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The Silverton automotive manufacturing plant, which is now owned and operated by the Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa, has a long and chequered history as a factory that has produced an extensive variety of nameplates and models over the years.

Built originally by Chrysler South Africa the plant, known then as Chrysler Park, began vehicle production in 1968, so is now 51 years old. This was also the year I joined the public relations department of Chrysler SA at the new Silverton plant, with part of the parts warehouse being used as temporary accommodation for the administrative staff.

Chrysler SA previously operated a plant in Elsies River, near Cape Town, but the demand for increased local content (66% by weight from 1971) prompted to a move to 147-hectare greenfield site in Silverton, east of Pretoria. At that time there were already two plants near Pretoria – Datsun-Nissan and BMW – as well as a number of component manufacturers.

The new plant would also be nearer major markets, so it made sense to move from Cape Town where there was limited automotive manufacturing. The first Valiant came off the line in Silverton in October 1968 and it was the 53 160th Valiant made in South Africa.

Chrysler’s Valiant was the top-selling car in South Africa from 1966 to 1968, outselling Volkswagen’s 1500 Beetle as well as all other model ranges in the country. When Valiant sold 11 862 units in 1966 it had been the first time in 20 years that an American car was the best seller in SA. Valiant was again the most popular car in the country in 1967 and in 1968 sales hit an all-time high of 15 026 units – 1 436 units more than the next best, the VW Beetle 1500.

Once production started in Silverton the models were give unique South African nomenclature. The Valiant 100 became the Rebel, the Signet was changed to Regal and the Dodge Dart was introduced and named the Valiant VIP with an uprated, version of the locally made slant 6 engine (claimed 170 hp instead of the usual 145hp). A station wagon, the Safari, was also added to the range.

Later, with the take-over of the British Rootes Group by Chrysler Corporation a number of these British models – badged first Hillman and later Chrysler – Arrow and Vogue sedans and a Safari station wagon. Its successor was the Dodge Avenger, which was not a great success and superseded by the Dodge Colt sedans and coupé, before Chrysler withdrew from South Africa in 1976.

The plant was operated subsequently by Sigma Motor Corporation from 1976, then by Amcar Motor Holdings (an Anglo-American company) and Samcor (a joint venture between Ford and Anglo American set up in 1985) before the Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa took up all the shares in the company in 1994.

The Silverton plant has since been transformed to assemble a single, high volume vehicle platform (Ford Ranger and Everest) with an annual capacity of 168 000 units.

Among the vehicles made in this plant over the years were:

Chrysler: Valiant Sedan, station wagon, Charger coupé and Rustler pick-up; Chrysler 383 sedan, Dodge D100, D200 and D300 trucks.

Rootes Group: Hillman Arrow and Vogue sedans, Vogue station wagon and Husky pick-up, Avenger sedan.

Mitsubishi: Colt AY and YB sedans and coupés (sold as Dodge Colts), Colt Galant sedan, Tredia, Pajero, Canter truck (with ADE engine), FK (5-ton) and FM (8-ton) trucks.

Peugeot: 504, 305, 505.

Mazda: 323 (rear-wheel drive, then FWD Y1, P3, Ps-88E models), Astina, Etude, Mazda3, 626 (Y2, Y2-89 and Y4 models), B-Series pick-up, E-Series (Bongo) MPV, Marathon people-carrier, T2000 and T3000 trucks, Rustler pick-up, BT-50 pick-up.

Ford: Sierra, Sapphire, Laser, Meteor, Fiesta, Focus, Mondeo Ikon, Telstar, Bantam, Courier (some unique 4-litre models were exported to Australia), Spectron people carrier, Triton trucks, Ranger MY 2000-2011, MY 2012-2015, MY 2015-on, Everest MY 2016-on.

Ford tractors: 10 Series with 3-, 4- and 6-cylinder engines.

Volvo: S40 and V50.

Land Rover: Freelander and Defender 110.

By Roger Houghton