When you do a tour of the famous Ford Rouge Factory in Dearborn, Michigan you enter a Legacy Gallery at the welcome centre that contains some of the classic Ford cars of years gone by. The cars are beautifully restored and were once all produced at the very factory they are now displayed within.
These cars follow the early lineage of Ford motor history at the Rouge: The 1929 Model A, 1932 V8, 1949 Coupe, 1955 Thunderbird and the legendary 1965 Mustang. They make for an impressive display!
There is a quirky bit of trivia related to the Ford V8. Notorious 1930’s Depression era bank robbers John Dillinger (1903-1934) and Clyde Barrow (1909-1934) of Bonnie and Clyde fame loved the power of the vehicle. They even wrote to Henry Ford in 1934 to praise the V8, telling him how good a getaway car it was (a copy of the letters are displayed in the Legacy Gallery)!
Clyde Barrow wanted to tell Henry Ford what a “dandy” car he made and Dillinger suggested a new Ford slogan:
“Drive a Ford and watch the other cars fall behind you. I can make any car take in Fords dust!”
Dillinger started his letter with “Hello Old Pal” which really made me laugh! Despite being an incredibly busy man, the fact that he hung on to the letters must mean Henry Ford found them quite amusing too.
Today they produce Ford F150 pickup trucks rather than cars at the Rouge. The tour of the factory itself gives you a great view of the truck manufacturing process. You walk above various stages of the vehicle assembly process. It is fascinating watching them put each part of the F150 together and the place is massive (unfortunately you are not allowed to take photos on this part of the tour).
The original factory was established in 1917 but originally for building boats for the US Navy then they built tractors there (doesn’t sound very Ford like at all)! Cars were not first built there until 1927 when the Ford Model A started rolling of the production line. The Rouge was designed as an automotive “ore to assembly” factory implementing the idea of Henry Ford to achieve “a continuous, nonstop process from raw material to finished product, with no pause even for warehousing or storage.” It worked very well. In its heyday of the 1930’s there were 100,000 factory workers producing a new car every 49 seconds!
By the 1980’s the plant was in decline and by 1992 the only type of vehicle being produced there was the Ford Mustang which was about to go out of production! It looked like the historic plant would close for ever. This is when the “Save the Mustang” campaign was instigated to keep production going at the Rouge. Plans were put in place to improve quality and increase efficiency at the factory. Ford redesigned the Mustang and invested in modern equipment for the factory. By 1997 the Rouge was saved. Modernisation of the factory has continued (including green technology) and today 6,000 people work there producing the F150. A Ford icon was saved in the car and the Rouge.
A tour of the Rouge Factory can be arranged when you visit The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. You can only visit the factory by tour bus from the museum (stay tuned for more posts on the museum too).