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.
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.