The 475-acre complex on the Thames, which majors in diesel engine design and manufacture after car production stopped in February 2002, was inaugurated when company founder Henry Ford's son, Edsel, used a silver spade to dig into the marsh that the company had bought five years earlier for £167,700. About 22,000 concrete piles had to be sunk 80 feet into the ground to support the resulting factory.
Dagenham took 28 months to build, from Edsel Ford digging the first turf to its first vehicle, a Model AA truck, rolling off the production line in October 1931. Special trains moved 2,000 Ford employees and their families to their new Dagenham homes from Trafford Park, Manchester – the company's first UK plant.
Both the Model AA and another pre-Second World War star, the Model Y, are in Ford's Dagenham-based heritage collection. The Model Y was the lowest priced saloon ever made, with the Popular model introduced in 1935 being the first and only £100 car.
After the war Dagenham reverted to vehicle and engine production. The Consul and Zephyr ranges were shown at the 1950 motor show, leading to the expansion of the plant by 50 per cent to accommodate the resulting demand.
By 1966 the original riverside building was dedicated to engine manufacturing, covering a 1.1- to 2.4-litre range. Within 20 years Ford Dagenham had secured its position as the company's only dedicated diesel engine facility globally. A second engine plant was commissioned at the turn of the century and was opened by Tony Blair in 2003.
Today the site employs 4,000 people in engine, stamping and transport operations. Ford develops and assembles diesel engines fitted to 28 Ford, Jaguar, Land Rover and Peugeot-Citroën models. Four-cylinder 1.4-, 1.6-, 1.8-, 2.0-, 2.2- and 2.4-litre diesels are produced alongside 2.7- and 3.0-litre V6 units and a 3.6-litre V8.