The Marina plant in Cork marked its 50th anniversary in 1967 with a £2million revamp — and it was a golden era for motorists, as the iconic Cortina, Escort and Capri hit the ground running.
“For 50 years, the Ford company has been part of the industrial life of this city but of course, Ford’s links with Cork go back much further...”
So began a speech by Taoiseach Jack Lynch when he visited the Marina factory in his native city on October 11, 1967, to mark its golden anniversary.
Happily for the plant’s 1,000 workforce, the anniversary coincided with the announcement of a £2million investment in the site by Ford’s European management.
The money would be spent on re-building, re-equipping and modernising the plant, which, at 17,000 square feet, became the largest and most modern factory of its kind in Ireland.
This meant two separate final-assembly lines, one for heavy commercial vehicles and the second and major unit for passenger and light commercial vehicles, while £500,000 was invested in an ultra modern body-finishing department, with Europe’s largest ‘slipper-dip’ immersion under-coating tank before the final paint coat was applied.
Managing Director Tom Brennan believed the revamp was necessary in order to bring car production up to the very highest standards prevailing in Europe.
On his visit, the Taoiseach led a party of 350 guests and cut a tape to symbolise the opening of the modern plant, which was blessed by Bishop of Cork and Ross Con Lucey. Later, Mr Lynch toured the plant, which at the time was producing a range of 14 passenger vehicles.
Ford’s decision to invest in the Marina in 1967 did not anticipate significantly increased output, but focused on modernising and upgrading the existing plant.
The Cork Examiner, in its leader article, enthused: “Ford has identified itself with the hopes and ambitions for the future and by its profession of faith, is offering constant encouragement to other industrialists to do likewise.”
The 1960s was a prolific decade for new products, with the Cortina launched in 1962, the Escort in 1968, and the Capri in 1969. All would become industry leaders, adding style to Ford’s existing traits of reliability and affordability.
Dagenham continued to be an outlet for workers too, and remained a significant player in Cork’s economic landscape — between 1939 and 1969, an estimated £3 billion was sent home to Cork from Dagenham.
However, that Examiner leader article also made reference to an issue that refused to go away: Ireland’s hopes of joining the EEC. This would ultimately entail the ending of tariffs such as the one from which Ford in Cork had benefited since 1932.
The Government had appointed a Committee on Industrial Organisation to investigate the abolition of tariffs and in the early 1960s, it estimated that 2,500 people were directly employed in vehicle assembly in the Republic, while a further 650 were employed in supplying parts.
The committee concluded that the cessation of assembly would mean that the vast majority — around 2,600 — of these jobs were likely to disappear if the tariffs ended.
That dismal warning was put on ice in 1963, when Britain’s application to join the EEC was rejected, which meant Ireland would also have to wait a while longer since it wished to join up at the same time as the UK.
When Ireland finally joined the EEC a decade later, a deal was struck to retain the tariffs protecting the motor trade for a further 12 years.
However, even as long ago as the 1960s, it was clear the doomsday clock was already ticking on the Marina plant.