About 50 miles northwest of Detroit, as the crow flies, lies the General Motors Milford Proving Ground, a 4,000-acre facility that offers the equivalent of 132 miles of highway-quality roads through varied terrain.
Chris Gilbert, manager of variable operations for the Fred Beans Automotive Group, just finished up meetings in Detroit on behalf of Buick. His visit included a side trip to Milford and an opportunity to conduct his own “comparison drive” of several vehicles on one track and on a cone course to test handling. Before Chris tells us about that experience, let’s look at this 86-year-old testing facility.
When it opened in 1924, Milford Proving Ground was the industry’s first dedicated automobile testing facility. Today, some of its roads are open only to drivers who have passed special performance driving training. Nearly 5,000 people are employed there, working in about 100 buildings and out on those roads. The proving ground’s primary focus has gradually shifted from road testing to lab testing and supports the move to computer math simulation to reduce hardware testing and builds. However, the final vehicle validation is actually to measure the performance of vehicles, and the only way to accomplish this is through durability road testing and test analyst interface. The proving ground logs more than 12 million test miles per year.
The proving ground includes a Vehicle Dynamics Test Area, known as “Black Lake” for the 67-acre pad of tarmac that has attracted waterfowl who try to land on its surface. The VDTA is enclosed by a 4.5-mile banked circular track surfaced with extremely hard “dolomite” concrete for wear resistance. This track features five lanes, each posted with a particular speed that increases from the inner to the outermost circuit, which is posted at 120mph. Because of the banking and with precise wheel alignment and tire pressures, it is possible to drive each lane at its posted speed all the way around the circle without touching the steering wheel.
The Circle Track itself is surrounded by a Ride and Handling Loop with varied surfaces and turns. 12 Mile Road is a straight section of pavement that duplicates the historical surface texture of a section of the original 12 Mile Road near Detroit. The short course called “Seven Sisters” is a single lane that features seven tight curves, some level, some banked, for testing vehicles under transient lateral acceleration loads.
Milford’s road-testing facilities also include a 3.8-mile oval track, 10-kilometer north-south straightaway made up of two 4-kilometer straightaways and a 5-kilometer east-west straightaway made up of two 1.9-kilometer straightaways.