Ford's Advanced Vehicle Operations in action

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When the Ford board of directors decided to move a section of their parts stores from the Aveley, Essex factory up to the Mdlands the next item on the agenda was obviously “What shall we do with the vacated space?” Decisions of that nature are not reached in five minutes but from the many suggestions came the answer “Advanced Vehicle Operations”. And on January 14th last year AVO became fact.

There was a lot of reconstruction and building to be completed and although the first car rolled off the production line at Aveley on November 2nd last the sound of hammers still echoes around the newly constructed offices. As you walk along the corridors you spot names on the doors already well known to racing and rallying enthusiasts. Names like former Grand Prix driver Henry Taylor, present saloon and clubman’s driver Rod Mansfield, and so on.

The heart of the new factory is, of course, the brand new 16-cradle production line which at present produces 12 cars each daily shift. By major manufacturing standards such a line is very small but it is custom-built for a specific purpose. At once you realise that AVO is a completely self-contained organisation within the Ford empire. AVO is like a son and a very bright one at that.

The line is unusual in that the “guts of the car”, the power train, are lifted up into the body shell by a jack arrangement rather than the body being dropped onto the rest of the car. While this procedure is slower than mass production principles it means more care can be taken in assembly. So as a purchaser of an Escort RS1600 or Mexico you can rest assured that your high-performance car has not been thrown together amidst a line of “ordinary” cars. It also ensures that standard parts don’t mysteriously appear on your high-performance car. The days were when the late-lamented Lotus Cortinas appeared with some rather foreign “options”. The writer’s personal car was delivered with a 1300 Cortina radiator which wasn’t discovered until a year later!

The advantages of building high-performance vehicles separately can be seen very clearly and in addition one can add such factors as closer inspection, better individual product knowledge, and a pride of workmanship. Of course one expects to pay a premium for this.

On the pride of workmanship theme we immediately noticed an esprit de corps on both the management and shop-floor. Working for AVO is a status symbol at all levels.

The AVO production line covers an area of approx. 90,000 sq. ft.— roughly the size of Wembley football pitch. The projected production is 2,764 vehicles in 1971, doubling in 1972 with an introduction of a second shift and by 1973 should be up to over 6,000 units per year. Add to this the special build area which will come into operation later in the year, probably by May, and will have facilities for working on about ten specials at a time. If, for instance, the demand for a particular vehicle exceeds the AVO capacity then its production would be transferred to a larger plant. Adjacent to the production line are such attendant facilities as a solder booth for special body preparation, a body preparation booth for cleaning bodies prior to going into the spray booth and also a modern new oven. At the exit of the plant a unique dynamometer is being installed which will be capable of measuring road horsepower on two axles simultaneously. All cars off the line are road tested.

The AVO psychology of providing something special is not confined only to the factory and staff. The dealer is included too, and for that reason only a certain number of selected, Rallye Sport, dealers will be able to sell you a Mexico or an RS 1600. Again, the idea is to keep the standard up and AVO is presently running a training scheme to educate, not only mechanics, but also sales and parts staff to the Rallye Sport standards. At Aveley a most comprehensive training facility has been built and the first course on BDA engines has been completed.

The dealer will no doubt nominate his brighter staff to attend the courses and particularly those who already have a competition background. Hence a core of Rallye Sport orientated staff will be built up at each of the nominated dealers. Further, it is hoped that Rallye Sport dealers will actively take part in competitions by rallying or racing Escort derivatives. This will contrast with the bad old days when one pulled in at the friendly Ford dealer with a sick-sounding Lotus Cortina and hopefully requested assistance. “No mate, no one knows about Webers here” or “Twin-Cams, never touch them, try Blogspeed round the back of the station” were the standard sort of replies. Getting parts was even worse and I still remember the blank faces that met me when I tried several Ford dealers in a vain search for a Lotus Cortina throttle cable. If AVO works properly all this should be very much of the past at Rallye Sport dealers.

There will certainly be no excuses for the training facilities at Aveley are excellent and include a lecture theatre with the latest projection and sound equipment installed and a workshop equipped with £10,000 worth of the latest garage equipment. In fact this workshop is kitted out in a way that Ford hope Rallye Sport dealers will emulate. A full-time training instructor is employed and it is expected that some 20,000 man-hours’ training will be expended during 1971. The actual equipment includes a rolling road dynamometer, two high-speed lifts, an electronic diagnostic console, optical wheel alignment equipment and two-plane wheel balancers. Ford’s Rallye Sport scheme looks very much as if it is going to bring performance car tuning and preparation, of Ford cars at least, out of the back streets.

Who are the men who control, organise and run this self-contained Ford prodigy? At the head of the list carrying just about the shortest title of anyone at Aveley is Ray Horrocks—the Manager. To Horrocks one can apply all the expected clichés—young, dynamic, with it—and they happen to be true.

Horrocks’ right-hand than is none other than former Grand Prix driver Henry Taylor, who has been involved in Ford’s high performance programme for some time now. After his racing retirement Taylor took up rallying and later became Competition Manager before moving to Aveley. Directly responsible to Taylor are Bill Meade and Richard Martin-Hurst, both well known names in rallying, plus the German Werner Gausch who is working from Cologne where a sister organisation to Aveley is under way and directly under Horrocks’ control. The German operation is at present appointing Rallye Sport dealers and has just announced its first model, the Capri RS2300, although this is built on the normal Cologne production line.

It is Horrocks’ plan to set up similar AVO operations in other European countries later in the 1970s but at present the effort is behind Britain and Germany, the two European companies producing Ford motor cars. Naturally there is a lot of interchange of ideas between the two countries and several engineers from Aveley are regularly flying back and forth between the two countries.

Henry Taylor and his team come under the title of High Performance Programmes and it will be they who will advise customers on one-off specials and the like. Under Horrocks and his High Performance Programmes off-shoot the control of AVO is split five ways—Finance, Advanced Product Planning & Engineering, Material Supply, Assembly Operations, and Advanced Product Sales. Bob Howe is the man behind the Product Planning department which is responsible for the design and development of the production vehicles from AVO. Howe was the product planner on the Escort Twin-Cam and several other advanced projects and he has a team well versed in motor racing to back him up. Rod Mansfield is in charge of the design and development testing and has working for him Mike Cadby (presently in Germany) and Harry Worrall, who are both involved in the Dino Clubman’s car project in their spare time, as well as Mike Hillman who worked for Brabham and Felday before joining Ford.

Mike Bennett heads the sales side which is responsible for all aspects of sales, including the various “goodies” which are being offered. Under his control is Chris Gilsenen who looks after the vehicle side of sales, after previously winning Ford’s scheme to find the most successful field sales rep., and Keith Verran who controls the parts programme.

The average age of the staff at AVO is somewhere around 25, and far from being a backwater this is even now being considered a breeding ground for the young men who are really going places in the Ford Motor Company.

Turning to the special build our editor was especially concerned as to the kind of work that could, theoretically, be carried out; for example, would they build up a Rover V8-engined Capri, or even a Ford V8-engined version of the same model? Could one order literally any sort of exotic Ford mix at present, or was the scope strictly limited to variations on the Escort theme?

In fact the answers to these questions all fall within the scope of company policy and despite the limited time in which the AVO premises have been occupied they are equipped with all the services and machining facilities needed to produce the Mexico and RS 1600 plus a warehouse full of what they call Plus Performance parts. In fact the latter bits and pieces have caused plenty of headaches after their evacuation from Ford Competition Department at Boreham. At present all the parts are being re-coded to fall in line with the parent company’s parts ordering system. Predictably, there is also a fair amount of sorting out to be done on which bits should now be considered obsolete. Even if they are to continue marketing the same product as Boreham had offered, in most cases it will have to be re-priced with a margin included to take in the Rallye Sport dealers. Previous Boreham marketing had been on a rather haphazard basis with dealer discounts all being negotiated individually. There is no blame or stigma attached to Boreham for this as their personnel were in the invidious position of having to produce top-line rally cars and try to sell enough parts to satisfy both homologation requirements and the company accountants. The establishment of AVO should offer the public a better availability of Ford performance parts and reduce prices: however, this is theory, we will wait until January before the complete catalogue of equipment is ready, together with any price changes. Even at present there has been some progress and a talk to one of the development engineers confirmed that quite a lot of work had already taken place to “productionise” popular items such as wheel arch extensions. It was interesting to find out, as an example of the potential market, that over 500 wheel-spat kits for Escorts have now been sold all over the World without any advertising or promotion, apart from competition.

AVO’s marketing and service manager, Chris Gilsenan, provided the answers to our enquiries, beginning with a brief résumé of what AVO are working on at present. He said, “We have two production cars at the moment, the Escort Mexico for the Clubman and the RS 1600, which we see as fulfilling an International need as a basis for a competition car. We are not making the Escort Twin-Cam, that is still being done at Hailwood, nor are we selling parts direct or manufacturing them. We have outside suppliers to make what we require with a Ford quality control engineer in attendance while they are being produced. We have taken a great deal of trouble to train our AVO dealers staff in the maintenance and sale of our goods, so that we at Aveley do not get involved in direct over-the-counter sales. If somebody comes in for a desperately needed competition component, we naturally do everything we can to help him, but as a matter of policy we do not sell direct, referring potential customers to the nearest dealer.”

We then went on to ask if they could build us a competition car for a certain event, and how long it would take, to which Gilsenan replied, “First I have to point out that our one-off service will not be operational to the public until May at the earliest. When it is in action we will recommend to our dealers that serious customers come up to our works and have a talk with one of our specialist development staff—and they, together with Henry Taylor, will be able to decide on, and price, a suitable specification for any given application. It could well be that the price does not suit the customer, but whatever we put our name to must be fully engineered.”

In fact the phrase “fully engineered” was constantly referred to in our discussions with AVO personnel and it is one of the prime reasons for the division’s formation, as Ford Motor Co. were not happy with some of the work being done by outside specialists. With this in mind we went on to enquire if there were any sort of guarantees with AVO parts and cars?

Gilsenan replied, “There is a 12-month, 12,000-mile warranty on both production cars and at present the Plus Performance parts carry a three-month guarantee… and that’s just the problem at present because when any of these parts are fitted to the car its warranty is automatically invalidated. We would like to rationalise the whole guarantee operation; in fact something along the American Company’s policy where either you have no warranty at all in the case of a race specification camshaft that is obviously going to place an extra load on the valve train, or a full warranty for something a little more innocuous.”

We asked if we were ever likely to see machines such as the V8 Capri in general or one-off production? Obviously Gilsenan was unable to answer this very fully and said, “I am sorry, you will have to accept a general answer to that question, because development into all sorts of Ford engine and body combinations is going on at present. For example, the Escort Mexico has all the basics needed to cope with 120 b.h.p.; you can’t say that for some of the outside jobs which were based on the Escort 1300 GT. We want to give some sort of warranty with the one-offs, but this will depend to a degree on how much the specials cost to make. We could produce special order cars right now by screwing on a lot of bolt-on goodies, but we opted out of this in favour of developing our own modifications.”

The Heavy Duty bodyshell, coded the Type 49, used for Escorts of the Twin-Cam, Mexico and RS 1600 genre, is different to a normal shell in having extra plates welded on to protect vulnerable points on the brake lines and bracing plates for the MacPherson struts. It also features an extra portion of double skinning at the front, and along the sills where the vehicle takes the brunt of torsional stress.

We had a brief look around the parts storage area before moving on to grill development engineer Richard Martin-Hurst. As Gilsenan had told us, a great deal of equipment had come straight from Boreham, so there were, inevitably, some parts which might well soon be priceless to owners of early Cortinas, and even Anglias with strange engines inserted. One corner of the room was completely dominated by racks of Cosworth-Ford 16-valve BDA engines, and this prompted me to ask the retail cost of one. “Just about the £500 mark”, said our guide, “so you can see we were bound to have a price differential between the BDA and Lotus-Twin-Cam-powered Escorts. However, we have sold enough RS 1600s to qualify as a homologated Group 2 saloon next season, but without a doubt the Mexico is going to be the big seller, judging by the enormous response we have had from dealers.”

Our talk with Martin-Hurst produced the information that they are currently working on engine development for the Kent series of push-rod in-line four-cylinder engines. These were recently persuaded to give extra production brake horsepower and now have flat faces, instead of the slight depressions in the head on the earlier units. For owners of the previous engines there are the Broadspeed kits, which have been tested by Motor Sport in an Escort GT and a Capri 1600 ditto. Selected blocks, having 85.7-mm. bores, for an 1,800-c.c. capacity are already available in very limited quantities, but they are hoping to produce more of these thick-walled cylinder blocks in the near future. For a roadgoing Escort this would be ideal in conjunction with a simple twin-choke carburetter, for one should obtain very torquey power throughout the r.p.m. range. Development work has also taken place on a comparison of merits between the Dellorto and Weber twin-choke sidedraught carburetters, but no firm conclusions have yet been reached.

One of the “standard” competition modifications for Escorts has been the adoption of a “turret kit” which allows the rear shock-absorbers to be vertically mounted. Further research at AVO has improved this kit by mounting the shock-absorbers between the wheel and siderail, thus giving a slightly outward inclination to the shock-absorbers, which apparently improves the kit’s already beneficial effects on traction under hard cornering and take-off conditions.

On the subject of the BDA engine we learned that a modified version has given 235 b.h.p. on the test bed, using fuel injection and steel crankshaft and connecting-rods. For road users we heard that an extra 10 b.h.p is available by merely changing the chokes and jets on the Weber 40DCOE carburetters.

After development work is complete on the Kent series it is likely that more work will take place on the 3-litre V6 Essex series (at present used in the Zodiac and Capri) to find reliable 165 b.h.p. There are a number of ways in which this could be achieved—turbocharging, single o.h.c. per bank, conventional tuning, supercharging—but again it was stressed that it will be some time before we see the results, as they are determined to make the Kent series as good as possible, this being the biggest production volume at present. Another possible for the future is the 2-litre o.h.c. Cortina engine, which Piper Camshafts have already carried out some research on.

In conclusion we see the Advanced Vehicle Operations as a very active ginger group for Ford, a ginger group that must be the admiration of every other major motor manufacturer in the world. But the most remarkable fact of all is that they are manufacturing a product to fill a particular hole in the market as well as one that carries tremendous prestige. Further, it is the aim of the far-sighted directors of Ford that they do so at a profit and repay the large investment that has been made at Aveley. It all proves that, while a competitions department may be a loss leader that the likes of Rootes and British Leyland say they can’t afford, the backwash from it in the form of high-performance vehicles can have many far-reaching advantages.—A. R. M. / J. W.