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2003 AM General - Search And Rescue H1

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

Phil HowellPhotographer, Writer

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.

This Search and Rescue H1 has a 10,300-pound GVWR. With an average curb weight of 7,300 pounds, this means it can carry almost two tons of payload. A steel box section frame with five crossmembers holds everything together, and beefy, independent double A-arms with coil springs and hydraulic shocks complete a strong, reliable suspension system.

The suspended front and rear third members are identical and interchangeable, as are most of the suspension parts (except the half shafts). The third members, along with the New Venture 242 full-time transfer case (which features a locked high and low range), are mounted high in the frame, affording 16 inches of ground clearance.

Power is supplied by a 6.5L turbo diesel, which moves the big wagon very well, especially when crawling.

The H1 has geared hubs at each wheel. With a 1.92:1 gear ratio, the hubs effectively double the axle ratio. The half shafts enter the hub four inches above the center of the wheel.

The wheels are 17-inch aluminum two-piece beadlocks that have 37x12.50R17LT Falken WildPeak radials mounted. You know how much we like the Falkens with their beefy sidewalls that still exhibit good flex when aired down. An optional runflat device allows you to drive 30 mph for 30 miles on a flat tire. This H1 doesn’t have them, as the runflat devices are heavy and contribute to highway wheel shake. The tires can be plugged or the spare used in a non-combat environment.

The Hummer’s aluminum body doesn’t rust. The one-piece hood is a composite material. The body is assembled by bonding, then riveting the panels together, which makes an extremely tough package.

AM General offers few options, and they’re all on the Search and Rescue H1. The driveline and rocker panel skid plates protect the Hummer well. The front brush guard protects the vehicle from brush and small trees that are hanging in the trail. The trailer towing receiver attaches to the super-strong rear bumper and frame (which is designed for airlift procedures), and allows up to 9,000 pounds to be towed. A Warn industrial 12,000-pound winch works quickly and well. The Central Tire Inflation System with beadlocks give you much backcountry security, as does the AM General swingaway tire carrier with spare.

While a front locking differential wasn’t available on the 2003 models, AM General installed an Eaton ELocker up front to complement the rear ELocker already on the vehicle. H1 ELockers, built by Eaton, aren’t like the ones we can buy. They are limited slip units until electrically locked. The lockers, along with Hummer’s Torq Trac 4 traction system, make the H1 unstoppable on the trail (as long as it fits).

To outfit this H1 for Search and Rescue duty, AM General installed a Kussmaul Auto Eject charging system. This system, used on fire trucks and other emergency vehicles, keeps the batteries charged when the vehicle’s parked, then automatically ejects the plug when the vehicle is started. It also includes a 1,500-watt AC inverter. An aluminum AM General roof rack can carry gear, as do the AM General left wheelwell storage box and right wheelwell rack. Extra interior lights were installed to illuminate the stretcher that can be installed. Baja Designs supplied HID driving lights that light up the night. This H1 came equipped with leather seats, but AM General replaced the uncomfortable leather with the excellent, durable military seat fabric. Believe us, these seats are more comfortable than H1 leather.

The Search and Rescue H1 raises the bar for S&R vehicles. Built for war, it’s more than tough enough to save lives anywhere. It’s a lot of fun to drive, too!

Vehicle: 2003 AM General H1
Engine: 6.5L turbo diesel V-8
Transmission: GM 4L80E overdrive automatic
Transfer case/low range ratio: NVG 242/2.72:1
Front end: AM General (AMC 20)
Rear end: AM General (AMC 20)
Front Differential: Eaton ELocker
Rear Differential: Eaton ELocker
Suspension: Fully independent coil and A-arm
Tires: 37x12.50R17LT Falken WildPeak AT
Wheels: AM General 17-inch aluminum DOT-approved two-piece beadlocks