro­duced ev­ery year.


The last com­plete car to leave the Da­gen­ham site was a Fi­esta, built in 2002, af­ter which the modern PTA (Paint Trim Assem­bly) com­plex was de­mol­ished. In sev­en­ty­one years, al­most 11 mil­lion cars, vans, trac­tors, trucks and mil­i­tary ve­hi­cles were built there.


Over the years, sur­pris­ingly few fast Ford pro­duc­tion cars were ac­tu­ally as­sem­bled at Da­gen­ham — the most no­table prob­a­bly be­ing the Mk2 Lo­tus Cortina of 19671970. Other fa­mous ma­chines, such as the Es­cort RS1600, the Sierra RS Cosworth, the Es­cort RS Cosworth, the RS200 and high-per­for­mance ver­sions of the Capri, the Mon­deo and the Fo­cus, were all built else­where.


What was the fastest Ford road car ever to be as­sem­bled at Da­gen­ham? Apart from the Lo­tus Cortina, al­ready men­tioned, it was prob­a­bly one of the high­per­for­mance Fi­es­tas pro­duced in the early 1990s.


One of the stor­age com­pounds used for new cars at Da­gen­ham for many years was Frog Is­land, whose orig­i­nal nam­ing is shrouded in a great deal of mys­tery and con­jec­ture. One of the most colour­ful is that at one time it was used as a pris­oner-of-war camp for con­ti­nen­tal pris­on­ers taken dur­ing the Napoleonic con­flicts in ear­lier cen­turies.


With the site largely cleared in re­cent years, so much space was read­ily avail­able that the ul­tra-com­plex Open­ing and Clos­ing cer­e­monies for the 2012 Olympic Games were care­fully and tri­umphantly re­hearsed in the weeks lead­ing up to that fa­mous oc­ca­sion.


Re­de­vel­oped in re­cent years, what re­mains of the Da­gen­ham es­tate is now Ford’s largest global pro­ducer of diesel en­gines. More than a mil­lion diesels are pro­duced ev­ery year, and the 40 mil­lionth to­tal en­gine build mark was passed in 2012. Those en­gines not only power Ford cars, but have also been supplied to Volvo, Citroën, Peu­geot, Mazda, Jaguar and Range Rover in re­cent years.


Dur­ing the Sec­ond World War, Da­gen­ham built the V8 en­gine found in the Bren gun car­rier. Ford Model Ys were the first cars to be built at Da­gen­ham — from 1932.

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