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2003 AM General - Search And Rescue H1

Front Angle
Phil Howell | Writer
Posted December 1, 2011

Built for War, It's More than Tough Enough to Save Lives Anywhere

In the 1970s, the U.S. Army had a variety of light tactical wheeled vehicles. These included the M151 series 1/4-ton, the half-ton M274 Mechanical Mule, the 1 1/4-ton M561 Gamma Goat, and the 1 1/4-ton M880 Dodge pickup.

While each vehicle performed its assigned tasks well, all of them together didn’t fully meet the basic requirements of the U.S. forces. The large variety of vehicles posed a logistics nightmare in the SNAFU (Situation Normal, All Fouled Up) conditions of wartime.

In 1979, with this in mind, the U.S. Army created a written requirement for a “High Mobility Multi-purpose Wheeled Vehicle,” or HMMWV. This vehicle would fulfill all the mission roles of the aforementioned vehicles, and would replace various specially designed, military wheeled platforms.

The Army’s requirements were extremely stringent. Demands for light armor, deep-water fording capability, arctic and desert operational abilities, and maintainability and durability were the toughest ever placed upon a tactical military vehicle — and these were just a few of the parameters laid out. Vehicle weight constraints meant that material applications breakthroughs had to be made.

Once the specifications for the HMMWV were released, the development 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 started.

The Teledyne prototype HMMWV was based on the “Cheetah,” a vehicle designed by Mobility Technology International. The Cheetah was purchased by Teledyne, which also involved Lamborghini of Italy in its development (this explains how the Lamborghini LM002 looks similar to AM General’s H1). The Chrysler vehicle was an adapted version 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, they went to work designing what would become the “Hummer” (later called the H1).

AM General’s prototype 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.

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 over a five-year period, with options to build another 15,000 vehicles if wanted. (AM General subsequently won a second contract in 1989 to build an additional 30,000 vehicles, with options to add more). Today, more than 170,000 HMMWVs have been built and fielded around the world.

The first action seen by the new HMMWV was in Panama, and they became famous for their reliability in Operation Desert Storm, Iraq, and Afghanistan. In fact, the scene of a dusty HMMWV, with tired soldiers or Marines driving it across impossible-looking terrain, has become synonymous with many people’s perception of modern warfare.

When AM General decided to meet the growing demand from the civilian marketplace and make the Hummer available to the public, it made just a few changes to the military HMMWV. Steel safety doors with side impact beams, a steel roof, comfortable seats, interior padding, sound-deadening insulation, and a commercially compatible 12-volt electrical system were the only changes needed.

The same tough drivetrain, chassis, and body that the military HMMWV gets continued with the civvy version. When the vehicles were built, they initially went through the military assembly line. The civilian Hummers then moved to another building, where they were “civilized,” optioned, and shipped to dealers around the country.

The H1 works well in our four-wheeling environment because it was designed for the world’s toughest environment — war. While we may beat up our 4x4s in the backcountry, usually we come home and perform needed repairs. The H1 was designed to perform in a wide variety of terrain, from desert to mountains, for long periods with minimal or no maintenance.


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