Quietly browse automotive history in Ford’s newly digitized archives

Ford is officially 119 years old, and to celebrate, the Blue Oval is launching an online archive so car enthusiasts can peruse its long and storied past.

The Ford Heritage Vault is a digital database that contains more than 5,000 photographs and product brochures of Ford and Lincoln vehicles, from the company’s founding in 1903 through its centenary in 2003.

The vault allows anyone to view and download the images for “personal use, free of charge,” says Ford. The automaker will update the archive with more auto ephemera over time, so the size of the vault will only grow.

“We are opening up in a way that we have never done before, Ted Ryan, Ford’s heritage brand and archives manager, said in a statement. “Our archives were created 70 years ago and, for the first time, we are opening the vault to the public. This is only a first step for everything that will come in the future.

It took the Ford Archives team two years to collect all the material. The archive was piloted with the help of Wayne State University employees, retirees and graduate students before being opened to the public.

There’s plenty of interesting stuff to peruse, including a brochure for the 1961 Ford Falcon, complete with cameos from Peanuts characters, including Snoopy and Charlie Brown. You’ll also find ads for a set of pre-Hot Wheels Ford toy cars and trucks that “look and perform like the real thing.” And my favorite, the 1985 Ford Aerostar concept van. (Please, Ford, electrify it immediately.)

The database is searchable, which means owners of Ford Mustangs, F-150s and Broncos can go back in time and find the earliest incarnations of their vehicles. Fans of missing nameplates, like Meteor, Fairlane, Galaxie, Model A and Edsel, will also find a treasure trove of material to sort through. Ford says a user found the Tempo models his mother and grandmother owned in the 1980s and 1990s.

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