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Ford Dagenham's 80 year history
John Nevill
Ford Heritage Fleet Administrator

Production line at Ford Dagenham
The first vehicles rolled off the production line at Dagenham in October 1931

This year marks the 80th anniversary of Ford Motor Company coming to Dagenham.

On the 17, May 1929, Henry Ford's son Edsel cut the first sod on the reclaimed marshland.

Construction of the site took two years with the first vehicle, a Model AA truck, rolling off the production line in October 1931.

Vehicle assembly ended in 2002, but the site continued with an expanded engine facility making it a global centre of excellence for diesel engineering.

As Henry Ford's son Edsel cut the first sod on 17, May 1929, it was perhaps prophetic that he hit a large stone and bent the spade, not for the last time would Ford find itself facing hard times.

But then, as now, Ford quickly rose to the challenge and some nifty work with a hammer and railway track soon remedied the problem and digging continued.

The site, reclaimed marshland previously used for London's waste, presented its own problems. Around 22,000 concrete piles were driven 80 feet into the ground to form the base of the building.

Aerial view of Dagenham site in 1935
Aerial view of the Ford plant at Dagenham in 1935

Construction took two years and over a single weekend in September 1931 special trains carried 2,000 employees, their families and possessions, from the Ford plant at Trafford Park, Manchester to their new life in Dagenham.

A hospital, foundry, jetty and power station completed the site.

At 1.16 pm on 1, October 1931, the first vehicle to be built at Dagenham left the production line. It was a Model AA truck driven off the line by A R (later Sir Rowland) Smith, Ford's General Manager.

Built at a cost of £5 million, the Dagenham factory opened in the depths of the depression and, although business was slow at first, the press referred to Dagenham as a "magnificent gesture of faith in Britain's commercial future... a lighthouse of hope in a storm-tossed sea of industry."

Before the war Dagenham built the unimaginatively named 8hp, 10hp, 22hp and 30hp ranges. It also built the Model Y (Popular), the first and only full size car to be offered at just £100.

War production

From 1939 war production took over with 360,000 light vans, army trucks, balloon winches, mobile canteens and Ford V8-powered Bren Gun carriers rolling off the lines.

Dagenham was also responsible for 34,000 Merlin aero engines and 95% of Britain's vitally important tractor production. And all this took place as over 200 German bombs landed on the Dagenham estate.

In the post war years Dagenham turned its interests to the revolutionary Consul and Zephyr range of cars. Major expansion in the 1950s increased floor space by 50% and doubled production. By 1953 the site occupied four million square feet and employed 40,000.

Ford production line
In 71 years Dagenham built 10,980,368 cars, trucks and tractors

As the swinging 60s took hold, Dagenham moved on to a car destined to become one of the country's favourites: the Ford Cortina. By the time the last Cortina left the line in 1982, the plant had built over three million.

By this time, Dagenham was already producing the Ford Fiesta, introduced in 1976. In 1982 it was joined by the Ford Sierra, which replaced the Cortina.

In May 2000 came the shocking announcement that vehicle assembly at Dagenham would cease and on the 20, February 2002, the vehicle assembly lines stopped for the last time.

In 71 years Dagenham had built 10,980,368 cars, trucks and tractors. Placed end to end they would stretch over 400,000km - enough vehicles to circle the world 10 times over.

Not finished

But Dagenham was not finished. A thriving press shop and transport operation were joined by expanded engine facilities, making Dagenham Ford's global centre of excellence for diesel engineering.

Fiesta painting
The Ford Fiesta was introduced in 1976, it was joined by the Sierra

On 6, November 2003, Prime Minister Tony Blair, MP officially opened the Dagenham Diesel Centre (DDC). Covering an area equivalent to seven football pitches the DDC provides state-of-the-art facilities allowing design and production teams to work together under one roof.

Designed to address environmental concerns the DDC building makes maximum use of daylight and is powered by two 85 metre high wind turbines.

In 2008, as Dagenham engine production topped one million, plans were unveiled for a third turbine to ensure the plant remains self sufficient.

Ford at Dagenham has changed a lot over the years and the 21st century will present its own challenges. But just like Edsel hammering the spade straight on a rail track 80 years ago, Ford is used to being between a rock and a hard place and will drive on through the rough times until the road is smooth again.




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