Day 47 of the Journey

After sitting in traffic for two hours trying to get back into the US from Canada (tip: never choose a border crossing that occurs over a bridge unless you like traffic jams), we drove into Detroit, Michigan to visit the GM Heritage Center and the GM Proving Grounds.

1956 GMC Suburban pickup.

Touring the GM Heritage Center

The GM Heritage Center has a collection of GM cars, accessories, paperwork, and lore accumulated through the years the same way a museum might collect art. The passionate and knowledgeable manager, Greg Wallace, showed us around.

Previous incarnations of Chevy trucks, each with its own personality just like our Silverado.

Some pieces are bought by GM. Some are donated by private collectors or former GM employees who want to share the automotive history (scale models, ancient owner’s manuals, actual vehicles) they’ve spent years squirreling away.

We loved this 1960 Chevy pickup which was driven from Brazil to the US.

And some items are simply left on the Center’s doorstep, like foundling children, for Greg to find as he arrives for work in the morning. Each and every item is meticulously archived.

This wagon must be as big as our pickup.

Started in 2002, the GM Heritage Center now has countless pieces of memorabilia (from hood ornaments to hubcaps) and enough history on paper and in photographs to fill more than 15,000 feet of rolling red files.

Oldies but goodies.

Not to mention more than 1,000 GM brand vehicles, 200 of which are on rotating display at any given time in a 60,000 square foot facility that amounts to one of the plushest garages in the world with a polished concrete floor, slowly rotating klieg lights and a guy whose sole job seems to be to dust the pristine cars off all day long.

One of the earliest examples of General Motor’s original brand, the Oldsmobile (right), and an old Buick.

Here’s the catch: the GM Heritage Center is not open to the public (something about the fact that none of the existing car museums in Detroit attract very many visitors), but it is available to scholars as a research resource and images and posters from the collection can be viewed and purchased at the GM Heritage Center’s online store.

Oldies but (even better) goodies

We’ll be taking our Chevy truck on the Alcan soon too!

It’s all in the details.

The ’59 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz Convertible. Now that’s a car.

A row of Caddies.

A row of Corvettes, including the one in front dubbed the Mako which has a shape and paint job inspired by the shark.

Touring the GM Proving Grounds

From the GM Heritage Center, we drive to the GM Proving Grounds where every model is tortured by more than 4,000 employees working three shifts a day on a 4,000-acre facility that’s full of the kinds of courses and obstacles that help GM see the strengths and weaknesses of the vehicles they build.

They do 600 barrier crashes a year. They just built a new rollover test building. There are 122 miles (200 km) of paved courses and 36 miles (60 km) of gravel roads. Their salt spray test area goes through twice as much salt as the city of Detroit each year to make sure GM’s cars are appropriately rust-resistant. No wonder the on-site car wash does more than 3,000 washes a day.

Here’s more about travel in the USA