When Ford announced it was no longer issuing brochures for new cars, I felt sad. Sure, there’s a strong argument that brochures are expensive and outmoded, but print brochures have some very real benefits. For starters, who wouldn’t want a small book about their car with cutaways, tracking shots, and beautiful typography? Print is tangible, artful, and most importantly, immortal. No, for real. As long as a copy exists, print media can be cloned and preserved indefinitely. While an automaker’s website may feature up-to-date information, that information is only there for a limited time.
What’s that? Something about archiving web pages? Well, archiving a page works great, but only until the elements on the page get yeeted off of cyberspace by a format phase-out. Toyota Canada once had a Flash microsite for the 2009 Matrix that used Godspeed by Anberlin as a backing track for some reason. It’s etched permanently into my memory, yet proving its existence is a bit like proving God’s existence. I’m not a time traveler so I can’t take you back to 2008, nor do I have good enough lawyers to comfortably send you to meet God. Print though? That can be archived because paper will never really go extinct.
Ford knows about the permanence of print. A small team at the Dearborn-based automaker has been archiving materials, scanning relentlessly, trying to build something bigger than print itself. Last month, Ford launched the Heritage Vault, a digital museum featuring artifacts from 1903 to Ford’s centennial in 2003. Some of these artifacts are common. Nobody is really hurting for information on the 1965 Mustang, or the 2005 Ford GT. Details on those cars are all on the web, a simple search query away. However, some of these artifacts are rare. Artifacts of the obscure, the forgotten, and the nostalgic. Things that quench your inner thirst for knowledge. Things that appeal to me and you, for you’re on this site and are probably very well-versed in interesting cars. Let’s skip over the Mustangs, the F-150s, the Thunderbirds. Let’s look at stuff lost to time, stuff not saved by the cold embrace of Elvis impersonators and creepy car show dolls. Let’s get weird.
Right now, 50 percent of you are wondering what sort of sicko opens up with press shots of a Ford Aspire, while the other 50 percent of you are cackling and spilling Bugle crumbs into your keyboards. If you’re part of that first half, allow me to explain the perverse joy that comes with viewing these photos. The Aspire was a punchline, a disposable shitbox for 17-year-olds to wrap around trees and 85-year-olds to play bumper hockey with outside of Golden Corral. Seeing any Aspire these days is an anomaly, a glitch in the matrix. You thought all of these were killed in Cash for Clunkers? Sike!
If seeing any Aspire is enough to do a double-take, seeing one this nice is cause for proper celebration. It may be aware that it’s a distillation of motoring, but I’m not sure if it’s considering how few fucks its owner will give about mechanical sympathy. Also, look at it, it’s dorky as hell! It’s like someone took a model of a Mazda Protégé, molded it in rubber at 75 percent scale, stuck a straw in it, and went pffffft. Now that’s what I call a greenhouse.
Believe it or not, the Aspire wasn’t a spiteful car on the inside. Sure, it may have been a bit dorky, but this dashboard design is actually pretty nice at this price point. From the driver-centric instrument binnacle to the nifty bank of central switches, you just get a sense that someone cared about every line in here. Hell, someone even managed to design a mid-90s airbag-equipped steering wheel that doesn’t look like shit. That highly-styled four-spoke design looks a good ten years newer than the brick you got in a Ford Crown Victoria. Also, what the hell is in the cup holders? I get that this was a car aimed at college students, but red Solo cups with nondescript tinted liquid are highly suspicious.
There are several words I could use to describe Ford’s American lineup in the 1980s. Most of them aren’t positive. Look, the Taurus was pretty good and the Mustang was stellar, but everything else just felt a bit mediocre. The LTD Crown Victoria appealed to the past, a body-on-frame behemoth as inefficient as it was vulgar. The Escort was a bit crap, sharing almost nothing with its European counterpart and being all the worse for it. Then there was the Tempo, once described by Beau Boeckmann as “The worst car I never sold.” Boeckmann then elaborated, “I could never bring myself to actually sell a person that car.” Ouch.
Across the pond, things were a bit different. Instead of the Taurus, a European family could buy a Ford Sierra. With rear-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive, a variety of four-cylinder and V6 engines, and the iconic Cosworth variant eventually available as a halo car, it was much cooler than the Taurus. We got it as the Merkur XR4Ti. However, if you wanted an ‘80s European Ford with a little bit more of everything, you simply had to go for the Scorpio. It was a bit like an LTD Crown Victoria in the sense that it was a range-topper, but it was completely different in every conceivable way. We’re talking about independent rear suspension, radical styling, liftback practicality, and notions of handling. To complement the XR4Ti, Americans got the Scorpio as a Merkur, and it sold about as poorly as you’d expect.
However, the Merkur Scorpio will stay preserved in amber due to the existence of print materials and the diligent work of Ford’s archivists. Look at the brand new interior in this brochure, all the nice satin-finish pieces of switchgear and those fabulous reclining rear seats. Bask in the presence of truly accurate specifications from curb weight to shoulder room to gear ratios. This scanned brochure is such a wonderful resource for anyone who’s owned or fancied one of these rare German Fords, anyone who’s ever wanted to see what one looked like when brand new. Fabulous.
Ford SVT Contour
Aw hell yeah, it’s SVT Contour time. Sure, initial quality of the Contour wasn’t great and even these later models have a reputation for rot, but I’ll be damned if the SVT Contour wasn’t neat. A massive step up from the Tempo, the Contour was a midsize sedan that didn’t really suit the American market. I mean come on, we’re talking about a car significantly smaller than a Taurus, yet priced to compete in the midsize marketplace. However, what the Contour lacked in footprint, it gained in driving pleasure.
While the Taurus was cushy like an air mattress filled with marshmallow cream, the Contour was a bit sharper, a bit more nimble, a bit more focused on the driver. Well, Ford’s Special Vehicles Team took that inherent goodness and ran with it to create the SVT Contour. Honestly, 195 horsepower wasn’t bad for 1998, especially when it arrived at a screaming 6,625 rpm. Top speed was an admirable 143 mph, and while a quoted 7.9-second 0-60 mph time wasn’t any better than a VR6-powered Volkswagen Jetta could do, the SVT Contour’s short gearing required two shifts to hit 60. Yeah, that’s zesty. More importantly, the handling matched the forward progress, clocking a quoted 0.89g on the skidpad. Nice.
Oh, did I mention that the SVT Contour also looked awesome? I mean come on, it’s hard not to with a massive skirt package reminiscent of British touring cars and a set of proper lightweight five-spoke alloy wheels. Honestly, it’s joyous to see an SVT Contour in new condition. These were cars owned by interesting people, and they’ve almost vanished into oblivion. As I comb through the brochure, I can’t help but notice the massive array of specs, the period-correct review quotes, the shots of mechanical components. All things mostly absent from modern performance car brochures. Honestly, it makes me a bit sad. Automakers used to recognize that we really give a shit about driving, and that performance numbers are only one side of the coin.
Honestly, you could get lost in the Ford Heritage Vault for hours. Best of all, Ford’s continuing to expand it. Since launch last month, more brochures and press pictures have been added to the vault. Brochures for British Fords and Canadian-market cars, weird press pictures like this 1996 Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor parked next to Adam West’s Batmobile. Artifacts for cars made after 2003 and before 1903. Best of all, it’s completely free to access. Honestly, I wish more manufacturers launch initiatives like this. History is too valuable to be kept secluded.