The Beast Gets Better
We're all familiar with the H1 Hummer. It has made its mark, not only on the battlefields of the world, but in the backcountry and on the boulevard here at home. The new civilian H1 has a number of improvements, making it a more comfortable vehicle as well as even more capable in the rough. Before we go into those improvements, let's go back and see how the Hummer came to be.
In the 1970s, the U.S. Army had a number of light tactical wheeled vehicles. These included the M151 -ton (the most recent variant of the venerable Jeep-type vehicle); the 1/2-ton M274 Mechanical Mule; the -ton Gamma Goat; and the 1-1/4-ton M880 Dodge pickup. All these vehicles performed their assigned missions well, but in wartime conditions, keeping such a variety of vehicles going could turn into a logistical nightmare. Couldn't one vehicle be designed that could replace all the rest?
In 1979, with this in mind, the U.S. Army created a written requirement for a "High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle," or HMMWV. The HMMWV would fulfill all the mission roles of the aforementioned vehicles and would also replace various specially designed military wheeled platforms.
The Army's requirements were stringent. Demands for light armor, deep-water-fording capability, arctic and desert operational abilities, maintainability, and durability requirements that were the toughest ever placed upon a tactical military vehicle were a few of the parameters laid out. Vehicle weight constraints meant that material-application breakthroughs had to be made.
Once the specifications for the HMMWV were released, the development race began. While six designs were submitted to the Army, the three main players were Chrysler Defense (later sold to General Dynamics), Teledyne, and AM General. Teledyne and Chrysler Defense already had vehicles that met most of the HMMWV specifications on their drawing boards at the time AM General took on the project. The Teledyne prototype was based on the Cheetah, a vehicle designed by Mobility Technology International. The Cheetah was purchased by Teledyne, who included Lamborghini of Italy in its development (this is why Lamborghini's LM002 looks similar to AM General's Hummer). The Chrysler vehicle was an adaptation of the Saluki desert design. AM General had no older designs to start with, so, with the other companies well ahead in development of an HMMWV, it went to work designing what would become the Humvee.
AM General's prototype HMMWV went to the Nevada desert for testing in July 1980 - only 11 months from its inception and ahead of its competitors. The U.S. Army now had three serious contenders for the HMMWV contract.
While the testing and evaluation process was too involved for us to go into, the final winner of the exhaustive tests was the AM General design. In March 1983, AM General was awarded a $1.2 billion contract to produce 55,000 HMMWVs during a five-year period, with options to build another 15,000 vehicles if wanted. AM General subsequently won new contracts for additional vehicles. More than 185,000 HMMWVs and H1 Hummers, both military and civilian, have now been built since the start of production.
The first action seen by the new Humvees (as the military calls the HMMWV) was in Panama, and they quickly became famous for their reliability in Operation Desert Storm. Operations around the world, including Afghanistan and Iraq, have proven the Humvee in the toughest environment known to man - combat operations. The scene of a dusty Humvee, with tired soldiers or Marines driving across impossible-looking terrain, has become synonymous with many people's perception of operations in the fight against terror.
We can thank California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger for the civilian Hummer (the name given by AM General to the civilian Humvee). He talked his good friend and President of AM General Jim Armour into letting him try a Humvee. He then reported on how well it worked and, with some rough edges smoothed off, how well a civilian version might be received. A growing clamor from the civilian marketplace also convinced AM General to offer the Humvee to the public. A few changes to the military Humvee were made, including steel safety doors with side-impact beams, a steel roof on hardtop and wagon models, more comfortable seating, interior padding, insulation, and a commercially compatible 12-volt electrical system. Since then, more changes have been made to make the H1 Hummer work even better in mufti.
The 1999 marketing agreement with GM hasn't diminished the H1 Hummer's toughness. The same drivetrain, chassis, and body that the military Humvee has continues in the civilian version. When the vehicles are built, they initially go through the military assembly line. The civilian H1s then move to another building, where they are "civilized," optioned, and then shipped to dealers.
The H1 works well in our four-wheeling environment because it was designed for war, the toughest four-wheeling environment. While we may beat our 4x4s in the backcountry, we usually get home and perform needed repairs quickly. The H1 has to perform well in a variety of terrain - be it desert, mountains, or jungle - for long periods, with minimal or no maintenance. A sharp rock or broken bead will give our domestic rigs a flat tire, while the H1 military vehicle has to worry about battlefield problems, such as running over a land mine.
Since we're Off-Road magazine, we don't much care about how the H1 Hummer works on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, even though it has become de rigueur to be seen in one there. The changes made to the H1's interior, though, do apply to both the boulevard cruiser and the serious backcountry explorer.
The new H1 features heated leather-trimmed seating that's comfortable, especially for the driver. Passenger space is still a bit cramped, due to the large driveline hump down the center of the cockpit. The big hump allows the transmission, transfer case, and other driveline components to get way up out of harm's way, so the trade off is worth it, in our opinion. The new A/C and heating system, borrowed from GM trucks, works adequately for front and rear passengers and is easy to control. Updated gauges convey needed information to the driver. The Monsoon six-disc CD changer/radio sounds great and is easy to use. New storage compartments for the driver and front passenger make storing small things such as glasses easier than before. The heated windshield was added a few years ago, but still works great for those in cold climates who need to keep the windshield free of mist, snow, and ice. An available night-vision device was not included on our test H1, so we can't comment on how it performs.
The controls for the Central Tire Inflation System (CTIS) have been moved up to a position on the dash, which makes it easier to use while underway. The CTIS uses a tough 12-volt compressor under the hood that not only inflates the tires, but can be used for other needs around the camp. Deflating the front and rear tires is as easy as pushing a switch and watching the gauge. Inflating them is just as easy - push the switch and watch the gauge until it reads the desired pressure. We've used the same air compressor in other vehicles, but it seemed to work much faster in the H1. During the photo shoot in the Hurricane sand dunes and slickrock, it was convenient to be able to air down in the sand to minimum pressure, then air up a little for the off-camber slickrock sections. Joining the compressor under the hood are dual batteries, a superb air cleaner, and fairly easy-to-reach service points.
The 6.5L V-8 turbodiesel, currently built by AM General, is adequate for highway running and is excellent off-road. The torque supplied in Low range will truly "pull stumps." Fuel economy during our test ranged from 10-12 mpg - not terrible when considering the 7,600-pound heft of our H1 wagon and the way we drove it. For '06, the H1 will have the GM Duramax V-8 diesel and Allison transmission. We can't wait to get our hands on one of those.
There are many reasons why the H1 Hummer works well off-road. The 16 inches of ground clearance down the middle of the vehicle allows for traveling over large rocks, although you still might whack the beefy lower A-arms if you aren't careful. The venerable 4L80E overdrive automatic is tough, and the gear ratios in the tranny match the 6.5L turbo's output. The full-time transfer case is a very strong NV242. While differential gearing sounds too high at 2.73:1, that number is almost doubled by the 1.92:1-geared hubs at all four corners, making the overall gear ratio of the H1 5.24:1. New H1s come equipped in standard trim, with the TorqTrac4 electronic and mechanical traction system that includes Zexel Torsen torque-biasing differentials. Our H1 came with the Adventure Package, which includes Eaton E-Lockers front and rear that allow you to completely lock front, rear, or both differentials at the touch of a button. The E-Lockers impressed us during our test. It was nice to be able to run open until lockers were needed, then immediately switch to full lock-up when the obstacle was tough. The Eaton E-Locker is a very simple and seemingly bulletproof piece that works even better than claimed.
The H1's brakes are four-wheel (halfshaft axles) discs mounted inboard at the differential. They're up high and out of harm's way, especially since they're also protected by the Hummer's front-to-back underbody armor. The halfshafts also enter the geared hubs 4 inches above centerline. The Adventure Package wheels are two-piece 17-inch aluminums, with an inner and outer bead lock and a Runflat device. The tires are 37x12.50R17LT (load-range E) Goodyear Wrangler MT/Rs. AM General says that the Runflat works for about 30 miles, but we ripped a sidewall on the first third of the Golden Spike trail in Moab, then completed the whole trail and drove back to town on the flat, just to see if we could. The Runflat got us home. Also included in the Adventure Package is a 12,000-pound Warn winch. The winch is fast and reliable and will extract the H1 from most difficulties. In most cases, you'll be able to use the winch to help others who are stuck. The Hummer makes a great winch anchor.
We already mentioned the H1's underbody protection that runs the length of the vehicle. Also standard is aluminum rocker-panel protection that wraps around the underside of the body and goes all the way to the frame. The flat, smooth surface allows the H1 to slide over rocks it can't clear. The body is built from tough 6061 T6 hardened aircraft aluminum that seems to really be able to take a beating. The fiberglass hood is protected up front by a standard grille guard that's been beefed up since we last visited the Hummer in the late '90s.
The wide low-profile H1 works great off-road, as already stated. AM General makes claims in its product descriptions relating to the H1's slope-climbing and sidehill ability. Those comments are understated. The H1 can sidehill beyond everyone's comfort level and can climb unbelievably steep slopes due to its 130-inch wheelbase. The body width is a factor when trying to squeeze through a narrow canyon, but it's possible to put one side of the H1 way up the canyon wall and sidehill through the narrow spot diagonally. Another help here is the H1's 25-1/2-foot turning radius. The big vehicle can really be whipped around in tight places. A surprise was the Hummer's sand performance. Let's face it: An 8,000-pound-plus (with fuel and passengers) vehicle doesn't sound like the ideal dune buggy. The H1, however, floated over the dunes as long as we aired the tires down to 8 or 10 psi. Upon further reflection, we realized the Humvee wouldn't be part of the military's lineup if it didn't work in the sand.
The H1 Hummer continues the tough tradition of its military siblings. The current H1 has improved creature comforts, although it still doesn't hide its military heritage. That heritage stands H1 owners in good stead when they're hanging it out on tough backcountry roads and trails. The beast has gotten better, but there's still plenty of beast to satisfy even the most hardened off-roader. Just wait until the '06 H1 arrives.
H1 Hummer Four-door Wagon SpecificationsLength: 184.5 inchesWidth (excluding mirrors): 86.5 inchesTrack width: 71.6 inchesHeight: 75 inchesWheelbase: 130 inchesCurb weight: 7,608 poundsPayload: 2,692 poundsGround clearance: 16 inchesApproach angle (with winch): 47 degreesDeparture angle: 37.5 degreesBreakover angle: 32.5 degreesTurning radius: 25.5 feetGrade capacity: 60 percentSidehill capability: 40 percentWater-fording capability: 30 inchesRunflat capability: 30 miles @ 20 mph