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HomeNewsFord celebrates 100 years in South Africa – Amazing facts and photos

Ford celebrates 100 years in South Africa – Amazing facts and photos

Ford is celebrating its 100th birthday in South Africa, marking the historic milestone with a look back at the company’s many endeavours.

The Blue Oval first opened its doors on the tip of Africa in 1923, 20 years after Henry Ford first established the Ford Motor Company in the United States, and quickly went on to establish South Africa as one of its key markets and manufacturing centres.

“Ford has played an integral role in South Africa’s history since establishing its local operations in 1923, boasting a proud tradition of pioneering achievements and industry milestones over the past century,” it said.

A century of milestones

The iconic Ford Model T first went into production in America in 1908, and by 1913 Henry Ford had established the industry-pioneering factory production line that reduced the time it took to build a car from around 12 hours to just 90 minutes.

By the early 1920s, Ford’s Detroit factory was pumping out 9,000 vehicles a day, and so the company decided to broaden its operations in order to keep up with the growing global demand.

This meant the creation of Ford Canada, which supplied vehicles to British commonwealth nations, including South Africa. Not long after, the Model T became the country’s best-selling vehicle, which led to the decision to create an assembly line right here in South Africa.

In November 1923, the Ford Motor Company of South Africa was established, which initially operated as a subsidiary of Ford Canada. It was based in Port Elizabeth as part of a strategic decision to have access to the region’s sea, road, and rail networks.

The original plant, converted from an old wool store, was the automaker’s 16th factory outside the USA and the African continent’s first-ever assembly line, which began producing the Model T using kits imported from Canada.

Starting out with 21 office staff and 71 assembly workers, the factory created 1,446 units in its first year, which retailed from as little as £145 – an affordable price even by the standards of the time, according to the manufacturer.

By 1925, there were 18,118 licenced Ford vehicles on the road in South Africa, and by 1930, Ford had decided it needed to upgrade from its original factory leading to the establishment of a larger facility that spanned 7,000 square metres and cost the equivalent of R1.1 million at the time.

The American carmaker went on to become a founding member of the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of South Africa (Naamsa) in 1935, and proceeded to expand its facilities to 24,000 square metres by 1940.

During World War II, South Africa’s automakers shifted their efforts to help the Allied campaign, with Ford creating 36,339 vehicles specifically for the Union Defence Force (UDF), while also assisting with repairs for the South African Air Force.

After the war, the manufacturer created a new R2-million plant in Neave Industrial Township, where it employed 1,100 people and produced cars like the Anglia, Capri, Consul, Escort, Fairlane, Granada, Prefect, Zephyr, and Zodiac.

Moving on to the 1960s, Ford invested in a R4-million expansion project leading to the creation of a Parts and Accessories Warehouse in Struandale – an extension of Neave that would see the addition of an engine assembly line, and a new test track.

Struandale, which still exists today, was officially established as a dedicated engine manufacturing facility in 1963, originally producing the 3.0-litre Essex V6 engine that would feature in many of the company’s iconic racing models of the era.

The automaker continued to expand its efforts through the 60s and 70s, celebrating the creation of its 1-millionth vehicle in 1976 and crowning Port Elizabeth as the “Detroit of South Africa,” it said.

During the 1980s, Ford entered negotiations with Amcar and Anglo American, who took over sales and distribution while the carmaker relocated its production to Silverton, Pretoria.

The sanctions of the era meant exports dropped substantially, and so the company’s engineers instead focused their efforts on creating unique models for the local market such as the Cortina XR6, Sierra XR6, and Sierra XR8 – the latter of which was limited to 250 units and ran on a 5.0-litre V8 Mustang engine.

The Blue Oval achieved its 2-million car milestone in 1993, and in 1997 production started on the Ford Fiesta at Silverton. In more modern times, Ford has shifted its efforts towards the light-commercial sector, as the Ranger bakkie is now its main focus.

The Ranger’s powerplants are produced at Struandale and shipped to Silverton, where they are installed in the fifth-generation Ranger, as well as the second-generation VW Amarok.

Silverton currently represents a multi-billion rand investment from the American manufacturer and produces more than 200,000 vehicles per year.

Ford’s 100 Years in South Africa

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