Hummer ups the ante with Alpha bits
As editors of Four Wheeler, opportunities sometimes cross our desks that are just too good to pass up, especially when they are things that a normal person would never get a chance to do. When Hummer called us about the newly upgraded 2006 Hummer H1 Alpha, the phone conversation went something like this:
"Hi, want to drive the all new Humme...?"
"But, I haven't told you what it is yet."
"Yes, sign me up anyway."
"Do you care that it's the redesigned H1 Alpha?"
"Alpha, huh? Sounds manly ... We like manly!"
"Yes, it certainly is manly with the 6.6L Duramax in it."
"Ooooh, Duramax!?! You mean it can accelerate now?"
"Yeah, even uphill!"
So with little delay, we vacated the high-rise luxury of our L.A. office and traded our sumptuously padded tweed chair for a seat on a rickety puddle jumper with floating cushions. We bobbed and weaved in the sky until we reached the beautiful resort town of Lake Tahoe, Nevada. See, there isn't anything that we wouldn't go through to bring our readers a good story. With perfect weather and eye-arresting scenery, we had to remind ourselves that we weren't here to vacation. We had work to do. Hard work. That's right, no heavy lifting of telephone handsets, or the monotonous typing on a keyboard, no sir. We were off to flex our professional expertise to wheel and evaluate the new Hummer H1 Alpha in the Pyramid Lake area of western Nevada, which so happens to be surrounded by snow-capped mountains that time of year. Hmm, doesn't sound like such a bad assignment after all, does it?
For 2006, Hummer has reengineered the H1 series and slapped on an Alpha badge to distinguish it from lesser Hummers. While all civilian H1s, save for K-series fleet vehicles, will be Alphas for 2006, on the rest of the Hummer line, Alpha will be the top-of-the-line trim and will only account for about 10 percent of each vehicle line's production. To a potential Hummer buyer, Alpha means higher performance, more horsepower, better suspension, and a level of exclusivity that might annoy drivers of other premium brands. On the H1, Alpha primarily advertises the nearly revolutionary improvement of the 6.6L Duramax turbodiesel and Allison 1000 five-speed automatic transmission from General Motors' fullsize truck line. In H1 trim, the engine makes 300 hp and 520 lb-ft of torque, a lead-foot-inspiring 46 percent and 18 percent gain, respectively.
To those of you familiar with the H1, the Alpha will look just like the same old Hummer, save for the much-upgraded interior and switchgear that appeared in last year's version, and the unobtrusive 2-inch filler panel, visible in the rear, to bridge the gap created by the body lift, which was required to fit the new drivetrain. The changes didn't stop there, as fitting the Duramax was not a simple swap and required a host of other alterations to the H1's chassis. Because of the longer length of the Duramax/Allison combo, the fuel tanks had to be shortened, but the body lift allowed them to be made taller, which resulted in an increase in fuel capacity to 28.5 gallons for the main tank and 24 gallons for the auxiliary tank, giving the H1 Alpha a nearly 600-mile, bladder-busting cruising range.
The bottom of the Duramax engine also had to be redesigned, as the original oil pan hung down 2 inches below the framerails, which was unacceptable on a vehicle designed to have all of its vitals tucked out of harm's way. So the engineers not only reshaped the oil pan, but also changed the oil pick-up and baffled it to prevent oil starvation at the extreme angles that an H1 was designed to experience.
With 520 lb-ft of torque on tap, the old CV axles were set aside for beefier pieces, which now attach to the newly enlarged inboard 12-inch brake rotors for better stopping power. A whole new cooling stack also had to be developed, this time incorporating an intercooler and fuel cooler--a change that required the mechanical fan to be run off the crank pulley and angled up to the radiators through a small gearbox.