Inside Dagenham’s Ford Heritage Centre

Ivan Bartholomeusz and Colin Gray get under the bonnet

Ivan Bartholomeusz and Colin Gray get under the bonnet - Credit: Archant

Usually closed to the public, the Post was given a rare glimpse into Dagenham’s automobile achievements at the Ford Heritage Centre, home to priceless cars.

Ivan Bartholomeusz and Colin Gray get under the bonnet

Ivan Bartholomeusz and Colin Gray get under the bonnet - Credit: Archant

It may no longer be the car capital of the UK, but the vehicles that put Dagenham on the map can still be found in their spiritual home.

Tucked away in an aged corner of the 475-acre site quietly sits a treasure trove of motoring history.

Closed to the public, the Ford Heritage Centre is dedicated to preserving and maintaining a fleet of 120 classic vehicles.

From Model-Ts and GTs to Anglias, Cortinas and Sierras, it is a haven of nostalgia and a paradise for Ford enthusiasts.

A Ford Mustang

A Ford Mustang - Credit: Archant

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Mainly used by motoring journalists, the cars have featured in everything from Top Gear magazine and the German version of Auto Express to ITV’s coverage of the Goodwood festival, with the vast majority of the fleet fully taxed and road-legal.

The operation is headed up by fleet administrator Paul Harding, 51, who worked at the Paint, Trim and Assembly plant (PTA) from 1995 to 2001, putting steering shafts into about 13,000 Fiestas a month.

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Responsible for the later Mk IIIs and Mk IVs, he was one of the first people in the world to get behind the wheel of the latter, having test-driven it around the M25 and as far as Yarmouth.

“I am proud to think I’ve had a hand in building these cars – we were actually creating something,” he said.

A Quadricycle built by Dagenham apprentices in 1963

A Quadricycle built by Dagenham apprentices in 1963 - Credit: Archant

“It was really special to see it out on the roads and to see people enjoying themselves in something you’ve helped create.”

Among the priceless collection is a Model AA truck – the first model to roll off the Dagenham production line in 1931 – and a replica of the Quadricycle – the first vehicle developed by Henry Ford in 1896 – created by apprentices at Dagenham in 1963.

The last ever Cortina made, a silver Crusader which came off the Dagenham production line on July 22 1982, can also be found alongside the speedier Formula Ford car.

At the centre of the operation are former stamping plant tool-maker Ivan Bartholomeusz, 57, and ex-prototype engineer Colin Gray, 67 – both Ford men through and through.

Reporter Mark Shales in a truck

Reporter Mark Shales in a truck - Credit: Archant

“Some people say we should be looking forward but you only get to where you are by looking at where you’ve come from,” said Ivan.

“It’s really nice to get visitors down and hear their own relationships with the cars – ‘I learned to drive in one of those’ or ‘my uncle had that’.”

It’s not just the ordinary family cars on show of course.

One of the most eye-catching vehicles on display is the Escort Mk I Mexico RS which Hannu Mikkola stormed to victory in the 1970 London to Mexico rally.

“It’s really important to have this place because it shows the progress of the company and what’s been achieved,” added Colin.

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