The GM Report: Milford Proving Grounds

By Deane Barker on October 5, 2007

GM’s Milford Proving Grounds is a weird place. It’s a massive automotive testing facility — two miles by three miles; 4,000 acres.

Contained in it is a driving enthusiasts dream come true, and — I imagine — an automobile’s nightmare. There’s about every conceivable method and facility with which to test a car’s mettle.

Continuing this series, Milford was the place GM took us to drive their 2008 lineup. We were mainly confined to a massive asphalt pad called “Black Lake,” (here’s an aerial photo to help you gauge the size of it) but we had to drive through a large section of the facility to get there.

Driving through it, its the road signs that give away the purpose of the place. These are from memory, so they’re not gospel, but the gist is clear.

  • “7% grade. Test traffic to the right.”
  • “Salt water trough”
  • “Weathering bay”
  • “High speed testing in progress. Merge with care.”
  • “Hz = m.p.h / 3” (referred to the frequency of a series of grooves cut in the road surface)

It resembles a military base in the sense that it a little self-contained city with all sorts of odd buildings, all nicely labeled. The view from Google Maps gives it all away, and I took the liberty of screen-capping it and annotating it with what I remember from my experience.

Annotated aerial photo of the Milford Proving Grounds

Driving from one end to the other, there are some fascinating sights.

  • We passed over what looked like a standard interstate overpass. Except that the road under it was steeply banked, and a pair of yellow Corvettes was passing under us at a grossly illegal speed.
  • Every once in a while, you’d see a car covered with tape in a criss-cross pattern to disguise its lines. Alternately, the back half of it would be covered with black canvas, or duct-taped plastic.
  • At one point, sprinklers suddenly rose out of Black Lake and started watering down the surface.
  • The Driving Conditions course (see the annotated aerial) was filled with real-world obstacles and hazards. A dead giveaway it was all made up: the railroad crossing with tracks that stopped about two feet off the road on either side.
  • There was a sloped section of concrete in one spot with various surfaces on it which varied in viscosity. Lots of skid marks hinted at the carnage that had taken place there over the years.

The whole thing was surreal. There was a distinct, “Yeah, let’s try that!” vibe about the place, like some engineers just sit around all day and think up ways to break cars.

I got the same feeling from some of the instructors at the Advanced Driving Skills course we took in the morning. These guys go nowhere at half-throttle. Gotta get across 100 yards of asphalt? Better do it with your right foot on the floor. Cars don’t stand a chance in this place — it exists to beat up cars, and the inhabitants are apparently encouraged to do so.

We were told that the cars from the skills course are “put down” after they’re beaten up too much — they’re taken to the crash testing lab and run into walls at high speed.

Somehow, that fits.

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Comments

  1. “Alive” is the keyword. Especially, Deane, when you called the office and said “listen to this”… as the Corvette he was driving accelerated from 0 to 60 in, I don’t know, milliseconds. Then, the phone went dead.

    After all, I’ve been in the car with Deane driving 30 mph. That was an adventure in itself. Glad to have you back!

  2. Good to see you liked the experience. I’ve been working there now for almost two years and know the ins and outs of the place. If there is anything you care to know please ask.

  3. Hey Justin, My ultimate dream job is to be a vehicle test driver. I’m currently in my second year of college. What path should I take to acuire a job as a test driver?

  4. Nick, You want to get your engineering degree in some automotive field. That will get you in development work which in turn will lead to test vehicle driving. You want development, not durability driving. There are a lot of avenues to driving new vehicles, not seen by the public.

  5. please be advised that durability test is currently being done with pride and with great results by uaw 653 personelle. it was the best job i ever had. fingers on the pulse of future products for gm, (and other companies needing quality product testing). uaw employees also quality audit gm products and our competitors. last, but not least, do not take what motor trend magazine says as their best picks of products. gm products continue to out perform, out last, and are the safest vehicles for your money.

  6. Hello I have a heavy Equipment engineering degree with the focus in Diesel engines. What would be the best method to take to obtain a position with in the company? I have always like research and development and am in the field right now. And would like to get into the Duramax life style as i love all GM product and have generations within my family of GM workers.

  7. I work for a contract services vendor and I have current opportunities at GM that may work out for Korey or Nick. Send me your resume (dgaspard@acrocorp.com).

  8. As a police driving instructor, I think it would be beneficial (and awesome) to take any vehicle out on test track and open it up to see what it has. I have driven my car to it’s max in real-world conditions and I know when I need to back down usually beacuse of others. Having a wide open track for exploration would be the ultimate test of my skill.

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