Over the last ten to fifteen years, almost every big manufacturer has realised that it’s good business to hold onto a few older cars. The classic car world, and the media that surrounds it, is vast and always in need of such cars. But more than that, by having examples of their past works nothing more than the turn of a key away, any given manufacturer can shout proudly about it’s lineage, and that’s good. History sells cars. People want to buy a proven product, or at least, they want a product that comes from a proven marque. Heritage fleets are a damn fine way of doing that.
As we said, many a manufacturer has one. However, it’s Ford that has been playing the heritage game for the longest, resulting in a heritage fleet that today runs to over one hundred cars. It’s a spectacular gathering of metal, whether you’re into cars or not. If you are, you’ll be positively giddy at the spectacle. If you’re a Ford fan, you’ll be downright euphoric. This isn’t a collection of Mondeos and Fiestas (though they can be found here). No, this is a collection of the exceptional Fords, or the last off the line models; the rare, the desired and the iconic. It is, frankly, marvellous.
The collection started with one car, a Ford V8 Pilot, but from there it soon grew. What you have today is a collection of cars from various sources that all hold an important place in Ford’s varied history. You have the cars from the early days like the Model Ts, the Pops and the Fordson vans. Then, you move through Ford’s chronology to the cars that further defined the brand. The Anglia 105e, in both saloon and van guise. The Mk1 Zephyr which also happens to be a historic rally car. The Mk2 Zodiac, the Mk1 Escorts in road and rally trim, including the famed FEV 1H competition car. There’s an Mk1 Escort Mexico, too. Completely untouched by modification, it’s as pure as it was when it was new. We’ve driven it, and can vouch for just how perfect it is.
Moving through the building, your eye is drawn to so much. The Mk1 Transit in full General Electric livery and, as with everything in this collection, in mint condition. The Mk2 and 3 Cortina, and the Mk5 Cortina – the very last one to roll off the production line. The Mk2 Capri 1.6 is another car we’ve driven, and it’s a thing of absolute beauty. Pristine, but functional. The Mk3 Capri is one we’ve driven to Switzerland and it is the celebrated 280 ‘Brooklands’ version. It’s also the last one off the line – an important car.
There’s a Sierra RS Cosworth, though curiously this one is fitted with a Safety Devices roll cage. Why? Because this is the original development car for the big-winged icon. There’s a left-hand drive Sapphire 4×4 RS Cosworth and then there are more Escort Cosworths than you can shake a winning lottery ticket at. The yellow car is an ex-Boreham development car, the blue one is a production run model, the Monte Carlo is number 0000 of the limited run, while the the works rally car started life as a ‘mum spec’ Escort, before Ford converted it to full Cosworth running gear for promotional purposes.
Following the performance theme, you have Supervan 3, which is also Supervan 2, as it one van that evolved from one to the other. Sadly the original V8 is gone, but it does have quad-cam Cosworth V6 power now, so all is not lost. There’s a Mk1 Focus RS, a Racing Puma, A Focus ST, a Mk2 Focus ST, it just goes on and on and on. It is, for lack of a better word, overwhelming.
But it’s not just the cars themselves that create spectacle and interest. There is so much other stuff here, you could open a museum. The models of the Mk2 Escort used in wind tunnel testing, the drawings from when designers penned the 100e, the marketing material, the YB Cosworth engine in a crate that has never been fitted to a car, it’s a staggering collection of Ford’s history.
Moving back to the cars, you have the truly exceptional, oddball, once in a lifetime stuff. The RS200s – in road and rally trim, of course. The GT70, the WRC Transit, the Mk1 Furguson 4×4 Capri, the Mk2 Zephyr Police Car, Supervan as we mentioned, the GT, the GT40s, it’s incredible.
The collection is maintained by Ivan Bartholumuz who has arguably the best job in the world, prepping the cars for use. And that’s important. This is a working fleet. Okay, so the truly special stuff, the GT40s, the Model Ts and the like are by strict appointment only, but for the best part this collection has to earn its keep. The cars are taxed, insured and MOTd and Ford encourages their use, be it for media outlets or an event – new model launches and the like. And that’s what makes this collection truly special. If these cars were all mothballed, it would be interesting, but ultimately it would be sad. Fords are cars that should be approachable, that should be seen and should be used, and that’s every bit the modus operandi of the heritage fleet.
For us, it’s always pleasing to see a manufacturer taking an active interest and pride in its heritage. After all, you can only know where you’re going as a business if you can look back on where you have come from, and Ford, so it seems, has an awful, awful lot to look back on.
Photography by Bruce Holder