Sometime in mid-may Ford France organized a road-trip to England to visit both the Ford Heritage Center in Dagenham and the Ford Dunton test track. But what exactly is the Ford Heritage Center? It’s a very special place in Ford’s huge Dagenham factory, east of London (where most of Ford’s Diesel engines are built) that stores a lot of historic vehicles from the brand. Its role is to keep Ford’s legacy safe and sound. Indeed, the actual Ford Performance fleet of cars didn’t come out of nowhere: it’s the result of the past.
We left Paris around 8AM with a group of cars varying in range: Kuga, Edge, Mustang, Focus RS, Fiesta ST… An heterogeneous group of cars! I took the wheel of the Ford Kuga for the first leg of the drive (and it felt much easier to drive than the Mondeo SW, especially to manoeuver). We then reached our fist “stop” near the sea, not too far from Calais. Just a moment to chillax a bit. And then off we went to the Eurotunnel. After what felt like a really short trip, we were on our way to Dagenham.
When we arrived, the factory seemed really well protected, almost like a military base. I was surprised by the amount of cars that went in and out, it was a constant ballet. We then had a security team to escort us in, and this is when I had confirmation that the factory REALLY was big: they even had a built-in railway system, roads and stuff… almost like a little town. Compared to the factory, the Ford Heritage center was minuscule. It really felt like a private person’s barn, where all treasures and things of value to the heart are kept. Just like the cars in here.
Most of them are important cars from the brand’s history, that shaped it to what it is today, from the Ford T to the Capri, the Puma, the Mustang, the RS200… they were all there. And interestingly enough to be noted, most of the cars there were either first chassis or last chassis. That alone means those cars are worth quite a bit more, but not only in terms of monetary value, but as well as a sentimental value.
We were pretty much free to wander around the Ford Heritage Center, do what we want, film what we want and take pictures of what we wanted. We were even authorized to take the covers protecting the cars off, provided we put them back on again (which sounds pretty logical). There were 2 or 3 guys that worked there, who were free to give us some sort of private tours of the cars, give us all sorts of information, anecdotes about whatever car we wanted to hear about.
For example, I took quite some time with the Ford T, learning about the car. How it works, how it drives, where everything is. I learned quite a bit about the car, and to be honest, it all felt pretty interesting to me. I’m not usually a big fan of older cars, especially if they’re pre-WW2. But I have to admit that the way the “guide / expert” told me all about it, made me feel connected to it somehow. It was all a bunch of interesting anecdotes and stories. I couldn’t help but be interested. Really felt privileged to be there. But I spent a lot of time with other cars such as the Ford GT70, the PUMA … and the Supervan 3, which was really really loud (I was even allowed to sit in it – the driving position is completely crooked).
On the next day, after having spent a lovely evening and a much-needed night sleep, we headed to the Ford Dunton test track, west of London. Just like Dagenham, it was a huge factory / complex. But it felt somehow less industrial, and more technologic, I guess? Either way, Dunton had a built-in test “track” INSIDE the compound, with a a bunch of curved parts. Needless to say, it’s pretty big place, but it’s also a pretty interesting place! It was funny to see some of the employees showing up from time to time and taking a few pictures here and there. But we had all the cars to ourselves.
There were two groups. First group would stay on the test track, and be able to experience the RS200 and Ford GT40 as passengers. We also had the opportunity and possibility to drive the Ford Sierra RS Cosworth on the test track, as well as a Ford Escort rally… Needless to say, that was a massive privilege for all of us. Even though I didn’t feel like driving those cars myself on the track (didn’t feel comfortable with RHD + manual gearbox + track), just being *offered* this opportunity felt pretty good. Being part of it as well. We were free to roam around the cars, take photos and and videos. The only thing is a team of journalists were working on a subject on the Ford Escort, so they pretty much had it exclusively. I didn’t mind, hell, I even ended up having a ride in it in the end, so no worries!
The other group could drive some of the cars we had visited the day before at the Ford Heritage Center. Including the Capri, the Focus RS, the PUMA, the Fiesta RX2… it was pretty cool. Even if I didn’t feel 100% comfortable with it, I tried my luck. I took the most modern of the bunch, the first generation Focus RS.
It was pretty good, even though I felt very weird – driving on the other side of the car is somehow un-natural for me. I felt like I was unintentionally swerving left, trying to find my position on the road. Driving on the left side of the road with a bunch of english folks was another complication, again haha. Having the manual gearbox on the left hand was fairly confusing too: you don’t have the same reflexes and automatisms for that arm, even if you know how it works. But I ended up not doing too bad. At least I can say “I did it”, and that was a first experience for me. Even though there were maybe too many “new aspects” for a first haha. That would be the one and only car I would drive that day. I thought it was best to stop it there, not that I didn’t think I could, but I just didn’t feel experienced enough for that kind of task, especially with cars that weren’t mine. Even worse, they belonged to Ford Heritage Center, and if you remember correctly, they’re all either 1st or last chassis… meaning: irreplaceable.
The day kept going pretty well. They even brought a food truck to us, and we had the most amazing burger. In front of cars. We even had a bit of time left to organize some sort of family photoshoot, with all cars. Ranging from the oldest (Ford GT40) to the newest (which was the matte black Ford Focus RS500).
This UK trip really was something special I won’t be forgetting anytime soon. A bunch of “first times” for me. Furthermore, I really did learn a LOT about Ford’s heritage. That might seem like I’m quoting their media team, but let’s be honest: I sincerely didn’t know much about the brand appart from the Mustangs and the GT40. I’m more focused on modern cars anyways. Hence, having a glimpse of the past, surrounded by people that could explain in detail what it was all about, was fairly refreshing. I was next to Ford icons. And it felt really nice being a part of it and leaving more knowledgeable than when I first arrived! So thanks Ford France 🙂