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Click on the CERV III Corvette for a high-res gallery of the Heritage Center Corvettes

In a nondescript looking building on a side street somewhere north of the General Motors Technical Center, there is a facility that few people outside of GM know exists, but most car nuts would love to visit if they could. Therein lies the rub, most people can't get in. The GM Heritage Center is not open to the public. It's an archive for the company's historic documents, artifacts and cars.

After automakers unveil their concepts to the public at one of the big shows like Detroit, Geneva, Frankfurt or Los Angeles, the cars usually go on the road for the next year or two. They get shown at all the major and minor shows, and then they seemingly disappear. Sometimes the more memorable cars will pop up years later at concours and historic events, while others go into museums and the rest are just forgotten. Some end up being crushed while others end up stored in warehouses or go to private collections. A few years ago the Heritage Center was established as a place to collect GM's history. It's opened up to GM employees and their families several times a year and also used for special events and presentations. GM staff can also book the facility for off-site meetings. The night before the recent GM battery technology briefing, a group of bloggers were invited to visit the Heritage Center and look around.

Read more about the Heritage Center Collection after the jump.

The full collection consists of about 800 vehicles, but the display area can only hold about two hundred at a time. The collection is rotated periodically, and some are loaned out to other museums or go to special events, like the vehicles that were sent to the Amelia Island Concours last weekend. For someone like me, who has been going to car shows for three decades, it was like going back in time to see some of the old concept cars. Not every concept on display could be considered a classic, but it was cool to see them again. Around 1988, GM did a special tour of then-current concepts that went to cities where the company had facilities and was only open to GM employees. Among the featured vehicles included the original Pontiac TranSport, Pontiac Banshee and the Cadillac Voyage that previewed the look of early '90s Cadillacs. The display also included the Buick Wildcat, and the original shooting brake Firebird, the Trans Am Type K.

Another aspect of GM's history that is celebrated at the Heritage Center is racing. Nestled among other Cadillacs is one of the ill-fated first generation NorthStar LMPs that raced at LeMans in 2000-2001. Nearby sits a mid-80s vintage Corvette GTP that ran in IMSA next to one of the final Winston Cup Pontiac Grand Prixs. Another IMSA car was on display in the form of a Chevy Beretta GTU. Also present were two different Indy cars, a mid-80s Chevy-Ilmor CART machine and an early Oldsmobile powered IRL car.

Of course, none of this would be possible without production cars, and there is a wide array here from the company long and storied history. There are various classics such as one of the earliest Chevettes, a Vega, and the very first production Saturn Sky. There are also examples of many engines that moved those machines. When it came out in the Corvette ZR-1, the Lotus designed LT-5 was a monster engine. Now it doesn't even make as much power as the base C6 engine. Back in the '30s, Cadillac actually produced a car with a V16, an example of which is displayed near a Cadillac V-12.

You can't possibly have a General Motors Heritage collection without a collection of Corvettes. During our visit, the oldest example present was a gorgeous silver 1963 split-window coupe. Tucked in the middle of the group was a black C4 sprouting many more vents than other Vettes of that vintage. When I worked at the GM Milford Proving Ground in 1990-91, I would regularly see these out on the track. They were part of a fleet doing suspension development with the Lotus Active suspension system that ultimately proved to be too power hungry for production. Reportedly, the system soaked up some 40hp just to run the hydraulic pumps.

Over the past half century, the idea of a mid-engine Corvette has cropped up repeatedly and several of the concepts and experimental versions were shown, including the most advanced example of all, the CERV-III. The third Corvette Experimental Research Vehicle was built by Lotus, powered by the LT-5 driving all four wheels and suspended by the active suspension system.

Anyone who ever gets invited to visit the Heritage Center should definitely take up the offer. You won't be sorry.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 8 Years Ago
      Honda NSX and s2000
      Mitubishi 300GT VR4
      Honda Insight
      Toyota Prius
      Several Lexus models, including the SC430

      Theres your 10 with a few extra for good measure.

      The domestics havent exactly been tearing up the showroom floor in terms of interesting or innovation themselves. With notable halo car exceptions like the Vette.
      • 8 Years Ago
      wow. Cadillac has come a long way! Those two Cadillac concepts are so bloated and whale like.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Love that Trans Am family truckster! Panel gaps on them cars are wiiiide! GM's probably the best in the world at patting themselves on the back and thinking their 'heritage' actually has meaning. Too many of their cars sucked and it doesn't seem like they realize and care about rectifying it. They're doing way better these days however, I'll give them that, but with GM's resources and engineering/production prowess and hubris the results should have been a lot better than they have been. They still make some horrendous vehicles and that should have stopped completely a long time ago.
      • 8 Years Ago
      amazing how much the Cerv III looks like a C5 Vette... front fascia shape and contours, gerenhouse shape/design, etc. Amazing how many cues translated to production...
      • 8 Years Ago
      Thanks for the reminder of GM's innovative and rich heritage. We can be assured that today's worthy vehicles will be similarly honored some day.

      A Toyota storage hold or "museum" would feature very few of their vehicles from years past -- they would have all rusted away long ago, or simply be too embarrassingly derivative and/or ugly to merit display.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Amazing collection, the first blue car looks like a Jaguar XJ220.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Whoever cannot find a level of elegance, grace, and wonderment in the turbine Firebirds is dead inside. Modern cars display none of that originality, creativity, and pure imagination. Today, an innovation is 'Lane-Departure Warning' or cramming yet another speaker into a doughball sedan. Back then, it was completely automated interstate driving and clean-burning turbine power as shown in those two Firebirds.

      We're too worried about another mile-per-gallon or whether a five year-old is comfortable in the third row to really dream again. We've traded our fantasies for reality and for that, I'm saddened.

      These dream cars, they are truly of a time, one we will sadly never, ever see again.

      Appreciate them while they're still here.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Nice shots. It's been a few years since I've been; as the cars rotate between exhibition sites (e.g. RenCen, Tech Center, etc.), they change approximately once every 1-2 months or so.

      Sadly, it would have been nice to see more shots of that 6000 STE AWD - how'd you miss that?

      I've some of my own galleries - granted, they're not quite as good in terms of quality, but it at least gives some indication of what all's within...

      • 8 Years Ago
      Very cool cars. However, how did this turn into a Toyata bashing?

      Here's an interesting factoid:

      Chevy Imapala - Built in Canada
      Ford Focus - Built in Mexico
      Toyota Camry - Built in the USA

      While GM was making "interesting cars" Toyota was making money.
      • 8 Years Ago
      There's a reason why this isn't a museum - it's a holding area before cars are shown and loaned out.

      It's not a static collection, and many people will see these cars as GM is actively promoting their Heritage.

      The space is very underlit which explains the quality of the photos.

      • 8 Years Ago
      That would be one popular place if they opened it up to the public.
      • 8 Years Ago
      What a truly stunning collection of automotive history. I am glad to see that GM keeps this under lock and key, but at the same time it would be pretty damn cool to be able to check this place out.
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