Millbrook is capping a year of 50th anniversary celebrations by reflecting on its rich history of innovation and ‘world firsts’.

As the 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.

Millbrook’s new Variable Temperature Emissions Chamber is a centrepiece of its vision

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.

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.

Rod Calvert, former Millbrook Managing Director, recalls what a great achievement it was: “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.”

Today, Millbrook’s crash test laboratory features a state-of-the-art electric drive system and a range of ramps to simulate 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.

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.

Brendan O’Reilly, CTO at Telefónica UK – a partner in the AutoAir project ­– said, “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”.

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.

Commenting on Test World’s victory, Matt Ross, Chairman of the Tire Technology International Awards for Innovation and Excellence and Editor-in-Chief of Tire Technology International, said, “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.”

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.

Remembering his record-breaking drive, Tiff Needell said, “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.”

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.

Commenting on Millbrook’s year of celebration and reflection, Connor McCormack, Millbrook President, said, “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.

“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.”

About Millbrook

Millbrook provides vehicle test and validation services and systems to customers in the automotive, transport, tyre, petrochemical and defence industries. It is independent and impartial in everything it does.

It has a range of test facilities for full vehicles, tyres and components located in the UK, the USA and Northern Finland. These include varied outdoor and indoor test tracks, engine dynamometers, environmental chambers, e-motor and e-axle test cells, portable emissions measurement systems (PEMS), structural test laboratories, crash laboratories including a state-of-the-art ServoSled, interior systems laboratories, battery test facilities and advanced emissions chassis dynamometers.

Millbrook designs, builds, installs, and services dynamometer test systems and an associated data acquisition and control system.

Millbrook’s employees are passionate about safety, customer service and technical excellence, making them ideal partners at any stage in the development and launch of the vehicles of tomorrow.

Millbrook is part of Spectris plc