In January 1970, Ford publicly announced its new facility to build performance versions of its production cars. This new facility was called ‘Advanced Vehicle Operations’ (AVO for short) and it was located at Arisdale Avenue, South Ockendon, Aveley, Essex, England.
Following the launch of the Escort Twin Cam in 1967, it became clear that a specialist department was needed to cater for Ford’s new breed of low volume, high performance cars. The Escort Twin Cam was being built inside the mainstream factory at Halewood, causing considerable disruption given the relatively low number of units produced compared to the standard saloons. By November 1969 approval for the new facility had been given by the Ford Management and Advanced Vehicle Operations was set up to design, develop and build specialist cars. These cars would be sold through Ford Rallye Sport dealers in the UK and throughout Europe.
The idea was simple… Escort two-door bodyshells, already painted, trimmed and built to strengthened Type 49 specification, were shipped in directly from Halewood. Once at AVO, they were placed on an overhead carousel which ran around the factory. As the cars moved around, the engine, transmission and suspension were fitted from below. When the completed car was removed at the end of the line, a new body was loaded onto the carousel and the process started again.
Production initially centred entirely around Ford Escort models and the first car, an Escort RS1600, was driven off the line by F1 champion Graham Hill on 2nd November 1970. This was soon followed by the Escort Mexico and later in 1973, by the Escort RS2000. AVO also worked on a number of interesting prototypes, including the Frua-bodied Mexico, Escort Mexico Estate, four-wheel-drive Capri and 3-litre V6 Turbo versions of the Granada and Cortina.
Advanced Vehicle Operations ran successfully for nearly four years, but in October 1973 came the energy crisis. Fuel prices soared and, like other manufacturers, Ford’s car sales dropped off. Once this happened, the mainstream Escort factories found themselves with spare capacity and the writing was on the wall for AVO. By early 1975, the AVO factory had sadly closed its doors for the last time.