MM: How did you end up dealing with Ford to obtain the production database?
Marti: In the '80s, I sent a letter to Ford Customer Service asking about my car's serial number, but all they did was decode the dataplate. Then I heard someone else had gotten information about options. So I thought, They must have the data. Having already established relationships at Ford, I began searching for the right department. By then I knew the infrastructure well enough to understand the responsibilities of each department, so I figured out the right guys to talk to and asked, "Would it be possible to do this?"
The different departments had to sign off, such as accounting, marketing, legal, and data processing. They all treated me with suspicion. Why would anyone want this? Each had a different angle. For example, starting in 1969 they preserved the pricing information. So the accounting department said, "You could write a program to figure out how much money we collected on every car and add it all together." Well, yes, I guess I could, but the information is 30 years old. Would it help Ford's competitors? These were the kind of arguments we were running into. That's one of the reasons I can't have anything newer than 10 years.
Each department eventually signed off except legal. They were the most skittish about it. Amazingly, there was one guy there who had heard a lot of the bellyaching about Ford's licensing program when it started in 1993. There was one thing I had done different from everybody else. In my advertising, I put "Proud to display this symbol" below the Ford Licensing logo. Unbeknownst to me at the time, that guy appreciated the fact that we did that and also that we never gave him any problems. He turned out to be the lawyer in the right place at the right time for us. He said, "I know this company, and these guys have always been supportive of us." So he convinced the legal department to sign off. That was the last hurdle. From there it was, "Fly yourself here and we'll do the data transfer."
MM: Were you telling them that you wanted the data as a service to owners?
Marti: There was actually a two-fold reason. There was the business standpoint of selling the data. But because we were working on the Mustang Museum at the time, I thought it would be cool if visitors could enter a VIN on a console and it would pop up a picture of the car. Let's say it was a '67. It would show a picture of a '67, then paint the car the right color, put the right hubcaps on, add foglights if it were a GT, and so on. Basically, it would be a picture of the car as it looked new. Unfortunately, the museum never went anywhere.
MM: What year did you get the approval?
Marti: Around 1997, and I got the data around 1998. The first reports came out in 1998 or 1999.
MM: What was it like obtaining the data?
Marti: I went to Dearborn. The guy I interfaced with downloaded it from a mainframe onto the PC on his desk. I went out and bought a Zip drive. We'd plug in the Zip drive, upload 100 megabytes worth of data, unplug it, plug it into my laptop, and transfer that 100 megs. Then we'd go back and take another 100 megs. It was a slow process back then, back and forth between machines. We spent two days transferring the '67-'73 data.
MM: Did you know the information only went back to 1967?
Marti: Not at the time. There was a specific reason why they had 1967 and later, and we can thank Ralph Nader. As he was fighting the auto industry, the Federal Motor Vehicle Act of 1966 specified that car companies had to start keeping records for '67-and-later vehicles for recall purposes. Prior to that, they were allowed to throw the information away. In fact, I talked to a Ford computer programmer who said, "I'm the guy who pushed the button that erased all the '66 data." You kind of hope there was a backup copy, but no-it all went away.