The Real Thing: Ford’s Dearborn Development Center

the real thing fords dearborn development center facility 1

This article is part of our continuing series, Detroit Goes Digital, that goes behind the scenes in Ford’s advanced virtual reality design labs.

Old timers say there’s no replacement for displacement. While the 3.5-liter, 365-horsepower Taurus SHO tears that adage to tatters, Ford truly has found no digital replacement for rubber on asphalt. At the Dearborn Development Center directly adjacent to its R&D labs, Ford engineers can finally put the creations they’ve nurtured digitally for years into drive and see how they perform.

A small airport in the days of Henry Ford, the company revamped the 365-acre plot of land in 2006 with 2.5 miles of high speed track, 2.6-miles of undulating low-speed pavement, a 0.8-mile straightaway, and every variant in between: gravel, railroad crossings, curbs, vertigo-inducing brake hills and a 12-acre wet pad for testing how vehicles perform with less-than-ideal traction.

Although Ford has a much larger proving ground in Romeo, Michigan, and outside Phoenix, Arizona, the close proximity of the Dearborn facility streamlines the development process by allowing engineers to tinker with their creations quite literally in their own backyard.

This is where, for instance, the brains behind Ford’s hands-free parking assist program first buckled in, took their hands off the wheel, and put their programming to the test. Where the latest Ford Fiesta got its sea legs with suspension tuning in the curves. And where some lucky test driver gets to fling Mustangs around a skid pad.

It’s also the last chance garage for fixing issues that don’t show up on any drawing board – virtual or otherwise – like wind noise and vibration.

After that, it’s into the sunset, into production, and into the showroom for a whole new litter of Detroit offspring.

Follow the links below to check out our other articles on Ford’s new technology and find out how the age of digital design is changing the hunk of steel and rubber in your driveway for the better.