GM Heritage Center: Behind the Scenes
Odds and ends from the showroom floor
The Center’s showroom floor (a phrase I’m using; I’m not sure if that is the term used internally) is stuffed not only with vehicles I’d sell some of my less-used organs to see again but also a seemingly innumerable amount of historical auto-related items. These items include printed and electric signage, display cases filled with significant badging and hood ornaments, beautiful artwork, and even a display area comprised solely of engines, dozens of them.
This colossal item shown to the right is actually a blade from the GM Tech Center’s wind tunnel.
Initially, GM rented test time at off-site facilities to perform aerodynamics and cooling tests. That process was cumbersome and time consuming, conflicting with the desire to perform rapid design changes. By the early 1970s GM was formulating ideas to take matters into their own hands.
Taking 34 months to construct, their very own wind tunnel was completed in August of 1980 as part of GM’s new Aerodynamics Laboratory. The facility became the first full-scale automotive aerodynamics wind tunnel in North America and remains the largest of its kind in the world.
The test section measures just under 18 feet high, just over 34 feet wide and almost 70 feet long. The fan’s blades, like that shown above right, measure 43 feet in diameter. The electric motor driving the blades produces 4,500 hp; sufficient to generate wind speeds of up to 138 mph in the test area.
Since the design properties leading to good aerodynamics are less of a mystery these days, I’ve read that the wind tunnel is increasingly utilized to aid designers in the battle against wind noise.
Here’s an overview shot of some of the engines I mentioned were on display. Some additional things you may notice in the surrounding area are the rear end of the 1988 Cadillac Voyage concept (far left), a lineup of multiple generations of Chevrolet’s storied Suburban utility vehicle (far rear left), and large numbers painted some roll-up doors (rear right).
Okay, the story on the numbered doors has to do with one of several movies that have been filmed on location at the Center. If I remember correctly, those numbers were painted for one of the Transformers movies. (Those movies, you may recall, made heavy use of production and concept vehicles from GM, including the 2009 Corvette Stingray concept which was on display.)
After filming had completed, the Center figured they looked sort of cool and decided to leave them. I agree and personally hope that they too will one day have a little plaque designating their significance.
Right about when America started its love affair with efficiency and detest of large, powerful vehicles, Cadillac rolled out a stunning concept that showed the brand’s potential to handily establish itself amongst the ultra-lux crowd. Yeah it was only a concept but it indicated Cadillac’s aim and, I think more importantly, capability to tap into its long-lost heritage. It had sixteen cylinders for cryin’ out loud.
Its 13.6-liter(!), 32-valve XV16 fresh-design concept engine developed 1,000 hp and 1,000 pound-feet of torque. The wreath and crest was going straight for the competition’s jugular but, alas, threw in the towel because of skyrocketing fuel prices and no doubt GM’s impending financial crisis.
The Sixteen concept car was on display as well–with the windows down much less. The aroma emanating from the interior was mesmerizing. I did take plenty of pictures of that car but will be waiting to share them until… well, you know.
It held the title of being the world’s largest production-car engine, providing 400 bhp and an astounding 550 pound-feet of torque. Maybe more incredible is that it could be had in any Cadillac model, so long as it was the Eldorado; I find that sort of ironic since that was their one and only front-wheel-drive model.
Unfortunately, and eerily similar to what doused any hopes for a production version of the Sixteen concept discussed above, the oil embargo happened shortly after the 500 CID was introduced. The result was a power reduction to 365 bhp for 1971; 235 for ’72 and ’73; and 210 for ’74. By 1975, The 500 CID motor was standard fare on all Cadillac models except the new Seville but, by then, output was a paltry 190 bhp. In its last year, it remained standard on all models except Seville with an unchanged standard output of 190 bhp but was available optionally with 215 bhp.
Quite a legacy and I suppose it was most fitting to have this early ’70s motor example covered in a gold finish. So apropos.
Last but certainly not least, let’s look at some backroom storage areas not intended to be seen on any regular tour.
Continue to page 4, below.