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.