The Ford Motor Company opened a commercial vehicle component factory at Langley Airfield in 1949 and in 1959 bought the entire ex-Hawker site. Both the Ford Transit van and the Ford Cargo lorry were designed and built there as well as their variants. Ford sold the factory to Iveco in 1986 but it closed in September 1997. Demolished a year later, the site was redeveloped for housing, Royal Mail’s International Mail Centre, warehousing and offices.
The first Ford Transit vans were built at Langley in 1965. The load area was designed to carry sheets of standard 8x4ft boards making it popular with builders. Villains loved it for its car-like performance; the 2·0 litre petrol engine version had a top speed of 90mph, faster than most popular cars of the time. According to the BBC TV programme Top Gear, British police said that in the 1970s, 95% of all robberies that involved vehicles, a Ford Transit would be one of them.
The Transit was becoming so successful that soon the factory couldn’t cope with demand so in 1972 production was moved to Southampton.
Several marks of the vehicle have been built and the adaptable design meant that the variations of specification in terms of engine, length, body, colour, trim etc gives the buyer a huge choice. A staggering 13 million combinations are available of the current model. By 2011 six million Transits had been produced worldwide.
Styled by Patrick Le Quément who was also responsible for the design of the Ford Sierra and later the Renault Twingo cars, the Ford Cargo went into production in 1981 at Langley. It was an adaptable design and the back could be fitted with a flat bed, drop side, tipper, a HIAB crane as well as solid and curtain side containers. Of course the goes on with the more specialist cherry picker, vehicle recovery etc.
In 1986 Ford sold its commercial vehicle division of Europe to Italian company Iveco and the model became known as the Iveco Ford Cargo. When it was updated in 1991 it became known as the Iveco Eurocargo. After the recession in the 1990s, Iveco rationalised its production operations and the Langley plant closed in October 1997 which brought Iveco/Ford truck production to an end in the UK. The Langley site is now a major hub for Royal Mail.
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