We visit GM’s secret treasure trove

Hidden away in a nondescript industrial park, in a warehouse and office complex, in Sterling Heights, Michigan, is more than a century of General Motors history.

Inside are all of the most significant cars in the company’s history. Some are on display, some are in crates, some are on loan to dealers and others are loaned out to museums. For car enthusiasts, this is like finding the Holy Grail.

But there’s more. The Heritage Centre is also a vast and rapidly growing repository of files, information and photos going back to the very formation of the corporation.

GM Researcher and archivist John Kyros is our host and guide. “Look here”, he says, as we wander through the halls of files. “These are the office files of Zora Arkus-Duntov.”

Duntov was the guy who, in 1955, convinced Chevrolet to put its new OHV V8 into the Corvette and is credited with saving the model from termination, then guiding its rise as a legendary road and race car.

Carefully catalogued are three, 10 metre rows of files — ideas, memos, drawings, blueprints and all manner of Corvette information and insights from Duntov. For Corvette fans and historians this is mother lode.

Meanwhile, behind the files and a big roller door are the cars. Oh, the cars!

Over in one corner is the 1938 Buick Y Job. This is the first concept car ever built by a car maker and for GM was a design template for the next decade and a half.

Next to the Y Job is the 1951 Buick La Sabre, another significant concept car.

Both convertibles are driveable and even now they stun you with their sleek styling and waist-height silhouettes.

Alongside the Buicks are the Firebirds I, II and III. These were GM’s integration of airplane and car, and graced motor shows and magazine covers in the late 1950s, with turbine engines and all manner of technical innovations for their time.

In fact there are so many significant cars in the place — 200 on the floor when we visited — it is hard to take them all in. But here’s a taster:

  • first production Oldsmobile Toronado
  • first production Chevrolet Volt
  • 1962 Corvette Stingray prototype called the Mako Shark
  • ,Buick Rivera Silver Arrow III concept
  • six Cadillac concepts including the stunning “Sixteen” of 2003
  • four Corvette prototypes including one with a rotary engine
  • Add to this the 1966 “Electron Van”, an electric powered truck, with batteries charged by on-board fuel cells

There’s a cars for almost every year of manufacture, dating back to 1910 — and not all are vehicles in the collection are on display!

“We use the Centre as a base for research and for answering questions from car clubs, media and the public,” Kyros explains.

“We are not open to the public, but the facility can be booked for car club gatherings and GM uses it for meetings, conferences and training.”

As I leave I tell John Kyros that he has one of the best jobs in the world being here among all this history.

“A lot of people say that,” he says with a smile.

David Burrell is the editor of

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