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Business leaders take a tour of motoring’s ‘best kept secret’

Millbrook Proving Ground is a world leader in automotive testing and Millbrook Group’s head of external affairs Rob Smettem outlined its history, current activity and development at a Milton Keynes Business Leaders Partnership breakfast briefing.

He said the more than 40 miles of track with a mile long straight, high speed banking and off-road course as well as laboratories and test rigs is one of the region’s best kept secrets – and for good reason.

It is used by motor manufacturers to put under-wraps cars, vans, trucks and buses through their paces away from prying eyes. Confidentiality, customer service and safety is central to Millbrook’s success story, he added.

In the 1960s General Motors almost literally moved mountains, poured countless of tonnes of concrete and planted 5,000 trees to ensure privacy for the 700-acre site near Ampthill.

Now owned by test and measurement group Spectris, Millbrook directly employs 450 highly skilled people with around 150 external roles adding to the region’s business economy. It is developing ever more advanced ways to test, measure and make vehicles safer – around 500 of them a year are tested to destruction.

Fuel efficiency, environmental controls, tyres, seat belts and air bags are examined on the track and in giant laboratories, some replicating desert heat or freezing wastes. For real Arctic conditions, Millbrook has acquired the Test World site in Finland where 1,400 acres are available for snow and ice driving five months a year and an indoor snow circuit all year round.

Millbrook’s facilities and technical excellence are in high demand, Mr Smettem said.

Its recently opened £10 million 4WD climatic chassis dynamometer, testing cars under extreme conditions, was oversubscribed immediately and Millbrook is ordering another. Modular Engine Test Cells, portable containerised laboratories, have been developed to take Millbrook expertise out to customers. 

Millbrook is also a venue for automotive trade events and exhibitions, develops military, police and security vehicles and is a location for TV shows like Top Gear and movies – the spectacular Aston Martin crash in Casino Royale was filmed on the forest test track.

Mr Smettem said: “Millbrook is a growing business with a clear focus on producing value and high levels of customer service. We are independent and impartial and we are investing heavily in the future.”

MKBLP chair Philip Smith said: “Millbrook is an outstanding centre of excellence with many automotive business activities taking place there, some of them very high tech and confidential. We are proud that it is on our doorstep and Rob’s fascinating talk gave us an insight into its workings.”