Thursday 25 October 2012

Road - Bad News Day

The start of it all
Ford pulling out of the WRC and now pulling out of Southampton, a bad day just got worse.

Ford is an integral part of British DNA. They may not have had a high profile involvement in British rallying of late concentrating their domestic efforts on the Fiesta ST series, but folk still hark back to the halcyon days of Twin Cams, BDAs, Webers, rear wheel drive and sideways to victory. It’s a heritage borne out of fond memories and charismatic drivers.

The Cosworth and 4WD era failed to capture the original romance of the RWD display, but there was no doubting the impact the blue oval made on our sport.

Therefore the news that Ford has plans to close it’s Southampton plant will come as another hammer blow, not only to those who work there, but to those who regard the Transit as an intrinsic part of Britishness.

Ford might be American in origin, but it has been such a staple and integral part of so many lives, it just seems to be so quintessentially British.

A proper Transit
But we live in fast changing times. The Ford hierarchy no longer consider themselves to be an American company, they see themselves as ‘global players’. That’s the nature of the whole automotive industry these days. As the world has shrunk, individuality has been lost in the pursuit of cutting costs and being competitive.

Semantics aside, Ford was caught between the unforgiving nature of concrete and steel. The present Southampton facility has been building Fords since the 30s and Transit since 1965, but the roof is so low on this factory, which was converted to Spitfire production during the Second World War, that they can’t build high-roof Transits there. Only the standard models can pass under the girders.

Inside the building, production has been transformed over the years, but would require huge investment to raise the roof or rebuild.

There is another problem, the present site is too constricted by the M27 and the A335 at Southampton to allow it to expand, so the company is rather stuck. Hence Ford’s dilemma.

Way back in the good old days, I was a roadie for a local pop group, a bunch of mates with guitars, amps and a drum kit. The only reason I was the roadie was that I was the only one who had transport – a Bedford CA van.

Lottery winner's first choice? - New hoose and new wheels!
We thought we were quite cool until one night playing a support act to the main event at the Sir John Wilson Town Hall in Airdrie, we saw the headline act appear, it was the Chris McClure Section – and they arrived in a long wheelbase, high-roof, black Ford Transit.

At that instant, the Transit ceased being an LCV – it instantly became the aspirational mode of transport. After that, the Transit was never ‘just  a van’.

For sure the Transit name will carry on, and there is indeed another brand new van just around the corner, but if Southampton closes, another little bit of British history will be lost.

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