Millbrook car testing site aims to ‘stay ahead of the game’

A car testing facility is aiming to stay “ahead of the game” when it comes to developing driverless and greener cars.

Millbrook Proving Ground, in central Bedfordshire, is marking its 50th anniversary this year.

President Alex Burns said the pace of change in that time had been “extraordinary” and thanked its “incredible staff”.

Motoring journalist Andrew Frankel said the site was an “indispensable asset”.

Testing of cars in 70s
Image captionMillbrook officially opened in 1970 where Vauxhall cars and Bedford trucks, buses and military vehicles were tested

Work started in 1968 and the track opened two years later for General Motors (GM) to test Vauxhall and Bedford vehicles.

Its rural location was paramount to the companies developing cars and using it, Mr Burns said.

The work there was “very, very secret” and the purposeful planting of 3,000 trees on its boundary meant it was “difficult to see in”, he said.

“Some of our customers will drive at night for added security.”

Episodes of Top Gear have been filmed there along with the 2006 James Bond film, Casino Royale.

Millbrook village
Image captionMillbrook takes its name from the nearby village, where a flourishing community of mills were located around an idyllic brook
Track being laid at Millbrook
Image captionWorkers helped to lay 3,500 tonnes of granite blocks on the track when it was being built

The track has been independently owned since 2013 and £120m has been invested in global testing facilities since 2015. Some 500 staff work there.

“We are ahead of the game for testing autonomous vehicles,” Mr Burns said.

“In the past we have looked at what happens in collisions, now we are seeing how to avoid collisions.

“We are helping to reduce the impact vehicles have on the environment and improve the safety of road transport.”

Military vehicle being tested
Image captionMillbrook is the Ministry of Defence’s independent military vehicle test and engineering specialist
Battery Test Facility
Image captionThe track also houses a battery test facility

Mr Frankel, from DriveNation, an Instagram car magazine, said: “Millbrook was then and remains today the only place in the UK where road cars can sustain near maximum velocity, providing vital data for anyone from a chassis engineer to a road tester from a car magazine.

“When I was testing cars full-time in the 1990s, Millbrook was an indispensable asset, as vital a tool of my trade as my typewriter.”

Millbrook track
Image caption The circuit has a “loyal and skilled workforce” and employs 500 people, said Mr Burns