It might not sound as thrilling as tearing around a circuit in a brand new sports car, but there really are few things more enthralling in a motoring journo’s life than visiting a car factory.

The cutting-edge technology, the sophisticated processes, the thoroughness and coordination of the work, and the sheer attention-to-detail involved with screwing cars together will simply blow your mind.

Ford’s Dagenham diesel centre, which knocks out close to a million engines a year for the Blue Oval’s many and various models, is just such a place. Ford of Britain opened up this engine factory to a few of us yesterday, in advance of the London motor show next week, where it will be ramming home its improving environmental credentials.

We got an hour-long tour of the Tiger engine production line, on which it produces 1.4 and 1.6-litre diesel engines for the likes of the Ford Fiesta, Mazda 3 and Volvo C30. And it produces them all without consuming so much as a volt of national grid power, thanks to the two massive wind turbines you’ll see if you happen to drive past on the A13.

Five hundred workers, and almost as many robots, beaver away on this snaking production line. The metal castings for each of them are machined on site and come in at one end of the building, along with all the ancillaries and electronic gubbins; two hours later, at the other end of the building, completely finished and tested 1.4- and 1.6-litre TDCi motors roll out. And here’s the staggering bit: at full tilt, Ford can deliver one finished engine every 27 seconds, whether it’s a 1.4 or a 1.6. I’d struggle to make a decent cheese sandwich in that sort of time.

Further down the factory is the line for what Ford calls its Lion family of engines (the 2.7 V6 and 3.6 V8 diesels for Land Rover and Jaguar). If you’re wondering, it takes slightly longer to make one of those (they can only manage one every two minutes, according to line manager Craig Caves).

One thing’s for certain: I’ll never lift the bonnet of a diesel-powered Ford, Volvo or Land Rover and feel quite the same way about what I find under it. I used to think Ford engines were ordinary. Trust me, they’re anything but.