Fueled by the growth of everything auto-related from TV shows to car events, car clubs and car collecting, interest in automotive art is growing by leaps and bounds.

To meet that demand, for the first time, Ford is opening up its photo archives of over 3 million images and making select limited edition prints of classic vehicles available online at www.Fordartehouse.com.

"Ford has a rich visual history and we are thrilled to be able to share it," said Regina Watson, licensing manager for Ford. "We’ve gone deep into our archives to find unique images that have rarely been seen."

The first series includes over 300 images of the Ford Mustang and the legendary GT40. Future offerings will feature vintage vehicles like the Ford Model T and the quintessential hot-rod, the 1932 Ford deuce coupe.

"We already have a group of customers that are excited about this project," said John Nens, manager, Ford Brand Licensing, referring to The Mustang Club of America. "They are the largest car club in the country, and we’re already receiving orders from them. Plus, car enthusiasts everywhere are fascinated by the original Ford GT from the ’60s."

Interest in automotive art has been growing since the late ’80s as baby boomers with disposable incomes began collecting cars as a way of fulfilling their unrealized teenage dreams, according to Jacques Vaucher the owner of l’art et l’automobile, a gallery and auction house in East Hampton, New York dedicated to transportation art.

Vaucher, who boasts a client list that includes Jerry Seinfeld, Ralph Lauren and Dean Jones, says as the car collecting market grows, the art market goes along for the ride.

"Once they have the cars, then they need a space to put them and then they need the art for that space," he said.

Television, car auctions and vintage car races have also contributed to the growth of the hobby said Leslie Kendall, the curator of the Petersen Auto Museum in Los Angeles.

"The Speed Channel alone is devoting 33 hours to car auctions in 2006," Kendall said. "All these shows and all of these events are making automotive art more accessible. There’s an awareness that didn’t exist 20 years ago."

The Ford prints, which are being produced in numbered editions of 750, are being made available thanks to a licensing agreement between Ford Motor Company and ArteHouse, LLC.

"These are more than simply pictures of cars,” said Rick Weedn, Artehouses co-founder and a self-described motorsports fanatic. “They are the story of what we now call the motorsports culture and how it began with the returning soldiers from World War II."

Weedn, whose company supplies vintage posters and art for various collectable niches, made the decision to approach Ford after researching the photo archives of Motor Trend and Hot Rod magazine.

"As I was going through those pictures, it became very obvious that right from the beginning of the 20th century the mother ship of motorsports as we know it was Ford Motor Company," he said.

"This collection not only promotes and gives exposure to the Ford brand and its heritage, it brings in a new revenue stream from royalties and future guarantees," said Nens. "We think it’s an innovative idea."

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