The problem with the 1928 plan was that
it had not foreseen the level of protectionism that would arise in
Continental markets during the 1930s as a result of the Depression, nor
the hostility that would be directed against Ford, still perceived as an
“American” make even though it had been doing business in Europe longer
than many indigenous manufacturers.
In France, where a 'Buy French First' campaign had been started in 1931,
actively supported by Renault and Citroen, Ford manager Maurice Dollfus
pointed out the contribution that Ford made to the French economy: “The
motor, the rear axle, the body panels and the wheels are received from
abroad; the chassis, front axles, lamps radiators, electrical equipment,
dynamos, tyres and the body finishing are French ... 30,000 people
depend on the existence of Ford France for their living.”
But it did little good and Ford France tried to boost its image by
forming an alliance with the old-established Mathis company of
Strasbourg to build V8 cars under the name “Matford”. The venture lasted
less than a decade. A new Ford factory was built in the late 1930s south
of Paris at Poissy, but it had hardly begun production when World War
Two was declared.
Ford Spain’s assembly plant in Barcelona was an early victim of the
Civil War. Occupied by pro-Government Loyalists within two weeks of the
outbreak of hostilities in 1936, the plant struggled along until
Barcelona fell to General Franco’s Nationalist troops in 1939. It never
recovered, and was sold to local interests in 1954.
By the late 1930s the plan for an integrated European Ford was in ruins,
with both Germany and France building models which had less and less in
common with the British products.
Ironically, there was probably more coordination of Ford’s Continental
European facilities during the war (when the occupied plants in France,
Holland, Belgium and Denmark were controlled by Ford Germany) than there
had been in peacetime!
The British company’s contribution to the war effort was remarkable;
Dagenham built over 13,000 tracked Universal Carriers, more than 250,000
V8 engines and over 185,000 military vehicles, while a specially-built
factory in Manchester manufactured well over 30,000 supercharged
27-litre Rolls-Royce Merlin V12 engines for such famous British
warplanes as the Hurricane, Mosquito and Lancaster.
Post War Rebirth
Aided by support from Dagenham, Cologne
was quickly back in production after the declaration of peace in 1945,
but the divergence in product design which had begun in the 1930s
increased during the 1950s and 1960s, to the extent that in many
Continental markets the products of Ford Britain and Ford Germany were
By now, the Ford Motor Company was headed by the dynamic young Henry
Ford II, who had taken over from his grandfather in September 1945,
three days after his 28th birthday. Though Ford had been active in world
markets virtually from its foundation, the company had no formal
coordinating body for its worldwide operations until an International
Division was formed in September 1946.
Early in 1948, as soon as he had implemented the necessary
reorganisation of Ford of America, young Henry came to inspect his
The contrast between Britain and Germany was vividly shown during Henry
Ford II’s visit. At Dagenham, poised to export 6000 cars to the United
States within six months, he drove the plant’s 250,000th postwar vehicle
off the line. In Germany it was the 10,000th postwar Ford truck that Mr
Ford drove away. Cars had been a luxury the market could not afford.
Cologne launched its first postwar car, the famous “Buckel” (Hunchback)
Taunus, during 1948. The aerodynamic 2 door was a significantly shaped
hatchback with headlights integrated into the bumper. It continued in
production until 1952, when a 1.2-litre Taunus was unveiled.
Meanwhile, Dagenham was planning Europe’s most advanced range of family
cars, the four-cylinder Consul and six-cylinder Zephyr. With Ford’s
first overhead valve engines, strong monocoque bodyshells and the
first-ever application of MacPherson Strut independent front suspension
– a system that would become an industry standard – the new cars caused
a sensation on their launch at the 1950 London Motor Show.
Ford France, which had followed an independent course after World War
Two, building a V8 model called the Vedette which was totally out of
tune with France’s austerity regime, ceased production in 1954 and the
Poissy factory, which had never achieved its full potential, was sold to
the French Simca company.
During the 1950s Britain kept up the momentum with a range of
excitingly-styled models - new Consuls and Zephyrs and the 105E Anglia.
But Ford Britain and Ford Germany were developing competing model lines
over this period, which made little business sense. Although on one
occasion at least, this rivalry proved very beneficial.
When Sir Patrick Hennessy the Chairman of Ford Britain discovered that
Ford Germany was working on a new front-wheel drive Taunus codenamed
“Cardinal”, he ordered his product planners and engineers to develop a
new family car to better the rival product. The result of the competing
efforts was two winners: the 1962 Cortina, a model line that became an
industry legend and the Taunus 12M, which was powered by a new V4 engine
and broke new ground for Ford, as it was the company’s first-ever
front-wheel drive car.
It was, however, increasingly apparent
that developing two separate model lines was an unnecessary duplication
of effort by Ford’s European companies, and a study group under John
Andrews, the California born head of Ford Germany, investigated how a
combined Ford organisation might operate within a common European
The first joint development programme carried out by Britain and Germany
was “Project Redcap”, which produced the highly successful Transit van.
Launched in 1965, it quickly became an industry best seller – and has
maintained that position ever since.
It also spearheaded the renewal of Ford activities in Turkey, where a
special version of the popular van was developed with help from Ford
commercial vehicle engineers for production by the Turkish Otosan
company. This was part of the Koç Group (which began selling Ford
vehicles in 1928) and in which Ford took a 30 per cent shareholding in
1983. Ford Otosan today is a joint venture between Ford and Koc, each
with a 41 per cent share.
Now that it was proved that intercompany cooperation could work
successfully, in the summer of 1967 Henry Ford II concluded that the
time had come to form a “Ford of Europe” organisation and placed John
Andrews in charge of it. From then on the two companies worked together
on all future model programmes.
The geographical difficulties posed by having separate engineering and
development centres located 400 miles apart at Dunton in Britain and
Merkenich in Germany were overcome by the establishment of a company
airline which acted as the cement to hold the European organisation
together. In later years Ford was to pioneer other methods of
communication such as video conferencing to link the various components
of Ford of Europe.
Ford of Europe not only coordinated the research and engineering
programmes for Ford in Europe, but also integrated the manufacturing and
purchasing processes across the European operations, realizing
significant economies of scale. For 1967, this was a ground breaking
development, anticipating the expansion of the European Community and
the introduction of the Single Market.
More efficient manufacturing methods saw
the phasing out of the local assembly plants in Ford’s smaller European
markets in favour of large manufacturing units supplying the national
sales companies with complete vehicles.
The 1960s saw the opening of major new plants at Halewood in the UK and
Genk in Belgium. Halewood began production of the Anglia in 1962 and
Genk started up in 1964, building the Taunus and then the Transit.
Further expansion followed with the opening of Ford Germany's Saarlouis
plant in 1970 , now home to the Focus, but at that time producing
A new transmission plant in Bordeaux was added in 1973 and a new engine
plant at Bridgend in Wales in 1980. A large car factory opened up in
Valencia in 1976 to serve the increasingly important southern European
markets. Its initial product was Ford’s first front wheel drive minicar,
the phenomenally successful Fiesta.
For both Bordeaux and Valencia there was an element of homecoming for
Ford, as Bordeaux had seen the beginning of Ford car assembly some 60
years earlier, while Ford was returning to manufacture in Spain for the
first time since the Civil War.
Another important facility to be added during this decade and a half of
major expansion was Ford's principal European proving grounds at Lommel
in Belgium. The Lommel facility was established back in 1965 and
incorporated a wide variety of test tracks, from a high-speed banked
oval circuit where cars can be driven "hands off" at speeds of 200 km/h
(125 mph) to a "torture track" of cobble and faithfully-reproduced
replicas of Europe's most demanding road surfaces. Lommel also gained
the steepest hills in the Low Countries when its "Lommel Alps" test
hills were purpose-built in 1970.