Productive workers at Ford's doomed Dagenham car assembly plant in England have helped to bring forward the plant's demise to about two weeks' time, rather than the end of the first quarter of this year, the Guardian newspaper said.

About 1,250 workers will be sacked as the last old-model Ford Fiesta leaves the Essex plant east of London, although the majority of staff are taking early retirement packages worth up to £50,000 each, the newspaper added.

Jeff Body, operations manager for Ford at Dagenham, told the Guardian the date had been brought forward for a second time. "In January 2000 we were building 400 cars a day, but now we are up to 425-430. Production and quality have never been better. It is a credit to the workforce, and I now expect the end day to be February 21."

Global overcapacity encouraged Ford in 2000 to decide to end car production at Dagenham as part of European restructuring, the Guardian said, adding that Ford committed to spending £430m expanding the engine-building site in Dagenham to become its primary centre for diesel output.

The newspaper said that Ford aims to produce up to one million diesel engines a year there, up from today's levels of 650,000. There will still be 5,000 Ford staff at the plant, which will thereby retain its position as the biggest industrial plant in the greater London area, the Guardian added.

The newspaper said that vehicle panels, sub-assembly and wheels for Ford plants throughout Europe will still be produced at Dagenham which began making cars in 1931 and was once home to such famous UK-designed models as the Prefect, Anglia, Consul and Zephyr.

Ford is also to spend £10m with local development agencies and universities to build a centre for manufacturing and engineering excellence, the Guardian said.

The last Fiesta will also be the last Ford car produced in the UK. Escort production ceased at Halewood on Merseyside in 2000, making way for Ford subsidiary Jaguar to move in and gear up for its new X-type. Ford still makes Transit vans at a plant in Southampton and engines in Wales but imports all its cars, including the upcoming new Fiesta, from Europe with the exception of the US-sourced Maverick (Escape) SUV.