Matters of moment, December 1986

75 Years Of Ford In Britain

We cannot let 1986 slip away without offering the Ford Motor Company hearty congratulations on its 75th birthday of car manufacture in this country, the more so because Ford has long held a significant place in the field of European racing and rallying. The first British Ford emanated from Trafford Park, Manchester, in 1911 assembled on the mass-production system pioneered by Henry Ford in America. The far-seeing Percival Perry was in charge and by 1914 the plant could claim an output that equalled that of Austin, Morris, Rover, Singer and Wolseley combined!

If Ford held on to the Model T for too long after WW1, this was rectified effectively with the introduction of the Model A and its derivatives, which recognised that two forward speeds and two-wheel brakes were a bit outdated by 1927. Then came the memorable Ford V8 that offered smoothly-delivered high torque and scintillating acceleration, previously unobtainable at the very competitive price at which it was sold (£230 as a Tudor saloon in 1933), which was made possible by Ford’s advanced foundry techniques that enabled cylinder block and crankcase to be made in one unit.

Although the immortal Model T had been raced at Indianapolis, Brooklands and elsewhere, it was not until after WW2 that Ford made a real impact on the competition scene. It has been said that this was done to overcome the stigma of the Model T, about which so many comic songs and jokes had circulated. What rubbish! — This model, of which more than 15 million were sold between 1908 and 1926, was one of the World’s great cars, and soundly made to boot; how otherwise could it have put America on wheels and opened up the outbacks of that vast Continent?

Meanwhile, other British-made Fords, from Dagenham and later Halewood etc. enhanced the reputation of the greatest one-make motor empire in the World, such as the pre-war £100 Model Y that made every other baby-car look outdated; the Prefect, Popular and Anglia Tens, true peoples’ cars if ever there was such; and the Consuls and Zephyrs, with a Zephyr Six winning the 1953 Monte Carlo Rally.

Baron Percival Perry of Stock Harvard in the county of Essex, said to be the only Ford executive, apart from Sorensen, to spend a night in Henry Ford’s home, masterminded Ford in Britain until 1947 (not forgetting his establishing the Fordson tractor as part of the 1914-18 war effort), and executives like Sir Rowland Smith and Sir Patrick Hennessy ably carried on what Perry had founded and developed.

During WW2 Trafford Park made more Merlin aero-engines, working to exceptionally close engineering tolerances, closer than Rolls-Royce themselves, and after the war came the birth of those competition Fords at Boreham, where the first Fordsons had ploughed the land. Henry Ford was himself an early racing driver and LSR exponent (91.37 mph in 1904), so it was fitting that Detroit decided to win the Le Mans 24-hour race. After failing to buy Ferrari, the GT40 was developed in this country by Eric Broadley and others and was victorious in 1966-69.

Ford financed the initial development of the Cosworth V8 engine that was the mainstay of F1 racing for nearly 20 years, and a Ford V6 engine is again in F1, while the rear-wheel-drive Escort was not only sold in successively more exciting GT saloon forms, but became a World Championship rally car. The Sierra XR4x4 is a recent example of more Ford technical pioneering, and as Motor Sport emphasised recently, the RS Cosworth is one of the most exciting and rewarding road-going cars you can buy today. Happy birthday, Ford of Britain!

President Reagan — Racing Driver

You may be aware that the President of the United States was once an actor, but did you know he had been a racing driver? According to Automobile Quarterly, that high-class American publication which L. Scott Bailey has recently sold to CBS Magazines, Ronald Reagan finished second in the 1951 Oil Can Race at Akron — but then Reagan had no power; the cars were engineless downhill devices competing in what was known as the All-American Soap Box Derby.