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Cold, dry winter weather makes city ideal for testing Jaguars.

Cold, dry winter weather makes city ideal for testing Jaguars

The safety belt on Laura McCurdy-Wakeford's Jaguar Sovereign sedan automatically tracks around the window casing as she closes the door.

It settles over her shoulder. She matches it with a lap belt and steers for the road.

"JC-3 to JC-base for radio check," she calls into her radio phone.

This is old hat for the veteran Jaguar test driver in Timmins. For five years, four months per year, her work has been packaged into eight-hour shifts. Her opinion of vehicle performance is as much of an asset as her driving skills.

Jaguar has been cold-weather testing in Northern Ontario since about 1982, basing itself out of rented facilities in Timmins. During the cold months, the company runs three shifts of vehicles to get a feel for car performance during all weather and traffic conditions.

The short-legged driver, the one with the sensitive back, the person wearing contact lenses - all of these representatives of the consumer-at-large are valuable behind the test-car wheel.

Northern Ontario, and Timmins in particular, has become a hub for cold-weather testing. Peak months are January and February, as automobile companies compete for the leading edge in cold-weather technology.

Some companies, such as General Motors, have established permanent bases in the north. The GM centre is in Kapuskasing.

Other companies work through independent test companies which serve clients on a contract basis. Such a company is KTC Testing and Development Inc., situated on the former Lowther air force base near Opasatika.

All of the companies like Northern Ontario because of its cold, dry climate and its proximity to fair-sized towns. These provide amenities and service. Although cold tests can be done in Scandinavia, there isn't the population base in those northern regions.

Andrew Smith, a senior engineer with Jaguar and team leader for a group of engineers and technicians imported from Coventry, Eng., finds the cold more consistent in Northern Ontario than in Sweden and Finland.

"We sell cars in Canada. Consequently, we see it as an important part of our business to test there and prove the cars are capable of withstanding the conditions," said Smith.

He also likes the privacy. His company, like all the others, is testing prototype components, including shocks, engines or transmissions. Sometimes the cars themselves are prototypes.

When Jaguar first began testing in Northern Ontario, the company was testing a new body design and had to keep the vehicles under cover, said McCurdy-Wakeford.

Apparently, in Europe, there are professional spies who flush under-cover prototypes out from under wraps. This is not a problem in Canada.

Jaguar is more open than many other companies. Its quarters are no secret. However, the Rover group testing in Timmins was more cautious.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Laurentian Business Publishing, Inc.
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Copyright 1990, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Timmins Report
Author:Smith, Marjie
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Date:Aug 1, 1990
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