What’s Next for the Ford Heritage Vault, a Public Window to Blue Oval History


The Ford Heritage Vault, launched in 2022, is a digital resource where Ford enthusiasts can find thousands of brochures and official photos from the Blue Oval, Mercury, Lincoln, and even more obscure marques like Edsel and Merkur. Best of all, the materials are open to editorial and educational use, so individuals, model-focused clubs, and journalists can better inform people about the automaker’s history with primary source material. While other automakers maintain archives of historic items, only Ford makes them so readily available to the public.

When the Heritage Vault started there were around 5000 materials in the online collection, whose origins ranged from 1903 to 2003. Just two years later, that figure has increased to over 16,000 resources and counting. The original focus was on materials from the United States, but the collection has since broadened its scope. Today, you can also find information about Ford’s European, Australian, and South African models on the site.

Cameron Neveu

We spoke with Ted Ryan, Ford’s Archives and Heritage Brand Manager and leader of the Heritage Vault, to discuss the project’s future. Ryan has assisted Hagerty with several projects, including our visit to Ford’s private, physical archives for a deep dive into Bronco history.

“It’s been a success, even more so than we ever would’ve anticipated,” he said.

Ford Heritage Site Results For Cobra

Since launching, the site has tallied over 20 million searches and nearly 10 million downloads. “To have that many downloads means that people are coming in, and they’re finding what they want,” Ryan said. “We’ve tried to make it so that a fan of Ford Motor Company, whether they’re media, enthusiasts, [or] a kid writing a paper can find what they’re looking for.”

The next step will be uploading some history even non-Ford fans might find interesting—a general-interest magazine. The automaker published its Ford Times magazine from 1908 through 1917 and then again from 1943 to 1993. In early April 2024, the Heritage Vault will add 320 issues from 1964 through 1982. Ryan said there are plans to add more later.

“Each magazine has sections on outdoor travel, lifestyle, and restaurants that usually would feature recipes,” Ryan said. Usually, there would only be one story a month about Ford vehicles, and the rest would focus on contemporary Americana. These resources could be fascinating for anyone interested in the history of travel across the country.

Ryan and his team of archivists have an eye toward the future, too. Eventually, they’d like to add a curated collection of press releases focusing on important vehicle introductions in the company’s history. The earliest ones the group has access to date back to the 1920s.

Ford Motor Co Archives
Courtesy Ted Ryan

With 16,000 cubic feet of paper-based materials and 3 million photo negatives at their fingertips, archivists must prioritize what they add to the online Heritage Vault. “Curatorially, we look at it through the eyes of ‘will a student want it?’” Ryan said. “Will a journalist want it? Will an enthusiast want it? And then, if it’s rights-free, then we work to make it available.

Ryan also wants to expand the Ford Heritage Vault beyond photographs, magazines, and brochures. The next step is to move into video. That development is still a year or more away, but it’s part of the plan. “We could do cutdowns of B-roll type material,” Ryan said.

The biggest challenge is to add more motorsport media to the archive. Copyright issues are the major hurdle for including this content because clearance is required for every sponsor decal on a vehicle. Plus, if there are other race cars in the image, permissions are also necessary for them. A solution is on the horizon, though.

“Motorsports is still going be rights-entangled,” Ryan said. “We have discussed different strategies and quite frankly, we think we’ve got a way that’s going to work, but we’re going to make it a 2025 initiative, and we’re going to experiment to see how we can do it.”

If you’re a Ford enthusiast, the Heritage Vault site should be your first stop for fascinating vehicle history and rich research. Between the thousands of images and brochures, plus videos on the horizon, and the Ford Times magazine for a taste of the times, there’s plenty for Blue Oval fans to explore. We wish every automaker had Ford’s commitment to both historical preservation, education, and public access.


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    This is similar to the GM heritage Collection offerings.

    It is a shame that the Cougar shown here is often sitting in a bubble in a old warehouse in Detroit. I wish that collection could find a good public home.

    There needs to be a large auto museum for all the MFGs in Detroit.

    Similar and yet completely different in that you, I, and any other member of the public can’t easily peruse (and use) GM’s archival material from the comfort of their own home.

    I would argue that Cougar already has a good public home in the DHS and like many other cars at other institutions, is rotated in and out of display.

    As a personal friend of the Detroit Historical Society’s automotive curator, I can assure you that Cougar II along with the rest of the collection is very well and lovingly cared for. The collection is open to the public from time to time for specific reasons. But, given the security measures needed to preserve the location, it is infeasible to have the collection open to the public regularly. Feel free to reach out to DHS to see when/where parts of the collection may be on display.

    Maybe, a trip to the Ford Heritage center is in order. I have looked everywhere for a copy of an article written for the Ford Times magazine in the late 50’s or early 60’s. My Aunt had a stroke and was confined to a wheelchair. She owned a cat who weighed about 30+ pounds and he would sit on her lap all day. Tom-Tom lived over 30 years and when he walked, his belly dragged on the floor. Ford Times sent a reporter and a photographer to record Tom-Tom’s 15 minutes of fame.

    I have visited the site. Seems many people were also as it was nearly always slow when I tried to use it. Still a good resource for pictures.

    Love the work they’ve done already and I’m encouraged to see they’re expanding further. It’d be nice if they also included some dealer-facing materials, like order guides, color/ trim charts, or even product backgrounder/ training guides as they offer additional information and context the sales brochures alone don’t necessarily provide.

    Needs more menu items for the less computer oriented friends of mine. They don’t know what or how to ask.

    The only disappointing thing is seeing cars like the lead photo never made it to production. These materials that Ford has made available are a boon to enthusiasts, collectors, and owners. Even owners of modern vehicles might appreciate the heritage from whence their vehicle was derived.

    I’ve really appreciated what Ted and his team have done so far with the Heritage Vault. It’s so handy for historians and researchers like myself to have so much of that documentation right at “our fingertips” for easy access. That’s great news to hear that Ford Times is coming online as well. I remember my grandparents getting that magazine when I was a kid (both sets of grandparents were faithful Ford owners) and I’ve compiled many articles from the magazines for my collection in recent years. Electronic access will just make that easier!

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