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Ford Company History

Published: 24th Mar 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

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Drive down Arisdale Avenue in Aveley, Essex today, and all you’ll find is an empty factory. Once the Mecca for all Ford enthusiasts, from 1970 to 1975 it housedFord’s Advanced Vehicle Operation. The first Escort RS models – RS1600, RS2000 and Mexico – were all built at the famous AVO plant.

To keep his motorsport departments happy, Ford’s Walter Hayes needed somewhere to build special, limited-production, machines: Halewood complained that it caused too much time, and aggravation, to build Escort Twin-Cams. In 1969, Bob Howe discovered an empty section of the Aveley factory (complete with an existing paint shop – a vital advantage), re-building started before the end of 1969, and the total investment in tools, assembly lines and facilities was only £600,000. AVO’s objective was to ‘design, develop and build a range of low volume, unique derivatives, for sale by Ford Rallye Sport dealers throughout Europe….to support the Ford competition effort in Europe by providing vehicle derivatives in appropriate volume….’ That’s what the planning document said, anyway ….

Ray Horrocks became the first manager, while Dick Boxall moved down from Halewood to oversee the building of the 110,000sq.ft plant. It was Dick’s idea to use the ‘merry-go-round’ assembly line, where bodyshells were supported on adjustable slings.

Rolling roads were also installed. Then, because the famous Stuart Turner arrived as competitions manager, Henry Taylor moved to AVO, to look after high-performance engine work.

AVO only ever built Escorts; the official first car – an Escort RS1600 – was driven off the line by Graham Hill on 2nd November 1970.

Although Halewood built all the Twin-Cams, and the first RS1600s, AVO set out to build only RS1600s and lots of them. The problem was that RS1600s were expensive, so Ford couldn’t sell enough: other models were needed to keep the plant busy and profitable (sort of). Ford, thank heavens, then won the London-Mexico World Cup rally, invented the Escort Mexico – a classic knocked up in a couple of days and put it on sale in six months! To help sell these cars Ford chose specialist RS dealers from their massed ranks.

In 1971 and 1972, there were lots of new ideas, such as four-wheel drive Capris and Granadas and some turbocharged models but none made it to the showrooms. Most of AVO’s work was transplant-engineering (fitting different engines into different bodies), along with suspension development. This is why it was easy to develop the RS2000 – once the larger Pinto engine was squeezed into place, the rest followed. Extra models to supplant the Escorts never appeared. Capri RS2600s were built in Germany, the mid-engined GT70 was cancelled, and turbocharged 3-litre V6 engine work took ages. In the end, the only new product to make it to the showrooms, was the RS2000. Once the Energy Crisis struck, Ford decided to close AVO at the end of 1974.

It never made money, the bean counters say – so Ford never tried the idea again (SVE was entirely different). And that’s the real tragedy of it all for car lovers because even if you lusted after a Ferrari over Ford, the letters RS could change all that.

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