By Dave S. Clark
Anybody who has ever been excited about the upcoming release of a new car knows what spy shots are. We’ve all seen them of cars being tested on the Nürgburgring or up north somewhere in the frozen arctic. Car manufacturers must test their new lines in the most extreme conditions, whether that is being abused on a demanding race track or being driven across a winter wasteland.
So when manufacturers want to test their cars in the extreme heat, where do they go? One of the world’s hottest places, Death Valley, California. Over the summer months, Death Valley car testing is at its peak, because normal temperatures hover around 120 Fahrenheit, or about 50 Celsius. It holds the record for the second hottest temperature ever recorded, a scorching 137F or 57C in 1913. It’s second only to Aziziya, Libya, which peaked at 136F or 57.8 C in 1922.
The extreme heat brings car testers out to put their vehicle’s through the most extreme temperatures on earth to see how they will fare. It also means it’s a hot spot for sighting cars that aren’t in production yet.
I had the chance to visit Death Valley in August 2012 and on the particular day I was there, the mercury topped out at 120F or 49C, a very balmy day by my standards. My visit was to do some sightseeing and experience the heat (heatseeking?) on a road trip I had taken to Vegas. I never expected to see fleets of test cars pushing their luck in the heat. I had pulled into the Furnace Creek Inn, one of the hotels in Death Valley, and I noticed an SUV in the parking lot, that was decked out in full blue camouflage with New Jersey plates. My wife and I looked at each other and chuckled, assuming it belonged to some fool with too much money who decided to make his truck look hideous.
But then as we headed to the Mesquite Sand Dunes to take some photos, we saw a fleet of Acuras, covered in tape and vinyl to disguise their identity, and it clicked – these were all pre-production test cars! Since the cars aren’t ready for production yet, the testers try to disguise their new vehicles as best as possible. The practice includes taping up headlights and taillights and putting large sheets of vinyl to mask curves and body lines.
After climbing the sand dunes for about three minutes until we were about to melt, we headed back to the inn, to discover that SUV was actually a Land Rover Discovery test mule, and they brought their friends. There were three Rovers, which I am assuming are the new Discos, but more exciting for me was the Jaguar F-Type, which was covered in a very nasty checkered flag vinyl. Despite the ugly graphics plastered to the side, I could tell it would be a sexy car, with some pretty nice lines.
The new Jag was the nicest car I was able to spot, but there were plenty more. Unfortunately the Acuras flew by too fast for me to get a good look at them. Chevrolet was taking advantage of the weather as well, with new Malibus and Impalas with very minimal camouflage touring around the valley.
If you’re looking to get a sneak peak at something still in the conceptual stage, head over to catch some Death Valley car testing during the summer months. I can only speak for the one day in August, but apparently these are common sights from June to August when temperatures are at their peak. The Land Rover and Jaguar crew stayed at the Furnace Creek Inn and the Chevy’s were all spotted staying at the Furnace Creek Ranch.
Before you head out, don’t forget to pack your air conditioning.