History of Ford manufacturing in the UK

Ford’s manufacturing association with the UK began more than a century ago, starting with the car that originally made the company a global colossus.

The first factory outside North America was opened by Henry Ford in Trafford Park, Manchester, in 1911, to build the Model T, and the company soon became the UK’s largest car-maker.

FORD Model T
Ford began vehicle production in the UK in 1911, making the Model T at Trafford Park, Manchester (PA)

Further plants were opened in locations such as Dagenham, east London, in 1931, Halewood, Merseyside, in 1962 and Bridgend, South Wales, in 1980.

A strike by female staff at the Dagenham plant in 1968 led to the Equal Pay Act.

Women of the Year Awards 2013
Presenter Lorraine Kelly with former machinists at Ford’s Dagenham plant,who were the inspiration behind the film Made in Dagenham, and who led a strike over equal pay (Nick Ansell/PA)

The story of the 187 sewing machinists working long hours in poor conditions, who walked out in anger at being reclassified as “unskilled”, was made into a hit 2010 film.

The hugely successful Fiesta model began being built at the factory in 1977, with more than one million produced by 1979.

But, facing a drop in demand and intense competition, Ford stopped building cars in the UK in 2002.

It has continued to manufacture engines in Bridgend and Dagenham, as well as transmissions in Halewood.

Ford factory closure fears
A security guard locks the gates at the Ford Transit assembly plant in Southampton, which closed in 2013, ending all Ford vehicle production in the UK (Chris Ison/PA)

In March 2008 Ford sold its luxury UK car brands Jaguar and Land Rover to Tata Motors.

Ford ceased all UK vehicle production in 2013, when its Transit van factory in Southampton closed.

Ford’s cars and vans have added to British popular culture in several ways.

TRANSPORT Ford/XR3
A Ford Escort XR3i, made in 1992 (PA)

They have featured in many television series, often crime shows, from the Zephyrs driven in 1960s’ show Z Cars through the Cortina and Granada models of The Sweeney, and Bodie and Doyle’s Capri in The Professionals in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Later that decade the Ford Escort XR3i became popular, despite being often lampooned as a “hairdresser’s car”.

Ford factory closure fears
Ford’s Transit van helped spawn the concept of ‘White Van Man’ (Chris Ison/PA)

The Transit helped spawn the concept of White Van Man, the archetypal sexist, wolf-whistling and speeding van driver who was a danger to other road users.

The best-selling van in the UK for more than a quarter of a century, it was often seen as his weapon of choice because of its ubiquity on the road.

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