VET­ERAN PRO­TO­TYP E DRIVER RE­CALLS THE GOOD TIMES AT PROV­ING GROUND

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Special Report - NEIL McDON­ALD

THERE may be a ‘‘cone of si­lence’ sur­round­ing ev­ery facet of ac­tiv­i­ties a GM-Holden’s Lang Lang prov­ing groun can­not hide its birth­day.

The hi-tech, top-se­cret fa­cil­ity celeb 50th last year.

Like Ford’s You Yangs fa­cil­ity near the GM-Holden Lang Lang prov­ing gro tucked out of sight and out of mind—

In 1955, when Holden bought the h wooded land south­east of Melbourne ex­ec­u­tives had a vi­sion of test­ing the real-world con­di­tions but away from p eyes.

On Au­gust 13, 1957, when the faci opened, there was lit­tle more than a col­lec­tion of rough, un­sealed roads, a mod­est build­ings and lots of wildlife.

Ra­dio com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween car driv­ers was a rar­ity and few of the prot had heaters, mak­ing win­ter test­ing ar

Test driv­ers had to wear coats, sca hats to han­dle the cold and of­ten the would get bogged and be out of ac­tion day or two.

En­gi­neers and test driv­ers had rudi mea­sur­ing equip­ment and the con­dit were worlds away from to­day’s hi-tech

Long-time Lang Lang vet­eran Al­lan has had a 43-year ca­reer at the ‘‘PG’’ known by staff.

Un­til his re­tire­ment just over 12mo

’ at nd, but it

brated its Gee­long, ound is — al­most. heav­ily e, Holden ir cars in ry­ing

il­ity

a few rs and to­types rdu­ous. arves and cars n for a men­tary ions h fa­cil­ity. Ge­orge, , as it is

onths ago, he was as­sis­tant prov­ing-ground man­ager and his knowl­edge is so sought af­ter he’s of­ten lured back to do con­tract work.

Ge­orge vividly re­calls driv­ing FC and FB pro­to­types around the mostly un­sealed roads when he started as a night shift driver in 1959.

‘‘The place was just a shell in those days,’’ he says.

Ge­orge’s job was to test the hand-built pro­to­types that were worth about $500,000 and re­port how the cars per­formed.

‘‘To­day it’s a lot more tech­ni­cal though,’’ he says. ‘‘When I started the driver’s re­port sheet was one page. It was sim­ple.

‘‘To­day it’s more sci­en­tific, but there’s a lot more feed­back, neg­a­tive and pos­i­tive, about the cars that we re­port back to the en­gi­neers.

‘‘We also wrote our re­ports in lay­man’s terms, so ev­ery­one un­der­stood.’’

Ge­orge has driven some in­ter­est­ing Hold­ens, many of which are con­sid­ered clas­sics to­day.

‘‘When I started we were do­ing FB pro­to­types, then the FE. The first high-speed car was an FC and it ran at 75mph (120km/h),’’ he says. The job was far from glam­orous. ‘‘We had no seat­belts, no heaters and only two of the cars had ra­dios,’’ he says. ‘‘There was al­ways a mad scram­ble for the cars with the ra­dios.’’

His favourites are the first To­rana XU1, the To­rana GT-X and ‘‘of course those early Monaro 327s and 350s were great’’.

How­ever, like a CIA oper­a­tive, Ge­orge was un­able to talk about the true na­ture of his work.

‘‘You’d never talk about what you did,’’ he says. ‘‘All you could say is that you worked for Holden.’’

Given his close­ness to the Gen­eral’s prod­ucts, it’s no sur­prise he drives a Holden, a VE Com­modore.

Since it opened, Holden test driv­ers and en­gi­neers have clocked up more than 120 mil­lion kilo­me­tres, eval­u­at­ing pro­to­type, pre-pro­duc­tion and cur­rent pro­duc­tion ve­hi­cles over 44km of sealed and un­sealed roads.

In that time there have been two sig­nif­i­cant ac­ci­dents but only one fa­tal­ity.

The prov­ing ground oc­cu­pies 977ha 95km south-east of Melbourne on the Bass High­way. How­ever, blink and you will miss it. In keep­ing with its top-se­cret na­ture, only a small road­side sign in­di­cates that this is where Holden as­sesses its new­est mod­els, of­ten years in ad­vance of them go­ing on sale.

Park any­where near the fa­cil­ity, on any of the sur­round­ing roads, and you’re likely to find a burly se­cu­rity per­son tap­ping on your win­dow.

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