This 1989 Ford Simulator II Floppy Disk Lets You Preview 1990 Ford, Mercury, Lincoln Cars
Created for MS-DOS in 1987, Ford Simulator programs helped customers preview models without visiting pesky dealerships.
Automakers find the oddest ways to dabble in technology, from hyper-detailed online configurators to revealing a whole race car via Twitch. But back in the 1980s and 1990s, Ford had a whole multimedia experience for home computer users to experience their latest lineups: Ford Simulator!
Ford released their Ford Simulator "games" starting in 1987 for the MS-DOS operating system, available only through floppy disk. Dylan Malama recently dug out his two-disk copy of its 1989 version Ford Simulator II to show off on Facebook, and it's a wild trip.
Ford Simulator II let you preview the Ford, Mercury, and Lincoln cars for the 1990 model year. You could access much of the same information you find online today through the game's buyer's guide and infocenter. But the game offered another way to interact with Ford's new lineup: you could visit an entire virtual showroom and even test out the cars themselves on a drag strip.
Lazy Game Reviews also tinkered with Ford Simulator II on a color monitor, so it's nice to know that the game would work on both types of screens for the time. He dives deeper into the Infocenter, which explains features in more detail.
There were some limits to this technology, however. The showroom only seems to show certain higher trims from the model year, such as the Ford Aerostar Eddie Bauer van and the Mercury Cougar XR7. It's a far cry from the hyper-detailed online configurators we know today, even if it was high-tech stuff for 1989.
The drag strip is pretty cool, though. Drivers have to shift up as the car goes down the track, and they can even turn the wheel using the arrow keys as it's moving. There isn't a choice in cars for this, but it does appear to put you in the Ford Thunderbird Super Coupe to start out. I doubt the relatively long time it took to accelerate in the game really sold many Super Coupes, but perhaps that's also a sign of the times.
Perhaps this idea was ahead of its time. Gaming technology wasn't there yet. It was hard to imagine yourself really driving your 1990 Lincoln Cartier Town Car when it's rendered in one color and you have to switch disks between the driving simulator and the showroom. The Ford Simulator got much fancier as time progressed, as you can see in 1996's Ford Simulator 7.0, but the functionality was always somewhat limited.
Nowadays, we have wheels, pedals and other gear made just for driving simulators, and many of us have discovered cars that we'd love to own in the future by driving them in a game. Perhaps Ford needs to give the Ford Simulator another shot. Today's force-feedback wheels would make bro-parking your test Raptor on a rock feel all that more true-to-life, and more realistic sound design could make you feel like you're really listening to a V8—not your computer screen.
If you want to play other editions of Ford Simulator, there's a few online, including the original version on DOS Games Archive, complete with in-game Merkur XR4Tis and rudimentary color graphics!
Play DOS Games has a copy of Ford Simulator III, and it's incredible how much graphics improved for the 1992 model year. Model information is more detailed, and selecting a color for your 1992 Mercury Grand Marquis is extremely similar to how we'd do it on a modern-day configurator. The driving simulator even has a bit more of a plot to it: your goal is to get to Lake Wakatonka as fast as you can without crashing or getting arrested. Now that's realism! If only the arrow-key car controls were different than the canoe controls in Oregon Trail.
1994's Ford Simulator 5.0 is up on Classic Reload for your enjoyment as well, complete with a drive to Lake Wakatonka still in the mix. Crashes still aren't realistically rendered, however, with a big cartoony "POW!" that goes off whenever you hit something. Maybe that's for the best when you're trying to sell cars.
Ford Simulator 7.0 finally moved to a CD-ROM and required Windows, the contents of which are available for download on Archive.org, but it was the beginning of the end. You could test out a Jaguar in the game, though, as it was from the brief time period where Ford owned the famous British automaker.
All of these games were available for free from Ford dealerships, which is kind of genius on Ford's part. Lazy Game Reviews wasn't a fan of the cars itself but mentioned that Ford Simulator II was an old standby when other games wouldn't work for him. That being said, I don't think there's much of a case to be made for anything on a CD-ROM or floppy disk in 2019. We've moved on, and Ford Simulator was not along for the ride.