Nothing left to prove: A farewell to Bruntingthorpe

The time will come when people will look back and marvel that a place like Bruntingthorpe ever existed. Or the Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground, to give it its official name. But it was never that to us. It was, remains and always will simply be Brunters.

And now that it has changed hands and seems likely never to be used for car testing again, it already seems faintly improbable that we got to use it at all. For this in our risk-averse, cotton-wool-wrapped 21st century was a place where you could be doing 200mph within five minutes of turning off the main road onto the facility.

Indeed, I remember doing exactly that with Peter Boutwood of Noble Automotive about 10 years ago in the then new M600. We turned up, we waved cheerily at the bloke on the gate, I fired it down a two-mile runway built to accommodate Cold War nuclear bombers, hit 200mph, completed the lap and left.

We were on site for eight minutes. More recently (as in last year), we gathered together a McLaren F1, P1 and Senna for one of the most special days any of those in attendance will enjoy in their working lives. Three cars worth a total of £30 million, Bruntingthorpe at our disposal and no rules of any kind. It was heaven on earth in automotive form.

And that was what we loved most about Brunters: not so much the fact that there was nowhere else in Britain you could go faster, but the lack of apparent rules. Opportunities to have accidents of unfeasible proportions were almost everywhere.

Lose control and you might wipe yourself out against a Lockheed Tristar, a Handley Page Victor or a Boeing 747. You could be chuntering down the straight at three miles a minute and find a motorcycle weaving around in front of you at one-fifth of your speed or, just occasionally, travelling in the other direction. It felt like the Wild West.

Yet mostly we stayed safe. We would usually go and have a chat with whoever else was using the facility, figure out a mutually satisfactory plan that resulted in not wiping each other out and then just get on with it. Which meant that, within the bounds of common sense, there wasn’t much we couldn’t do.

Yet not once in all the years that I went to Brunters did anyone turn up or get on the radio saying “don’t do this”, “stop doing that” or anything else. By contrast, when I was road test editor of this magazine and spent half my life at the Millbrook Proving Ground, being barked at or told off by officialdom was a near-daily occurrence.

As Colin Goodwin recommends below, do watch the Autocar £250 banger race video on YouTube (; it will give you a very clear idea of just what lunacy you could get away with at Brunters.

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