Thursday, December 18, 2008


This experience took place at a high-security facility in Michigan outside of Detroit known as the Milford Proving Ground. It is the vast 4,000-acre, secure compound guarded with the intensity of a military base that General Motors uses to develop and test new models. It is awesome. And a select group of us had been granted access for a very special day of car driving.

Six of us started out with the short-hop flight from Toronto to Windsor. Less hassle than flying into Detroit’s Metro Airport. Picked up suitable vehicle transportation: a Pearl white Cadillac Sedan De Ville secure in the knowledge we were flying the flag of support. Didn’t realize though that Cadillac’s were reserved for only certain staff levels…made quite the impression at the gate to the compound! Security clearance was surprisingly easy…our chariot must have impressed the guards: they immediately directed us to the test track that was to be our home for the day.

Lost of cars on hand in the paddock of the test track. Chevrolet, Pontiac, Buick and Oldsmobile. Ford and Chrysler. Toyota, Nissan and Honda. BMW and other select European manufacturers. Four hours to drive as many of them as we could over a special road course.

Heaven for a car guy. We were all car guys that day.

First the inevitable briefing in the marquee tent. Rules explained: Keep the cars on the paved surface at all times. One lap each time. Strict 50 mile per hour speed limit. Enforced by GM Police with radar half way along the course. Zero tolerance…one infraction and you parked it for the day. Seemed like a buzz kill at the briefing. Changed our opinion once behind the wheel of our first ride: no one had mentioned acceleration…torque from big engines is a wonderful thing! And as the day wore on we realized that the Radar cop was only interested in maintaining the 50 MPH limit at the halfway point of the track…we learned the brake and acceleration points before and after his zone.

Overall impressions: loved the BMW 5 series on hand for the day. Best balanced of all the 40+ cars assembled. Pontiac Grand Prix an excellent second choice and for the difference in $’s, the clear winner. Honda’s and Toyotas drove well but lacked the special ‘something’ to get the heart racing. We had the Corvette for that.

Rear tires were worn to slicks by the end of the day.

The Corvette. L package. Stick shift. Heavy clutch. Limited forward visibility…forget about the rear. Serious cowl shake upon start up. And with the drive shaft running inches from your right side, you could feel this monster itching to be let out to play. Tons of low-rev torque.

Eased it out of the paddock area to the start of the circuit.

Engaged 1st gear and rolled gently onto the gas. Floored it around 20 MPH and held on…“Whoa…this thing is fast”.

Shifted into 2nd at around 3,500 revs and hit 75 MPH. Lifted and braked hard before the speed trap…engine compression and brakes down to 50 MPH. Pushed forward into the seatbelt harness.

Once safely past, sunk the right foot to the floor and shifted into 3rd. Quick glance to check speed: over 90 MPH!

Did not make it to 4th.

Very hard braking and downshift to 2nd to scrub speed before the entrance to the paddock.

Big grin.

To end a near perfect day, we chose a restaurant in a not-so-good part of downtown Detroit to debrief over steaks, scotch and cigars. Long dinner.

We slept the sleep of the contented on the plane back to Toronto.

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