News : Millbrook Proving Ground hits 50

In 2020, the iconic Millbrook Proving Ground celebrates 50 years since opening as the Bedfordshire Proving Ground. The facility was originally built by General Motors as a dedicated testing and development facility for Bedford and Vauxhall. However, Millbrook was – and is – unusual for featuring flat and hilly sections.

It took two years to build and involved moving nearly two million cubic metres of earth, laying more than 100,000 cubic meters of aggregate, hardcore, sand and cement and the planting some 200,000 trees. The site soon became an integral part of the development of Vauxhall models from the Victor FE onwards. General Motors sold the facility to the Spectris plc, a supplier of high-tech instruments, test equipment and software, in 2016.

In 1988, Millbrook Proving Ground began to trade independently as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Group Lotus – itself part of General Motors at the time. This was the start of Millbrook’s role as an automotive test service provider. It enjoyed steady growth of both customers and capabilities throughout the 1990s and 2000s. Once separated from General Motors, Millbrook expanded when the business acquired world-leading winter vehicle and tyre testing facility, Test World, in northern Finland. A year later, Millbrook was acquired by Spectris plc, under whose ownership it continues to thrive.

Millbrook has invested £120m in its test facilities since 2015. This includes acquiring Detroit-based, EV driveline test system and test service provider, Revolutionary Engineering in 2018 and opening a new Millbrook Revolutionary Engineering site in California in 2019. It also acquired the Lancashire-based Leyland Technical Centre in 2017, adding to its physical test capabilities in the UK.

The original Proving Ground in Bedfordshire has enjoyed significant investment in recent years. In 2019, it opened the UK’s most comprehensive independent propulsion systems test, validation and certification facility. It also opened its Battery Test Facility – the UK’s largest private investment in independent battery testing. It became home to the UK’s first 5G network for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs) and opened the Autonomous Village to enable the development of CAVs onsite. However, for AROnline readers, it will be forever associated with some classic Vauxhall-related footage, such as this lovely 1972 promotional film, below.

 

Keith Adams
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20 Comments

  1. It seems like a huge investment for a company the size of Vauxhall. Only a few years afterwards they stopped designing their own models.

    • Remember when this was built Vauxhall were an independent arm of GM, separate from Opel, and not only sold cars here but had big sales in Canada, and provided technical design for other parts of the GM group, including Holden and GM South Africa. Look at the Vauxpedia site.
      I have never actually been, but from people who have been they say is very impressive. It looked impressive when Top Gear used it back in the day.

    • That investment was backed of course by the massive GM. Amazing that GM/Opel/Vauxhall just walked away from Milbrook given it was only a few years old and had only signed off one car – The Victor FE. Even today it is still considered a state of the art facility – Surely it should have been one of the jewels in the crown of GM Europes development facilities? – Testing generations of Corsas, Astras and Vectras.

  2. Used the banked circuit in the late 80s. This circular track was “hands off” at 70 mph. I can’t remember what project, maybe Rover 800. We were using an un-camoflaged prototype after dark. Problem was it was total darkness, the circular track was difficult to orientate yourself – I got totally lost and could not find the road out of the test complex! I could not get a response on the radio and spent ages trial and error using different roads. Happy days!
    Lots of stories of the old Vauxhall test drivers climbing out of the drivers seat into the back of the car – proving it was “hands off” and terrifying their passengers!

  3. I think this was used for filming the episode of One Foot In The Grave where Victor is stuck on a motorway for the entire episode.

    • There’s a section that I’ve seen used in various TV shows.Right hander/uphill,downhill/Left hander depending on the direction of travel.It’s a pleasant looking wooded area and it’s used so often that I recognise it straight off, every time.

    • The TK was probably the big success story for General Motors in Britain in the seventies, a simple and durable lorry that was well liked by removals firms and the armed forces, and remained on sale well into the eighties due to MOD contracts. It might have been old fashioned and basic, but when you’re carting a platoon of soldiers through a forest, it hardly matters.

        • The TK seemed to last and for all it was basic and old fashioned, was easy to maintain and reliable. Army orders kept the lorry alive and it was still seen at Warcop carrying soldiers on exercise into the nineties. Also the armed forces did seem to like Vauxhall and Bedford products in the eighties, the Chevette estate was kept alive by a large MOD order in 1982 and the Cavalier was officer transport on some bases in the mid eighties.

  4. As a keen Vauxhall fan in my youth, collecting brochures and magazine adverts it was a great bit of nostalgia to see all of those ‘X’ reg (XD/XE) Vauxhalls & Bedfords!

    • I’ve recently been collecting old car magazines & brochures and have also noticed a lot of older Vauxhalls had XD & XE coded plates, along with Rovers having XC in the registration, which was the code for Solihull.

      Quite a few press cars seemed to be registered local to their HQ, though some codes stand out more than others.

  5. I was lucky enough to drive bits of Millbrook on the Insignia launch. It’s a fascinating place to visit

  6. Great to see Millbrook still thriving, indeed it works better as a separate business rather than just a GM test track

    The Leyland Technical Centre is a happy survivor too from the 1970s and the carnage of British Leyland

    https://www.environmentalengineering.org.uk/news/testing-the-heavyweights-7611/
    https://www.google.com/maps/place/Millbrook's+Leyland+test+facility/@53.6990259,-2.7310858,1113m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m5!3m4!1s0x487b12b441e3aafd:0x3f2d7493fdf34bf8!8m2!3d53.7010432!4d-2.7295875

  7. An orange Ventora with a white vinyl roof – that’ll be the seventies. I have driven the hill route several times – the blind bend at the top of the hill is most unnerving, especially when driving a very valuable prototype or experimental vehicle.
    On another note entirely, I once caught a steam train on the parallel Bedford to Bletchley railway line. We were well and truly outdragged by a Honda Accord BTCC car on the oval track.

  8. I remember when Millbrook was built all those years ago and Vauxhall advertised it. Good to see the Viva HC, Firenza and FE series cars in the film (also the Bedford KM trucks), though I don’t remember ever seeing a Ventora in orange with cream vinyl roof!

    The end music was familiar as the Film company I worked for had that track in our own music library in the 70s

  9. Perhaps they might like to purchase the Holden Proving Ground at Lang Lang, southeast of Melbourne, which is currently for sale

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