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News of  November 21, 2001


BMW Vehicle Test Facility Opened 30 Years Ago

Photo: BMW

Munich - When BMW unveiled its own proving grounds near Munich in 1971, it signalled a major leap forward for the company's automotive development work. 20 October 1971 marked the official opening of BMW AG's very own vehicle test site in the northeast of Munich. Following a construction period of over three years, a complex was unveiled next to the Isar reservoir in the district of Aschheim covering 670,000 square meters in area. Thanks to expansion and conversion work carried out since then, it remains one of the most modern facilities of its kind to this day.

At a time when local pressure groups were beginning to makes themselves felt, finding a location that would lend itself to vehicle testing facilities wasn't easy. Specifications for the size of the site and the type of terrain were high. Eventually BMW managed to find a location between Aschheim and Ismaning which fulfilled all these requirements and was just 30 minutes away from the BMW factory in north Munich and the planned new "four-cylinder" BMW head office.

The site stretches like a ribbon along one of the River Isar's reservoirs in an environmentally sensitive zone, which is also a haven for birds. It runs for a good four kilometers in length but is no more than 100 to 600 meters wide. Thanks to the reservoir's dam and a sound insulation wall opposite, the noise of the vehicles is so effectively dampened that any concerns about the testing operations negatively impacting on the environment and possibly frightening off bird species were soon dispelled. In fact, it had almost the opposite effect with some birds taking to nesting in discarded crash-test vehicles.

Before the facilities could be launched, however, around one million cubic meters of earth had to be shifted and some 35 kilometers of road constructed, along with various buildings. The essential aim of the test facilities and circuits was to create the conditions for replicating, largely through electronic measuring systems, the results of the road tests necessary for the development of high-performance vehicles. Previously this had only been possible to a limited degree on public highways. To achieve this aim, the site had to be completely leveled.

The core components of the facility are a 7.7-kilometre long high-speed measuring section, a handling course, a skid pad and a crash-test facility. The high-speed stretch, built along to emulate a motorway, allows for all the desired speeds to be reached while deliberately dispensing with an albeit spectacular but largely academic steep turn. The approximately three-kilometer long twisty labyrinth of the handling course was given a jump hill, along with every conceivable type of turn for testing road holding and driving safety. The infield area of the west loop contains a skid pad and a slalom course as well as a sprinkler system and mobile water cannon. The crash-test facility and rollover pad were installed inside the east loop. The test site's "nervous system" was unique for its time, featuring 56 km of electric cabling, 27 km of antenna, instrument and control leads, as well as countless power units for light barriers and switch plugs dispersed across all the test areas.

The second construction stage saw a further test area built in 1972, which includes various road surfaces and undulations along with inclines and braking sections, flooded areas, an aquaplaning stretch and a crosswind installation. The test facilities are complemented by a building in which endurance testing and exhaust tests are carried out.

Shifting parameters arising from increased energy costs and stricter legal regulations governing vehicle fuel consumption and noise levels led to the addition of an "Aerodynamic and thermal test center" in 1980. It includes a large wind tunnel suitable for testing cars and motorcycles, as well as climatic, cooling and acoustic test benches.

Following the success of BMW cars in the world market and a steadily expanding model range, the Aschheim test site approached full capacity in the mid-eighties. This prompted BMW to acquire the former racing circuit of Miramas in southern France in 1986 and turn it into a second test site. While the advantage of Aschheim lies in its proximity to the company's vehicle development headquarters, the great benefit of the French test site between Marseille and Avignon is in being independent of winter weather conditions. Cars and motorcycles can be adequately tested here all year round. Miramas also affords ideal conditions for testing the Formula 1 racecars of the BMW WilliamsF1 Team.

The significance of test facilities of this kind for automotive development continues to grow and is subject to regular adaptation in order to meet the changing laws and regulations governing modern vehicles.

(November 13, 2001)

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