In January 1970, the first vehicle left the assembly line at the Ford plant in Saarlouis. Since then, more than 15 million cars have rolled out of the German factory, including the Escort, Capri, Focus, C-Max and Kuga. Here, we celebrate 50 years of the plant with the help of some archive photos.
Work begins in 1966
The Saarlouis plant is situated on the site of the former Roderberg airfield in Germany, about 15 minutes from the border with France. The foundation stone was laid by Ford General Manager Robert G. Layton on 16 September 1966.
This photo from 1966 shows the Roderberg airfield before construction had started. Until then, the 1.4 million square-metre factory area was overgrown with meadows and trees.
30 years later…
Things looked a little different in 1996.
The first bodyshell
Although the Saarlouis plant didn’t officially open until 1970, the first Ford Escort body shell was completed on 20 October 1969. The plant also manufactured body parts for other European Ford plants, but also for Renault.
The first Ford Escort
The first Ford Escort rolled off the Saarlouis production line on 16 January 1970. The prime minister of Saarland, Franz-Josef Roder, had the honour of driving the car off the assembly line. The Escort was powered by a 1.1-litre engine producing a rather modest 40hp.
A beautiful Ford plant
Henry Ford II, the grandson of the company founder, is pictured signing the founding certificate at the official inauguration of the plant in June 1970. He described the Saarlouis factory as “one of the most beautiful Ford plants in the world”.
The car you always promised yourself
From 1971 to 1975, around 150,000 examples of the Ford Capri rolled out of the Saarlouis plant. The one millionth Capri, an RS2600, was completed on 29 August 1973.
The first Ford Fiesta
The first Ford Fiesta rolled off the Saarlouis production line on 11 May 1976. By 1980, more than 700,000 units of the popular small car had been produced at the German plant. Today, it’s the best-selling new car in Britain.
What a brilliant photo – new Fiestas as far as the eye can see. Of these, how many are still on the road? Yellow was far more popular in the 1970s than it is today.
Two million and counting
The two millionth vehicle to be built at the Saarlouis plant was completed in 1980. A good way to mark the 10th anniversary of the German factory.
Ford Escort Mk3
In 1981, the Ford Escort was named European Car of the Year. As well as Saarlouis, the Escort Mk3 was also built in Halewood, Spain and Brazil.
Five million cars
Saarlouis production hit five million in February 1990. The milestone car was a fourth-generation Ford Escort. We suspect the factory workers were delighted to be chosen to hold one of the seven figures.
Saarlouis in 1997
This photo of the sprawling Saarlouis plant was taken in 1997. Note the railway line, which is used to transport cars across Europe. If you look closely you might be able to spot a yellow Mk1 Fiesta. Probably.
The Ford Focus is another ‘son of Saarlouis’. Just a year after the start of production, the Focus was named 1999 European Car of the Year.
Ford Focus RS
The Ford Focus RS was built on its own assembly line at the Saarlouis plant. Production was limited to 4,501 units between October 2002 and November 2003. Nearly half were sold in the UK, making it the biggest market for the Focus RS.
Production of the Ford Focus C-Max began in November 2003. After the facelift of 2007, the Focus part of the name was dropped, with the MPV now known as the Ford C-Max. By 2019, some 1.2 million C-Max cars had been built in Saarlouis.
A Saarlouis wedding
Ford calls this a ‘wedding’. It sees the platform-sharing Focus and C-Max on the same production line, where the body and drive units are assembled.
10 million cars
Yet another milestone. In July 2005, Saarland’s prime minister, Peter Muller (left) and Ford’s Bernhard Mattes were on hand to celebrate the 10 millionth vehicle to be built in Saarlouis. Most of the people in this photo look delighted.
The first Ford Kuga rolled off the production line in 2008. Today, the Kuga is the most popular SUV in Germany.
We run green
From July 2008, vehicles at the Saarlouis plant were converted to liquified gas (LPG) for the first time, followed a year later by natural gas (CNG) technology.
Saarlouis at work
This photograph taken in 2010 shows a vehicle sidewall in production at the Saarlouis plant.
Ford Focus Electric
In June 2013, the first Ford Focus Electric rolled off the production line in Saarlouis. It was the first fully electric Ford in Europe and the first pure electric car to be produced in Germany.
C-Max returns to Saarlouis
Ford moved production of the C-Max to Valencia in 2010, but it returned to Saarlouis in 2014. Here we see the C-Max, Grand C-Max and lots of happy people.
15 million cars
Disappointingly, Ford didn’t re-use the figures from the five million milestone when celebrating the 15 millionth car. This photograph was taken in December 2019, just a month before the 50th anniversary of the Saarlouis plant. When the first Escort rolled off the production line in 1970, production capacity was 20 units a day. Today, that number has increased to 1,160.