My Life with Fords

By Mick Haven

 

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‘I never wanted to work in Fords’.

I grew up in 1950s and ‘60s Dagenham, a stone’s throw from the giant sprawl that was the Ford Motor Company’s main car manufacturing plant in Britain. In those early days of my Ford history, they were still separate entities, the P.T.A. paint trim and assembly, where I eventually worked many years later, was Ford, the bodies were made at Briggs,the wheels and tyres at Kelsey-Hayes. By 1960, they were all under the one banner, Ford. Consequently, many of the cars produced there, over a period of more than thirty years, have a memory for me of one kind or another. When the prospect of going out to work loomed, the last place I wanted to work at was Ford. Stories of regimentation, asking to go to the toilet, unions, strikes, shift work and other unpleasantries were enough to deter any thoughts of applying for a job. Even a higher rate of pay than almost anywhere else, certainly locally, wasn’t enough.

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Landsdowne Ford Prefect 100E


The first cars I remember when delving deep into the memory bank, are the early post war models, the Y Series, then came the Anglias and Prefects, the E494A, the E493A and E103 Popular. As a kid I paid them scant attention. Weren’t they all black? Probably not but they seemed like they were. Then along came the 100Es and the Mk I Consul, the Mk I Zephyr and Zephyr Zodiac, in the days before those two names took on their own identity. These were effectively larger versions of the 100Es, being a ‘three box section’ design, finally doing away with the bulbous wings of previous models. Another one was the formidable, it was then, V8 Pilot, a huge car alongside the afore mentioned models. It was said at the time that the car would do,“ a hundred miles an hour straight off the line”. I found out many years later from an owner, that this was a myth, a marketing ploy, as somewhere in the eighties would be nearer the mark. However, such a phrase sounded good back then, at a time when most family cars were out of breath at sixty miles an hour. That extra grunt did find favour with UK police forces who found it the ideal tool for catching criminals in their Jags. In much later years, the E494A would adopt the title, ‘sit up and beg’, and would find much favour with hot rodders , not just here but even in the United States.

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Corgi Ford Popular “Sit up and beg”


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Dinky Ford Pilot


My neighbour was a manager in Ford’s and as such was entitled to a company car. There was no telling from one day to the next what would current model would be parked outside the house. The Pilot was one of them. I do recall that in comparison to the kind of American V8 rumble that I would grow to love in later years, the car was remarkably quiet. By nineteen fifty five, the Mk1 Consul, Zephyr and Zephyr Zodiac had gone, to be replaced by the Mk 2, an altogether different shape from its predecessor. Their introduction saw the Zodiac come into its own as a name. I couldn’t have envisaged then that one day I would own one. The sit up and beg Anglia E494A and its bigger counterpart, the Prefect, had been replaced around this time by the 100Es. Also introduced around that time were the 300Es, van versions of the 100Es, known as Thames . Converted to carry rear seat passengers, the Anglia version became an Escort, the Prefect becoming the Squire, complete with its ‘wooden’ panels down the sides, a feature which would find its way onto the Mk I Cortina estate a few years later.

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Corgi Ford Anglia 1200


By the end of the fifties, there was a radically new shape in town. Opposite my house were some ‘prefabs’, those hastily built single storey homes for people bombed out of London in World War Two. A family there had a relative whose job was to collect new Fords from the factory and take them to the Royal London docks to be shipped around the world. Many were covered in ‘waxoil’, an anti-corrosion coating for cars which would spend the voyage on deck. I would frequently see a new Ford parked outside the neighbour’s house when the relative stopped by for a cup of tea. One day in particular lives with me to this day. It was 1959, and I took the short walk home from school. In the distance, I could see a strange looking car parked on the pavement outside the prefabs. The nearer I got, I still couldn’t identify it, in fact I’d never seen one like it before. A close inspection was called for. It had protruding headlamps and a sloping bonnet, leading down to a wide chrome grille. Like many others, it was coated in that horrible wax, and all badges were taped over, so there was nothing to say it was a Ford, or anything else. By the time I got alongside it, it was patently obvious this was a strange yet fascinating little car, that is until I noticed the rear three quarter section. “What on earth is this hideous thing”, I recall saying to myself. At the back, it had fins, and two large round tail lamps, topped off with rocket shaped indicator lenses pointing skywards. Even worse, the rear window sloped inwards. Of course, it was eventually revealed as the new 105E Anglia. Peering inside, I saw a shorter gearstick, and a totally revised dashboard from that of the familiar 100Es. I hated it. “ It must be a Ford, but what have they done here?”. I hated it. That hatred wouldn’t last long. When it came to driving test time in 1965, I had lessons in one, I passed my test in one, and declared that anybody who couldn’t pass their test in a 105E shouldn’t be driving. It’s new engine and gearbox were a delight too, gone was the sluggish old side valve motor and three speed shift of its predecessors, replaced by an overhead valve engine and a four speed ‘box. This combination would come from the 107E, the last of the Prefects, as was the use of ‘Macpherson strut’ front suspension, carried over from the 100E. Although I passed my test in a 105E, my first car was an E494A van, converted by the previous owner to feature sliding side windows, and a bench seat in the back. It had the familiar two feet long gearstick that worked like stirring a bowl of custard, and the irritating vacuum wipers, very scary when overtaking in the rain, not that I overtook much in it. It was black of course.

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Auto-Art Lotus Cortina


Many things have been written about the 105E, but for me just one stands out. This is a memory from a long time ago, so I hope my facts are right, I read the following account in a paperback, ‘The Story of Lotus’. It was the early 1960s, and Ford had approached Colin Chapman at Lotus, to develop a performance engine for motorsport. He installed the new ‘twin cam’ engine in a 105E and gave the key to of all people, Jim Clark, arguably the greatest racing driver in the world, if not since, he almost certainly was then. Clark just happened to be going home from Goodwood to Scotland. The great man was amazed at the performance of the little car, evidently blasting past a briskly driven Jaguar en route. ‘The rest’, as they say.

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Corgi Vanguards Ford Consul Classic


Were now into the 1960s, and within the first two years or so, the company began churning out a succession of new models. In 1962 came the first of the famous Cortinas, initially known as the Consul Cortina. In 1963,the Consul name also found its way onto the new Classic, a family sized four door saloon, with four headlamps and a 105E style rear window. It never really caught on. From that came a pretty two door coupe version, which was the first to wear the name, Capri, and yet another new design, the Consul Corsair. Why don’t Ford recognise that Capri as the first one? Eventually,they would all lose the Consul name. Then came the replacements for the Mk 2 Consul, Zephyr and Zodiac. The Mk 3 was yet another new design, bigger all round with a four speed gearbox, still mounted on the steering column, replacing the three speed as had been used on the Mk IIs, while retaining the engines from the MK IIs. The four cylinder Consul was dropped, to be replaced by another Zephyr model, the Zephyr 4. The Mk II Zephyr was now known as the Zephyr 6, alongside the superb top of the range Zodiac. It was one of these which was the first car I ever rode in at 100 m.p.h., at least it was according to the speedo. I wasn’t driving it I hasn’t to add. All of them would be a familiar sight on local roads, and a trip to the local dealership to drool often ensued. In 1967,105E production ceased, to be replaced by the first of the new Escort family, the name resurrected from the 300E. All of the above could be seen all day, every day.

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My first 100MPH ride


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For me, one of the most stunning models to come from Dagenham, and one which still stands out, came in 1968, and was a derivitive of the Mk 2 Cortina, which itself had been released a year earlier. Reading a national newspaper, there was a feature about a new Cortina, the 1600E. To my astonishment, it had ‘American wheels’. They weren’t of course. They were the famous ‘Rostyles’, made in the Midlands by the Rubery Owen company. I rushed along to the local dealership and there it was, in its aubergine, or ‘plum’ colour scheme. To me this has always been the colour for a 1600E. It had luxury seats, ‘walnut’ door cappings and dashboard, and instrument clusters from the Cortina GT. I was smitten.

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Corgi Vanguards Ford Zodiac Mark II


In 1971, I got my hands on a Mk 2 Zodiac. It was, and still is an all time favourite. It is almost certainly the most comfortable car I’ve ever owned or driven in over fifty years of driving, and one of the easiest to drive. With its front bench seat, three speed column shift and lazy six cylinder engine, it was a delight, despite those scary, vacuum powered wipers, carried over from the E494s and 100Es, which just like those, would slow down under acceleration, making overtaking in the rain, a very precarious affair, but at least with the Zodiac, overtaking was possible.

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Corgi Vanguards Escort Mexico


I never wanted to work at Ford’s. However, things would change in a most unexpected and uncoventional way. Not for me the usual route of writing in and asking if there were any vacancies. In October 1974 I believe it was, while making deliveries to A.V.O., Advanced Vehicle Operations in South Ockendon, Essex, I happened to ask the storeman what it was like working there. “ Yeah, it’s good, do you want a job, they’re looking for a few people”. He got me a form, and in two weeks, I was in there, not only working for Ford, but making Mk I Escort Mexicos, RS 2000s and the raucous BDA engined RS1600. Best of all, it was better pay than I was currently earning, with no shift work, as at other Ford plants. We made just fifteen cars a day! The body of the car came from Halewood on Merseyside, already fitted with all things compatible with basic Escorts, e.g all glass, rear seat and back axle and not much else. A.V.O. turned them into the RS range. If you had to make cars, it was a great place to work. Towards the end of ’74, we were told the plant would close in early ’75, as the new Mk II RSs would be made in mainstream with the other Escorts at Halewood. The union managed to get the line slowed, so as to drag out the work for as long as possible. We were now making ten cars a day.

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Vanguards Ford Granada Ghia


Unlike other plants where the cars were on a moving and virtually non-stop line, save for shift changeovers, at A.V.O. the cars were on an overhead track and would stop for the operator to do a set number of jobs. I actually enjoyed working at A.V.O. Sure enough, the plant closed its doors at the end of March 1975. Consequently, whenever I see a Mk I RS model at a motoring event, with an ‘N’ registration, I let the owner know, “it’s one of mine, I helped build it”. It goes down well. I had options. They were to leave, go to Basildon tractor plant, or transfer to Dagenham, where I still lived just a fifteen minute walk from the plant. Production at the time centred around the Mk III Cortina and the Mk I Granada and its sister car, yet another, and the last one, to wear the Consul name, which in ‘GT’ guise, would find fame in ‘The Sweeney’ tv series. I was put on the Granada final line, where the cars were finished off and driven for the first time. I didn’t enjoy that at all. It was shift work, and with it due the jobs I carried out, came back ache, legs ache and aches in ‘other places’. I left after a couple of months. I went back in 1976, ironically to exactly the same line as before, by now making the very first Fiesta. Also in production was the MK IV Cortina. I stayed around eighteen months. A nine weeks ‘all out’ strike in 1978 helped put an end to that. I never went back.

Despite some of the unpleasantries of working for Ford, the company remains a huge part of my life, especially considering that until that day I just happened to deliver to A.V.O, I had no intention whatever of working for them, despite the fact that they were the best payers by far for miles around. In the ‘60s, there were far more interesting shapes for a young man to gawp at than Ford cars, or any other cars for that matter.

Despite my initial reticence at going to work there, and those first couple months in the P.T.A., I am Ford through and through. I currently run a 2 litre diesel Mondeo, with almost 150,000 miles on the clock, which returns nearly 60 mpg, and has done even more than that. Back then such a thing would have been unheard of and unthinkable, even 35 mpg would have been both exceptional and acceptable, and that was in a 105E. One of those, or anything else of the time, would ever achieve the kind of inter galactic mileages of their modern counterparts.

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Some of the Falcons.


At the time of writing I have around three hundred Ford models in the three most popular scales, made up of ‘British’ and European Fords, American Fords and their derivatives, Lincolns, Mercurys etc, and around one hundred and twenty Australian Fords, all made up of family cars, performance cars, sports and GT cars and racing cars. In total, Australian Fords models just have the edge on British and European types. There are some others, The original Batmobile and F.1 cars for instance, which are powered by a Ford albeit Cosworth engine. They are far away the biggest single make in my collection. Nothing else comes close.

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Greenlight Ford Escort RS Mark I


So that’s my personal reflection of life and times working for and living with one of the world’s iconic motor companies. It’s nearly forty years since I walked out of the plant for the last time, yet I still have some vivid memories and a number of highlights. To this day, few engine sounds come as close as hearing a Ford/Lotus twin cam on full chat. RS 1600s at A.V.O. were few and far between in comparison to Mexicos and RS 2000s, yet whenever one came off the line, we would listen intently for the foreman to fire it up prior to driving it outside to the storage compound. I vividly remember finishing a night shift in August 1976, walking outside to the newspaper stand and seeing on the front of the Daily Mirror in huge letters, ELVIS IS DEAD. I went back inside and held up the paper for workmates to see. I can still see their astonished reaction. As a brand, Ford has taken much stick over the years, some of it justified, much of it not so. To me they’re no worse than many other, ‘quality brands’. I never think twice about buying one.

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1963 Bathurst Winning Cortina by Apex


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1964 Bathurst Winning Cortina


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1965 Bathurst Winning Cortina


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Bathurst Winners together


Model wise, what are my favourite Fords?  Mk I RS Escorts, obviously. Australian models are high on the list if for no other reason, they probably got me started collecting seriously and led to joining South Hants Model Auto Club. Models of Fords raced by the late great Australian Frank Gardner have  a special place because I saw him race them back in the late sixties and early seventies. After many years of waiting and hoping, I finally got the example of his 1969 Boss Mustang by Armco Models 56, who also produce some other excellent Mustangs from the 1960s Australian Touring Car Championship. Trofeu’s  Alan Mann Escort TC XOO 349F, which I have dubbed, ‘probably the most famous Escort in the world’, is Frank’s British Saloon Car Championship winning car. I saw him race the Mustang and the Escort many times and I was at Brands Hatch to see him win the title in 1968. The Australian collection as you might expect, is predominantly Falcons with some Cortina and Sierra race cars as well. The Falcon XC Cobra by Biante is a favourite, as it was almost certainly one of the very first Aussie Fords in my collection. I’ve got this in 64th, 43rd and 1/18th scales. One more Aussie, for no other reason than its paint scheme, is Craig Lowndes 2001 Bathurst Falcon, ‘The Green Eyed Monster’, so called because of the green headlamp covers. This one I also have in 1/18th. So far, there’s no 64th scale version of it. One other model worth a mention, is the Apex Replicas 1963 Cortina GT, which won the first ever Bathurst, only a 500 miler then. Most unique of all, it’s a four door. The model is a stunner. Does any other manufacturer do a four door Mk I Cortina?

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Armco Models Frank Gardner Mustang


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Biante Falcon Cobra XC


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Craig Lowndes Green Eyed Monster


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Frank Gardners Escort and Mustang


 

When the fateful day comes I decide to give it all up, parting with my Fords will be the hardest of all.


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