Millbrook Crowns 50th Anniversary Year by Celebrating its ‘World Firsts’

Old vintage cars on the High Speed Circuit at Millbrook Proving Ground
  • Millbrook is capping a year of 50th anniversary celebrations by reflecting on its rich history of innovation and ‘world firsts’
  • Specially created PDF provides full details of Millbrook’s range of world first achievements
  • As celebrations draw to a close, new President, Connor McCormack, looks ahead to Millbrook’s future

2020 has been a seminal year for Millbrook, marking 50 years since its Bedfordshire Proving Ground first opened and 40 years since the opening of its Leyland test facility. Despite many of the company’s planned celebratory events being put on hold this year due to COVID-19, Millbrook has focused on remembering and celebrating the many remarkable achievements from its 50-year history.

With the year now coming to a close, Millbrook is crowning its celebrations by reflecting on some of the ‘world firsts’ that have taken place at its facilities, while also looking forward to an exciting future.

Breaking Ground in EVs, Emissions and Safety

Millbrook’s reputation for breaking ground dates back as far as 1977, when Europe’s first volume produced 1 tonne electric van, the Bedford CF, was tested at its Bedfordshire site. The Bedford CF underwent a substantial testing programme at Millbrook, contributing to over a million miles of track and road testing.

Today, Millbrook operates the largest commercially available battery test facility in the UK and supports electric vehicle development with testing in the UK and the USA. It also designs and builds electric driveline test systems in the USA.

Some years later, in 1996, the company opened what was said to be the world’s first independently available climatic emissions test chamber for commercial vehicles. Since then, more than 19,500 emissions tests have been completed in the Variable Temperature Emissions Chamber (VTEC).

Looking ahead, Millbrook’s new VTEC facility is set to be a centrepiece of its future vision, replacing the original, iconic VTEC. Capable of handling even heavier vehicles (up to 60 tonnes of inertia), the state-of-the-art facility is designed to test diesel, petrol, LPG, CNG, electric and hydrogen vehicles.

Europe's first production electric van, which was tested at Millbrook Proving Ground

In 1977, Millbrook tested the first volume produced 1 tonne electric van in Europe. Scroll to see more images.

Battery testing expert showing an electric vehicle (EV) battery pack testing laboratory chamber at Millbrook Proving Ground to a group of people

Today, Millbrook tests a range of electric vehicles and runs the largest commercially available battery test facility in the UK.

Bus emissions test engineer working in the VTEC at Millbrook Proving Ground

In 1996, Millbrook opened what was said to be the first independently available climatic emissions test chamber for commercial vehicles.

Aerial of Millbrook's new hydrogen ready VTEC dyno

After 24 years serving the industry, Millbrook's iconic VTEC facility is being superseded.

Just four years later, at the turn of the millennium, Millbrook was the test partner in the creation of the world’s first suite of rollover crash tests. The tests were designed to validate vehicles against a range of standards, including the FMVSS 208 test procedure.

Rollover was the new thing, people knew about other forms of impact but didn’t know anything about rollover. We officially had the world’s first test suite for rollover, which was a huge achievement at the time. Rod Calvert, former Millbrook Managing Director

Today, Millbrook’s crash test laboratory features a state-of-the-art electric drive system and a range of ramps to simulate rollover crashes at speeds between 4km/h and 90km/h in both left-hand-drive and right-hand-drive test scenarios. Testing to such rigorous standards provides much-needed peace of mind for Millbrook’s OEM customers.

Millbrook laid claim to yet another world first in its 50th anniversary year, as the company became the first in the world to gain approval to carry out testing against FIA standard 8872-2018. Testing to this standard ensures that Accident Data Recorders (ADRs) continue to help with safety development in motorsport racing. To this end, Millbrook has made use of both its high frequency electro-magnetic shakers and its ServoSled, recreating in-use and crash conditions.

Early rollover crash test at Millbrook Proving Ground

In 2000, Millbrook was the test partner for the creation of the world's first suite of rollover crash tests. Scroll to see more images.

Vehicle crash test facility at Millbrook for car safety testing

Millbrook tests passive safety systems to determine vehicle and passenger safety across test scenarios.

FIA ADR testing being conducted by Millbrook chief engineer in sled test facility

As of 2020, Millbrook is the first company in the world to be approved to carry out safety testing of Accident Data Recorders.

FIA crash test for racing seat homologation on Millbrook's sled test facility for seats

Millbrook also tests competition seats, in line with the FIA Standard 8855-1999, through the recreation of in-use and crash conditions.

Millbrook is a company with a history of innovation and pushing the boundaries. Whether it’s assisting world-leading automotive companies to test and develop the technologies of the future, or providing a safe environment in which to push vehicles to their limits, Millbrook can do it all. Connor McCormack, Millbrook President

Test World: Bringing Innovation to Tyre Testing

The Millbrook of 2020 is an international company with a global footprint, and its Bedfordshire headquarters is not the only site leading the way for innovation. In 2013, Millbrook’s winter testing facility, Test World, opened the first custom-built indoor winter tyre testing facility in the world. It then proceeded to open the first dedicated indoor handling track on snow in 2015.

Test World won the coveted Supplier of the Year category at the 2013 and the 2019 Tire Technology International Awards for Innovation and Excellence. The site in Ivalo, Finland, took home the spoils by virtue of its being the first facility in the world to offer natural snow, ice, wet and dry asphalt testing year-round.

Test World was the first facility to offer natural snow, ice, wet and dry asphalt testing, no matter the time of year, came up repeatedly in the jurors' comments, with many of the experts pointing to the importance of controlled testing in gathering truly meaningful data. Matt Ross, Chairman of the Tire Technology International Awards for Innovation and Excellence and Editor-in-Chief of Tire Technology International

Car driving on ice in indoor winter test facility with cold-weather vehicle tracks at Test World in Ivalo, Finland

In 2013, Millbrook opened the first custom-built indoor winter tyre testing facility in the world. Scroll to see more images.

Indoor tire snow handling test on a winter proving ground track at Test World, Ivalo, Finland

Test World's tracks are used for controlled and repeatable testing on snow, ice, and wet and dry asphalt, 365 days a year.

Harnessing Tomorrow’s Technology, Today

Throughout its 50 years of operation, Millbrook has remained at the forefront of technology and innovation, positioning itself as the automotive testing partner of choice for technology companies, consortiums and government projects. This commitment to research and collaboration has led to Millbrook’s involvement in yet more ground-breaking projects.

Millbrook was the first proving ground to launch a 5G testbed for transport, for instance, as part of the pioneering AutoAir project. The 5G testbed provides a safe and secure means for customers to develop remote vehicle operations. In addition, it affords customers the ability to demonstrate and test connected and autonomous vehicle capabilities.

The 5G testbed also enabled Millbrook to develop its virtual proving ground. Millbrook’s simulation environment is an integrated Vehicle-in-the-Loop ecosystem that puts real vehicles into the virtual world. Its myriad applications include connected vehicle and Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) testing, developing artificial intelligence, determining vehicle road safety, and testing infotainment packages.

The AutoAir project is a great demonstration of how partnerships can help shape the use cases and drive the benefits that we all want to see from 5G. Brendan O’Reilly, CTO at Telefónica UK

5G test bed at Millbrook Proving Ground with self-drving car and vehicle testing on the High Speed Circuit

In 2019, as part of the AutoAir project, Millbrook launched the UK's first 5G testbed for transport at its proving ground. Scroll to see more images.

McLaren on Millbrook's High Speed Circuit using 5G network for live data streaming

As part of the 5G test bed, Millbrook has developed its virtual proving ground.

The Perfect Place for Record Breakers

As well as an abundance of world firsts in the testing arena, Millbrook has played host to a number of ground-breaking achievements of a more high-octane nature. In 2006, Millbrook was the backdrop to the most cannon rolls ever completed in a car, as Daniel Craig’s Aston Martin DBS completed seven during the shooting of Casino Royale.

Millbrook’s variety of test tracks has lent itself to numerous speed record attempts over the years. No fewer than 202 National British Land Speed records have been set at Millbrook, including Tiff Needell’s eye-watering fastest lap of a UK circuit in a production car in 1999, where the then Top Gear presenter averaged 195.3mph in a McLaren F1.

In 1999 I undertook what might have been one of the most hair-raising experiences of my career, and it was all in aid of Comic Relief. The theme that year was ‘Record Breaking’ so Top Gear decided we should try to set the record for the highest average speed ever achieved for a production car on a UK circuit, and we chose the Millbrook high speed bowl as it’s the only environment in the UK where such a feat is possible. We chose the (then) fastest production car in the world, the McLaren F1, and turned up at Millbrook on a chilly early February morning. To cut a long story short, in less than perfect conditions and with tyres rapidly developing blisters, we managed to achieve an average speed of 195.3mph and hit a maximum speed of 200.8mpg. Tiff Needell , British Racing Driver and TV Presenter

Earlier, in 1994, the Ford RS2000 Evolution set the record for the fastest road-tested acceleration, clocking 0-60mph in 3.07 seconds. More recently, in 2015, Millbrook’s High-Speed Circuit bore witness to the land speed record for a bus powered by Biomethane Compressed Natural Gas, with the bus reaching 77mph.

Old vintage cars on the High Speed Circuit at Millbrook Proving Ground

Numerous records have been broken on the test tracks at Millbrook Proving Ground. Scroll to see more images.

Millbrook Proving Ground car test tracks aerial view

Custom-built to simulate the world’s toughest terrains, Millbrook's tracks provide an invaluable test and development resource at a single, secure and well- supported site.

As our anniversary year draws to a close, we continue to focus on our vision for the future. For Millbrook, that is to be a leading global provider of independent and impartial test services and systems for many years to come. Working with our customers in the automotive, transport, tyre, petrochemical and defence industries, I am confident that our impressive list of world firsts will continue to grow. Connor McCormack, Millbrook President


Download PDF 'Millbrook Firsts' Brochure