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Ford of Britain (officially Ford Motor Company Limited) is a British wholly owned subsidiary of Ford of Europe, a subsidiary of Ford Motor Company. Its business started in 1909 and has its registered office in Brentwood, Essex. It adopted the name of Ford of Britain in 1960.

Ford of Britain operates four major manufacturing sites in the UK, in Bridgend (petrol engine production), Dagenham (diesel engine production), Halewood (transmissions) and Southampton (commercial vehicle assembly). It also operates a large research and development facility in Dunton, Essex which employs over 3,000 engineers.

Ford has been the UK's biggest-selling car and commercial vehicle brand for 34 and 45 consecutive years respectively.

History

1903–1918

The first Ford cars, three Model As, were imported into the UK in 1903 and the first dealership in Southampton opened in 1910. In 1909 the Ford Motor Company (England) Limited was established under the chairmanship of Percival Perry opening an office at 55 Shaftesbury Avenue, London, on 8 March 1911.

Trafford Park

An assembly plant in an old Tram factory in Trafford Park, Manchester was opened in 1911 employing 60 people to make the Model T and the company was re-registered as Henry Ford & Son, Ltd. This was the first Ford factory outside North America. At first the cars were assembled from imported chassis and mechanical parts with bodies sourced locally. Six thousand cars were produced in 1913 and the Model T became the country's biggest selling car with 30 % of the market. In 1914 Britain's first moving assembly line for car production started with 21 cars an hour being built. After the First World War, the Trafford Park plant was extended, and in 1919, 41 % of British registered cars were Fords.

Cork

In 1917, a plant opened in Cork, Ireland initially for tractor manufacture, but from 1921 cars were built as well. This factory was the first to be purpose built by Ford in Europe. The company of Henry Ford and Son Limited–Fordson– was officially incorporated on April 17, 1917, starting its life on the site of an old Cork racecourse. Its first registered office was at 36 South Mall, Cork.

1918–1939

Dagenham

Although the Manchester plant was served by the Manchester Ship Canal, Ford decided that access to a deep water port was required and in 1923 a new site was chosen by the River Thames at Dagenham, east of London.

1928 Ford Motor Company Limited, 60% owned by Dearborn

All Europe and the Middle East but not the USSR

In December 1928 Ford (since 1924 entirely owned by Henry Ford, his wife and their son Edsel) announced in London that it had formed a new company, Ford Motor Company Limited, with three US directors and four English directors - including chairman Sir Percy Perry - with a capital of £7 million. This company had acquired all Ford's European and Middle Eastern business in exchange for 60% of its capital. The balance of 40% of the capital of the new Ford Motor Company Limited, 2.8 million shares of £1 each, was now available for public subscription. These shares were heavily over-subscribed. There was considerable investing interest from America as US investors had had no previous opportunity of investing in a Henry Ford business.

The new chairman, Sir Percival Perry, 1878-1956 had been and now was again central to the development of Ford in Europe. Perry's association with Henry Ford dated from 1905 when Perry became a shareholder of Ford's first British agency but the very first link between them was earlier, in 1903. The two men first met in 1906 in Detroit. From Britain Perry envisioned Ford making vehicles outside USA and selling them across the British Empire and Europe. He raced the company's cars, organized a chain of exclusive dealers and superintended the Trafford Park assembly plant. In 1919 Henry Ford chose to run operations from Detroit, Perry was determined to run all European business himself. Perry resigned in May 1919.

His American managers having failed him Henry Ford offered Perry the chairmanship of this new Ford Motor Company Limited in 1928.

At the first meeting of shareholders in London on 6 March 1929 Perry reported "during the first three months of our first year we and our associated companies in Europe have delivered upwards of 50,000 Model 'A' vehicles into the hands of satisfied owners. The improved Fordson tractor is not yet in production but it is hoped to deliver the first tractors completely manufactured at our Cork works within the next month."

Europe's largest car plant

Construction started at Dagenham in 1929, and in October 1931, Britain's and Europe's largest car plant opened producing the Model AA truck and Model A car. This was at the height of the Depression and the Model A was too expensive to tax and run in Britain and very few were sold, only five in the first three months. A smaller car was urgently needed and this came in 1932 with the 933 cc Model Y, a car much more suited to the market and becoming in 1935 Britain's first £100 car. This was Ford's first car specifically designed for sale outside North America. Between 1932 and 1937 over 157,000 were made at Dagenham and Cork and at its peak it captured 41 % of its market sector.

In 1938, Ford's Cork factory hit an important milestone, producing its 25,000th vehicle since becoming an assembly plant in 1932. In all, 73,000 cars, trucks and tractors had been built at Cork up to that time.

The associated companies

The original 1928 plan was for Canada, having the benefit of imperial-preference tariffs, to manufacture components for Ford assembly plants in the British Empire. Dagenham was to do, and did, the same for assembly plants in Europe but in 1932, mired in the financial depression, both France and Germany announced their intention to impose heavy new tariffs on imported components. In France urgent arrangements were made with Mathis for their plant to be leased by a joint-venture to be known as Matford and devoted to the full manufacture of Ford or Matford products. In Germany . . .

More capital was required. There were consequential exchanges in shareholdings between Dagenham and Dearborn and other shareholders.

Independence

As an indication of the British and Irish company's sense of independence, in 1938 Henry Ford and Harry Ferguson came to 'a handshake agreement' whereby Ford would manufacture tractors designed by Ferguson using the Ferguson System. Production commenced in USA in June 1939 and the product was outstandingly successful but Henry Ford was unable to persuade Ford Motor Company Limited to manufacture the Ford-Ferguson though they did merchandise the US made tractors. In 1945 Ferguson arranged production with Standard Motor Company. Harry Ferguson sued US Ford for illegal use of his patents asking for compensation of £90 million, settled out of court in 1952. Sorensen's autobiography—he was a director of this company—described Ferguson so unfavourably his UK publishers were obliged to scrap all copies and pay costs and Sorensen made a public apology.

World War 2

During the Second World War, the Dagenham plant turned out 360,000 vehicles and a new factory in Trafford Park, Manchester made 34,000 Rolls-Royce Merlin engines.

1945–1967

After World War II, civilian production resumed and Dagenham made 115,000 vehicles in 1946 and factories in Walthamstow in Essex (later London) and Langley in Buckinghamshire (later Berkshire) were acquired. The millionth vehicle made since the Dagenham factory started production in October 1931 rolled from the assembly line on 27 August 1946, a cream Ford 10 saloon.

1950 Dearborn buys back Ford Europe

Henry Ford resigned in 1945 in favour of grandson Henry Ford II and died in April 1947. Perry, founder-chairman of Ford Motor Company Limited and each of the Ford Group's European subsidiaries retired in 1948. In 1950 Ford's controlling interests in the European businesses were sold to Ford Dearborn. In 1953, following the death of its Detroit founder, Briggs Motor Bodies, whose parent provided bodies to Ford America, was purchased, giving the company more control of its supplies and so acquiring plants at Doncaster, Southampton, Croydon and Romford. By 1953, Ford of Britain directly employed 40,000 people.

1961 Dearborn buys out 46% British shareholders

Until 1960 Ford Motor Company Limited remained a publicly quoted company, its shares freely listed on British exchanges, with more than 10,000 stockholders. The Ford Motor Company of Dearborn Michigan then held just 54% of its shares. That year, after eighteen months of rumour and denial, the US company offered to buy out the other shareholders. The offer was accepted and Ford completed payment for the other 46% of Ford Motor Company Limited at the end of January 1961. Ford of Britain, properly Ford Motor Company Limited, then became a wholly owned Ford subsidiary.

Halewood, Basildon, Swansea and Cork

In 1962, Ford opened a factory at Halewood near Liverpool to make the Anglia. This closed as a Ford plant when the last Escort came off the production line in 2000 and was then converted to make the Jaguar X-Type in 2001.

Another new factory opened at Basildon in 1964 to make tractors, and in 1965, a further plant was acquired in Swansea to make chassis components and axles.

The Cork factory celebrated the 50 year anniversary in 1967. As part of that landmark event, a £2 million investment program was announced to re-build, re-equip and modernise the assembly plant. As a result, the plant was to become the largest and most modern factory of its kind in Ireland. In the same year Ford of Europe was formed with Henry Ford and Son Limited. It was as an important partnership from the start. Another £2 million was spent on assembly facilities and operations to ensure that Cork production equalled the highest European standards of quality. By 1977, the total area of the plant was well over 450,000 square feet.

The rationalisation plan put in place meant that in 1972, the Cork plant became a two-car plant that was producing the two best selling cars in Ireland: the Escort and Cortina. Between them, these two models were accounting for 75% of Ford sales in Ireland at the time. The Irish company was also exporting around 4,000 cars (mostly Escorts) to Britain. The Cork plant closed in 1985.

Commercial vehicles

Ford produced a range of commercial vehicles starting with the Model TT in 1917. From 1933 to 1939 these were badged Fordson, this changed to Fordson Thames until 1957 after which it became plain Thames until 1965. From 1965 they reverted to Ford. After the closure of the Trafford Park factory most of the larger commercials were built at Langley. The truck operation was sold to the Iveco group of Italy in 1986 and became Iveco Ford (48% owned by Ford). The Langley plant closed in 1997.

Chairmen

  • Percival Perry 1928-1948 also Managing Director 1928-1948
  • Roland Kitson 1948-1956
  • Patrick Hennessy 1956-1968 also Managing Director 1948-1968

Ford of Europe

Ford of Europe was created in 1967 by the merging of the businesses of Ford Motor Company Limited and Ford-Werke GmbH.

Models

Passenger cars

Commercial vehicles

Note – cwt is the abbreviation of hundredweight (112 pounds or 1/20 ton)

Supercars

Gallery

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