Then and now: first Viva was made on 1 June, 1964; plant now makes Astra for Opel and Vauxhall

Then and now: first Viva was made on 1 June, 1964; plant now makes Astra for Opel and Vauxhall

General Motors' Vauxhall unit here in the UK has celebrated 50 years of production at its Ellesmere Port factory in Cheshire, near Liverpool.

The first car produced at Ellesmere Port on 1 June, 1964, was a Vauxhall Viva HA, a model line introduced a year earlier at the Luton plant where car production ended in March 2002.

Ellesmere Port went on to build two more generations of Viva and the Chevette, Vauxhall's version of GM's 'global' T-car project. The first Astra, Vauxhall’s first front-wheel drive car and the first model shared with Germany brand Opel, was built on 16 November 1981. The Astra is now Vauxhall’s best seller. Ellesmere Port is the only GM Europe plant building the estate (wagon) variants for both Vauxhall and Opel, along with five-door hatchbacks (also produced at Opel plants in Germany). Three-door hatchbacks are assembled in Poland.

Ellesmere Port was built on the site of the RAF Hooton airforce base with construction starting in 1962. It should have been called Vauxhall Hooton Park but this was changed shortly before production began as it was deemed to be too close, phonetically, to Luton which could have caused much confusion internally.

The factory came to west Cheshire as a result of a British government strategy to develop production plants with the 'Big Five' motor manufacturers in new industrial development areas across the country.

Vauxhall, Ford and Standard Triumph chose the Liverpool/Wirral/Merseyside region, Rootes Group and Leyland, Scotland. The Board of Trade offered financial inducements including 40% towards plant and machinery costs and 25% towards construction.

Along with the Vauxhall plant, only Jaguar Land Rover's nearby Halewood factory, built originally to make the Viva-rivalling Ford Anglia, survive. Others, long since closed, include the Standard/British Leyland plant at Speke (also near Liverpool), now part of an airport, and the Chrysler/Rootes Imp factory, and associated Pressed Steel body plant, at Linwood in Scotland, whose sites are now a retail park. The Leyland Trucks plant opened in 1961 at Bathgate closed in the 1980s.

Vauxhall noted that Ellesmere Port has weathered a number of motor industry storms over the years and was recently threatened with closure.

"The determination of the strong workforce working closely with the management team and [the Unite union] has ensured the plant’s survival into the next decade with the allocation of the next generation Astra," the automaker said in a statement.

"Production of the new model will start in the autumn of 2015 with Ellesmere Port being the lead plant of only two producing this important model across Europe."