Ninety Years of Milford: When Crash Tests Were DIY

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GM has released a neat new video of safety research over the 90 years at its Milford Proving Grounds. As car enthusiasts, we hate to see now-rare vehicles meet their demise, but at least here, it was in the interest of science.

Proving grounds can be a blessing and a curse. The knock against GM’s developmental reliance on them was that the cars that behaved so well in those artificial conditions left something to be desired in the real world.


Particularly, it was the smooth surfaces on which handling was judged that had GM cars sticking like glue on good roads, but reality’s other bumps and ruts were news to them, even as they were attempting to compete with European models that had cut their teeth on centuries-old roads that weren’t built for cars in the first place.

Proving grounds were also partly why Chevy’s Vega became such an unfolding disaster in initial buyers’ hands; the Vega’s sleeveless aluminum-block engine quickly degraded when it was run low on oil and/or coolant. But the proving grounds didn’t indicate that, as test drivers were expected to top everything off before testing. In some ways, proving grounds could serve as a haven for the company’s myopia.

Safety research at the proving grounds was a different story; the tests were almost too real, judging by the early ones in this video. They involve chucking cars down hills…


…jumping off the running board to send a car into a wall…


…and yanking a car on a cable.


Good thing they did, because this 1930s model had a long way to go in crashworthiness.


We’ll let you watch the video to see how this lovely 1965 Chevy crumples. Keep your tissues handy.

From Milford has come many GM innovations, including the front-center airbag that debuted in its larger crossovers in 2013 and is available for the full-sized SUVs. Proving grounds are not the complete answer, but since its opening in 1924, Milford has helped make GM cars safer. Looks like GM’s engineers are safer too.