Rich in Automotive History
Renovated Packard Proving Grounds Offers Unique Venue for Special Events
The scenic multi-acre site in Shelby Township that once served as an automotive testing grounds for the Packard Motor Car Company and the Ford Motor Company as well as a testing facility for armored vehicles by the Chrysler Corporation, has been restored and renovated and now makes a unique setting for special events, including weddings, cars shows, farmers market and festivals.
The Packard Proving Grounds was originally a 560-acre site that contained a smooth 2.5-mile high-speed concrete oval track with timing tower, miles of rugged test roads with varying conditions, an airplane hangar, a repair garage and engineering building and a Tudor Revival style gate lodge with garage space for eight cars and dormitory rooms to house visiting engineers. Detroit architect Albert Kahn designed the major buildings at the facility, which opened in 1928 at a cost of more than $1 million.
The planted area at the grand entrance gates to the property was shaped like the famous Packard radiator grille. The grounds leading to the lodge that housed the proving grounds manager and his family were lavishly landscaped with flowering trees, roses and other ornamental landscaping.
It is said the oval track was so well engineered that drivers could travel around the banked curves in excess of 100 mph without holding the steering wheel, and in 1928 it was hailed as “the world’s fastest speedway” when American racecar driver Leon Duray set a world speed record of 148.7 mph.
Packard Motor Car Company, which also used the proving grounds for testing aircraft engines, developed the first diesel engine for airplanes here in 1929. Famed aviator, Col. Charles Lindbergh visited the site in 1929 to test fly a Packard powered airplane.
During World War II Chrysler Defense Engineering leased the ground to test tanks and other armored vehicles.
By 1956 the once prestigious Packard Motor Car Company, which by this time had merged with Studebaker, was in dire financial condition and forced to consolidate all its operations at the Indiana facility. In a last-ditch effort to avoid bankruptcy the corporation entered into an agreement with aircraft manufacturer Curtiss-Wright Corporation. Curtiss-Wright retained possession of the Packard Proving Grounds until 1961 when the company sold the property to Ford Motor Company which used the engine plant to manufacture automotive interior trim.
By 1998 Ford decided to make the property available for development with the intention to level the original buildings so the entire site could be marketed. This decision met with great opposition from Shelby Township residents and old-car enthusiasts. It was at this time that members of the Shelby Township Historical Committee banded together with car club members and citizens to submit proposals to have the Packard Proving Grounds site listed on the National Register of Historic Places and save portions of the property.
Thanks to their efforts over the past 16 years, which formed into the nonprofit group, the Packard Motor Car Foundation, 14 acres of the most historic and significant portions of the Proving Grounds have been preserved. The Packard Proving Grounds was designated a MotorCities National Heritage Area, an affiliate of the National Park Service, dedicated to preserving, interpreting and promoting the automotive and labor heritage of the state of Michigan.
Today, the picturesque grounds offer a beautiful venue for catered events such as business meetings, car shows and weddings, including indoor and outdoor options for ceremonies and receptions, accommodating up to 300 guests. Seven fully restored cars are available to rent for use as a static display or for hired drivers to transport guests around the property.
Guided tours of this grand piece of local automotive history are open to the public at 11 a.m. on Saturdays. Venue tours are offered during the weekly farmers market, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturdays, May through October. Upcoming events include the annual Cars-R-Stars show, June 8; Cannonball Run event, June 14; Easy Rodders Car Show, July 20; Growing Up Green family friendly eco festival, July 26; and the annual Open House, October 19.
The foundation welcomes support and input from collectors and historians to continue its mission of preserving one of the last remaining sites that was built by one of America’s great automotive companies.
The Packard Proving Grounds is located at 49965 Van Dyke, in Shelby Township. For more information, visit PackardMotorfdn.org. For calendar of events or to book an event, visit PackardEvents.org or call 586-943-5785. To volunteer, call Ro Hollingsworth at 586-945-4185 or email RoHollingsworth@gmail.com.