Lang Lang is a quiet little hamlet nestled comfortably on the fertile coastal flats, a stone’s throw from the Bass Highway and Westernport Bay. It used to be a stop on the South Gippsland railway network until the line closed down in 1993. Evidence of the railway lines and station building are still obvious in the town, but now the town’s main claim to fame is the Piza Shop at the end of the main street, or perhaps it’s as the centre of Australia’s largest asparagus growing region. However, mention the name Lang Lang to any motoring enthusiast and the Holden Proving Ground facility will probably be the first thing they think of.
Concealed behind a natural bush perimeter barrier and protected by high cyclone-mesh boundary fences, the Holden Lang Lang Proving Ground is a vehicle testing facility cloaked in secrecy and folklore. The 2000-acre site was opened in 1957 and has been used to test every Holden Model from the FC onwards as well as many vehicles from rival manufacturers. The facility includes laboratories, test and development facilities, a 44km network of sealed and unsealed roads which includes a ride and handling course, several rough and broken-surface roads, as well as a 5km, 4-lane circular, banked speed bowl.
Due to the obvious need for secrecy, as well as visitor safety concerns, the facility is rarely open for groups such as ours to visit. Security is such that all visitors need to sign a Release and Indemnity document and are instructed to leave any cameras (including mobile phones) with the security staff at the gate. Our Club, however, is fortunate to have Graeme Gunston as a member. Graeme is a transmission specialist who works at the Proving Ground and he was able to start the ball rolling by putting us in contact with Darren Smales and Henry Weinlich who gave it the go-ahead and put the morning’s activities together.
From the Club’s point of view, it must have been one of our largest outings ever! Seventy-nine people booked in and 44 vehicles were listed and registered. An impressive convoy including most of those vehicles departed from Drouin just as the sun was rising at 7am. They were joined by the rest of the participants at the Proving Ground’s car park at 7:45 where we finally met up with Henry, who had only been an email contact until then. Once the phones and forms had been collected and passed onto security, we drove single file behind Henry’s left-hand-drive Chev, which looked remarkably like a Commodore, though the gates and grounds to the ‘Chalet’ – a hospitality building located alongside a huge concrete skidpan. Because we weren’t permitted to take photos, Henry graciously offered to be the photographer for the day and he ensured we had a memory stick full of shots from our visit.
The morning began with a video presentation on the Proving Ground’s history, facilities and primary functions. It was interesting to see some original footage of old Holdens being tested over the specially constructed pot-holed pavements and cobblestone test strips. They certainly weren’t treated gently! With Holden manufacturing ceasing later this year, it was on the cards that the Proving Grounds might also close down, but the management at GM has decided to keep the facility open and utilise their expertise in the design, development and testing of GM products world-wide. After a question and answer session we assembled our vehicles on the skid pan for a photo shoot and then headed off behind Henry’s Chev for a lap of the Ride and Handling Circuit which unlike our public roads, has seemingly accurate advisory speed limits on the corners – you certainly wouldn’t want to try doubling any of these! The 4km course isn’t very wide, but it includes all sorts of corners that may be found on our roads. Some actual corners in Melbourne have even been duplicated and reproduced on this circuit.
From the Ride and Handling Circuit we moved onto the banked, speed bowl where we were instructed to cruise around for 2 laps in the second top lane, at no more than 100kmh. The banking is quite steep and the road surface quite coarse, but it has been designed in such a way that in the upper lane it is possible to drive hands free at high speed. Henry told the story of an attempt at crash-testing an early Holden Ute by placing a brick on the accelerator pedal and pointing it at the Armco barriers at the top of the track. The ute bounced off the Armco and headed off at top speed around the bowl. They were unable to stop it, so had to wait until it eventually ran out of petrol! The banking provided another group photo opportunity, including one of a special grouping of our members’ GM products at this iconic location.
Back at the Chalet we paused for morning tea whilst admiring the impressive, eclectic collection of member’s vehicles parked out front. With the sun now well and truly up and a beautiful day developing, those with convertibles took the opportunity to remove their hoods for the drive home. It was also an opportunity for an informal chat with Henry and Darren about their work at the Proving Ground which they obviously seemed to enjoy.
The morning concluded with Henry taking groups of passengers on a tyre-shredding, power-sliding fang around an open motorkhana-type of test on the skid pan in his V8 Chev. It was great fun to watch and those inside the car seemed to enjoy it even more! Once the smoke cleared, we thanked our hosts for a memorable visit and were escorted back to the main gate, passing several buildings and structures that we now recognised as being featured in the early film clips that Henry had shown us. It had been a terrific morning and those present certainly appreciated the opportunity to see behind the wire fence. Thankyou to Graeme, Darren and Henry for all the effort involved.
Photos by Henry Weinlich