Spoils of War (Part One)

Hummer would become a lightning rod for political and cultural divisions in 21st Century America.

1999 Hummer H1. Image: carexpert.com.au

The 1991 Gulf War was the global reality television event of the twentieth century(1). In response to Saddam Hussein’s August 1990 invasion of Kuwait and seizure of the small and poorly defended emirate’s oil fields, a US-led coalition of 35 countries began a counter-offensive on 17th January 1991. Operation Desert Storm began with an arial and naval bombardment, followed by a ground assault beginning on 24th February. In four days, it was all over. Saddam’s forces had been routed and the emirate, rather the worse for wear after the conflict, was returned to its rulers.

For overseas audiences, there was a strange air of unreality about the war. Such was the level of confidence in a swift and decisive victory that certain coalition military operations were scheduled to coincide with primetime US television viewing. The Gulf War coverage also created a new automotive icon, the Humvee(2).

The Humvee is an unarmoured or lightly armoured 4×4 vehicle, designed to carry troops and their equipment. It first entered service in 1983, but only really entered the public consciousness fully when it featured prominently in television coverage of Operation Desert Storm.

The Humvee is built by a company called AM General, based in South Bend, Indiana. AM General was formerly part of the Kaiser Jeep Company and was renamed by American Motors Corporation after it purchased Jeep from Kaiser in 1970. When Renault bought a controlling stake in AMC in December 1980, AM General, as a US military defence contractor, had to be sold off because US government regulations forbade even indirect foreign ownership of such companies. AM General was purchased by a US conglomerate, LTV Corporation, in 1983, then sold on to a US industrial holding company, Renco Group, in 1992.

A Humvee in the field of operations. Image: washingtonpost.com

Following its prominent role in the Gulf War, AM General decided to produce a civilian version of the Humvee. This was launched in March 1992 as the Hummer, with the first vehicle(3) being bought by Arnold Schwarzenegger, who had lobbied AM General for its production. A derivative of the M998 Humvee, the Hummer was produced in a number of bodystyles including a four-door hardtop, an open-top, and a ‘slant-back’ that resembled the military Humvee.

The Hummer had rather unusual dimensions for a road-going private passenger vehicle.  It had a wheelbase of 130” (3,302mm), overall length of 184½” (4,687mm), width of 86½” (2,197mm) and height of 77” (1,956mm). Compared with the contemporary Chevrolet Suburban full-size SUV, it was 35” (889mm) shorter, but 9½” (241mm) wider and 8¼” (210mm) taller. The imposing width and height, together with its military styling, made it a very intimidating presence on the road.

The Hummer’s off-road statistics were hugely impressive. Ground clearance was 16” (406mm). It could wade through water of up to 30” (762mm) depth, and climb a 22” (559mm) step. Approach and departure angles were 72° and 36° respectively. Of course, it is a moot point as to what proportion of the Hummer’s potential customers needed all (or any) of its extreme off-road capabilities.

Car and Driver magazine enlisted a rather improbable ‘celebrity’ to test-drive the Hummer in June 1995. Gordon Liddy(4) was President Richard Nixon’s ‘fixer’ and served time in prison for his role in the 1972 Watergate scandal.

Tonka Toy: 1999 AM General Hummer H1. Image: mecum.com

Liddy was unimpressed by the Hummer. Firstly, there was its engine, a 350 cu.in. (5.74 litre) Chevrolet ‘small-block’ petrol V8, which was simply overwhelmed by the 6,766 lbs (3.07 metric tonnes) weight of the vehicle.  Consequently, 0 to 60mph (97km/h) took 18.1 seconds and the top speed was just 83mph (134km/h). Such was the strain on the inadequate engine that it sounded “…as if it were lubed with sand imported from Daytona Beach.” The brakes were equally inadequate. The stopping distance from 70mph (113km/h) was 253 feet (77m). Liddy advised Hummer drivers to “wear steel-soled motorcycle boots and drag your feet.”

Petrol consumption was predictably frightening, no better than “7 to 9 mpg(5), and that was in predominantly freeway driving.” Thanks to a “wildly pessimistic” fuel gauge, that equated to an open road range of around 135 miles. Despite the Hummer’s extreme width, the interior accommodation was compromised by the “immense drivetrain tunnel(6) that separates the front seats”, in reference to which Liddy quipped that “…the driver is in Washington D.C. [while] the passenger is in Baltimore.”

Liddy described the finish as “first-rate, exactly as it should be for a vehicle costing $71,760.” For all its shortcomings, he concluded that, with a more powerful engine(7) and better brakes, he might drive one. As it stood, Liddy postulated that the Hummer had been “emasculated by the forces of political correctness” which was evidenced by its puny engine (and the various warning notices on the sun visors). Liddy may well have been playing to the gallery here, but his hard-right macho public persona(8) aligned perfectly with the Hummer’s image, and vise-versa.

Lost in Space: Hummer H1 Interior. Image: gtopcars.com

Hummer civilian sales ticked along steadily during the 1990s, averaging around one thousand a year. This attracted the attention of General Motors, which bought the rights to the Hummer name and marketing in December 1999. The existing vehicle was rebranded with the suffix H1 in preparation for the launch of a second model. This arrived in 2002 as the Hummer H2.

GM had spotted an opportunity with Hummer, for which it supplied engines and other hardware to AM General. The H1 was simply too impractical for many potential customers, being extraordinarily wide and tall, yet having very cramped interior space. GM knew that the Hummer’s image held great appeal for a certain demographic, so it would build a much more conventionally dimensioned and practical vehicle that reprised the military-inspired styling of the H1.

It is sometimes assumed that the H2 was a smaller vehicle than the original, but it was in fact 5¼” (133mm) longer at 189¾” (4,820mm)(9) while sitting on a wheelbase that was 7¼” (184mm) shorter at 122¾” (3,118mm). It was, however, a substantial 5¼” (133mm) narrower at 81¼” (2,064mm) and just ¾” (19mm) taller at 77¾” (1,975mm). The reason for these changes in dimensions was that GM wanted to build a vehicle that was much more suited to on-road use than the H1, and the excessive width of the latter was problematic in everyday use, for example in typical car park spaces. It also wanted the H2 to be more practical and capacious than the H1, while retaining its signature styling motif.

The Hummer story continues shortly in Part Two.

 

(1) This is in no way intended to diminish the real suffering and loss endured by participants and victims of the conflict. It is merely a reference to the unprecedented scale of media coverage the Gulf War attracted.

(2) More correctly HMMWV, an acronym for High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle.

(3) Schwarzenegger also bought a Humvee, modified to make it road-legal.

(4) G. Gordon Liddy (1930 – 2021) was a lawyer by profession. He worked as an FBI agent before joining the administration of President Richard Nixon in 1971. He orchestrated the burglaries of the Democratic National Convention headquarters in May and June 1972 and served 4½ years in prison for his crimes.

(5) U.S. gallons, which equates to approximately 8 to 11mpg imperial (33.6 to 26.1 L/100km).

(6) The extraordinary ground clearance of the Hummer H1 necessitated a very wide central tunnel bisecting the cabin to accommodate the drivetrain, forcing occupants to sit far apart in narrow footwells.

(7) Liddy nominated the 454 cu.in. (7.44 litre) ‘big-block V8 from his Chevrolet Suburban for the purpose.

(8) The Washington Post newspaper dubbed Liddy “The Darth Vader of the Nixon administration”, a soubriquet he clearly relished.

(9) The externally mounted spare wheel, when fitted, increased the overall length to 203½” (5,169mm)

Author: Daniel O'Callaghan

Shut-line obsessive...Hates rudeness, loves biscuits.

32 thoughts on “Spoils of War (Part One)”

  1. Good morning, Daniel. What an interesting vehicle you brought us today.

    As far as I know the HMMWV is so wide so it could fit the tank tracks. Then there were a number of features you won’t see on your average car like the portal axles, almost horizontally mounted radiator and the central tire inflation system.

    Toyota made the Mega Cruiser, which looks similar. I’m sure it’s better than a Hummer: it has three wipers on the windscreen and double wipers on the rear window. How can I possibly live without that 😉

    1. Good morning Freerk. That explanation for the Humvee’s width makes perfect sense, thank you. Regarding the twin rear windscreen wipers on the Mega Cruiser, I can think of only one other road-going vehicle that had that feature, and it’s also a Toyota, the Camry XV10 estate:

      Doubtless, DTW readers can think of others!

    2. The Mega Cruiser and the Camry XV10 were not Toyota’s first car to have that feature. How about the Cressida Estate?

      And there is this of course. It had twin rear wipers inside and outside.

    3. I didn’t know about the inside wipers on the Flaminia. What an awesome feature! Thanks Freerk for pointing it out!

    4. Ah, good old Lancia, the DTW hardy perennial, always ready to bloom. Chapeau, Freerk!

      Right, can anything think of any other three-box (not fastback) saloon cars that had (one or more) rear wipers? I realise I’m hijacking my own piece on Hummer with this distraction, but I blame Freerk for mentioning it in the first place.

    5. Good morning Daniel – excellent article as always. On the topic of three-box saloons, the Fiat Tempra from 1990 had a rear wiper.

    6. I can think of a few from the mid-eighties to early nineties off the top of my head:
      Honda Prelude (mid-eighties interation)
      Mondeo Mk1 (Ghia trim only)
      Sundry Mitsubishi Galants (I think)

      A more pertinent question is why a rear wiper is omitted from such cars as the Audi A5 and A7 Sportbacks. Truly the triumph of style over function. It would definitely give me pause were I looking to buy one. It’s not really fair to single Audi out on this one, though: there are other offenders!

    7. And the 406 saloon, a few early models had a rear wiper.

    8. But none of all these cars had wipers on the inside of the rear screen as the Flaminia did

    9. Thanks all for indulging my little distraction.

      Welcome back, Ty, to the ranks of our commentariat. We’ve missed you!

      Dave, that Flaminia is delightful. What lovely attention to detail with those interior wipers. Do they work in sync with the external rear wipers, or independently? Doesn’t the lower bodyside, especially the door skins, look eerily similar to the contemporary Triumph 2000?

    10. The Toyota FJ Cruiser also had three front wipers, but only one rear wiper.

    11. Sorry for hijacking the thread, Daniel. I’ve been a bit of a bad boy. First the hinges on the Phaeton’s bootlid and now twin rear wipers 😉

    12. Yes, Freerk you have. That’s another potential piece ‘The World of Novelty Windscreen Wipers’, consigned to the bin. 😩

    13. Triple windscreen wipers also cound be found on Jaguar E and MG B.

    14. Yes, Dave, that’s true. I think the MGB only got three wipers on the US market, but I’m not sure. Also several Morgans got three windscreen wipers.

    15. Bit late to the party but the mid-1980s Mazda 323 saloon had a rear wiper.

  2. Good morning Daniel – no I can’t immediately recall others, but I do remember the Hummer stretch limo I encountered one day as its hapless driver was unsuccessfully trying to negotiate the traffic island at the Lenton end of Castle Boulevard in Nottingham. It certainly brought a smile to my face…

  3. I lived in the US at the time the Hummer H2 came out and I thought it looked garish and obscene, and also a bit cheap, with all that plastic chrome, like a cheap discount store toy car. It was a fine effort engineering-wise, in typical GM style when they’re actually inspired, but ruined by styling and above all, image. Based on the Tahoe platform but with drivetrain substantially reengineered by Ricardo, the H2 was actually quite good off road, as I seem to remember from magazine road tests. The problem was that even when new, there was already a kind of backlash from the general public at such conspicuous consumption and gratuitously aggressive image, as though GM missed its marketing research big time. I remember that to the general public the H2 quickly became a car for the, ahem, “testosterone-intoxicated”. I guess that’s the reason that nobody wanted the Hummer brand when GM gave up on it after the financial crisis.

    1. Good morning Cesar. I can’t wondering if Hummer would find a ready market in today’s sadly polarised America as the vehicle of choice for those anti-federal militia groups?

    2. But it’s an EV, not a V8! No self-respecting militiaman is going to turn up at a clandestine meeting in that!

      More on Hummer’s EV future in Part Two shortly.

  4. Hi Daniel, good morning to you too. I think that position has been taken by the gigantic double-cab pickup trucks now in the market in the US. On my last trip to the US in 2013 I remember seeing one such pickup truck complete with fake testicles hanging from the rear tow hook. I kid you not! Fortunately, the current huge full-size pickup class appears to be also suffering a kind of backlash.

    1. In our village lives somebody running a Ford F150 double-cab with extra large and wide tyres, testicles dangling from the tow bar and a big Confederate Flag on the bonnet with the script ‘southern rebell’ (including mis-spelling).
      Once my wife and me walled past the car when the driver climbed in and I said to my wife that if I wanted to pretend being a southern rebel I would at least try to spell that correctly. A week later the script was gone but the flag is still there.

  5. Dear Daniel
    Thanks for the first part of the story of this particular and iconic vehicle.
    Some years ago I had the chance to test drive a Euro-spec H1 on Spanish B-roads, and I fully agree with you about the big external dimensions and tiny internal ones.
    In many ocasions during the test drive, the H1 was exactly as wide as the lane I was driving at, so I was scared by both possibilities: frontal crash against an incoming car on my left side, or crash against a traffic signal or lamp post on the right. The trick to avoid both dangers, I was told, was to point the outer edge of the front left wing above the white line in the middle of the tarmac, as that position meant the H1 was not invading the opposite lane nor stepping on the shoulder.
    Too much stress for a test drive!

  6. I only remembered the H1 being available with diesel engines. Interesting that it also came with a small block. I understand why reviewers felt that the engine wasn’t up to the task. It could barely move 1970’s “full size” GM sedans.

  7. Good evening Daniel, I liked very much this article. This truck of a car has been present in Greece also, as a goverment owned and as a private owned vehicle. The poor guys who are using it, should have to pay its thirst out of their pockets, at a price of 1.80 to 2.00 euros/liter, these are the prices today in Athens, in the islands there has to be like 2.00 to 2.20. Please keep this in mind, our fellow readers who intend to holiday in this country and are planning to rent a car. I have seen a private one in yellow and it is indeed huge, the traffic lanes are not wide enough to accomodate its width.
    The goverment owns some, I have seen pictures of green-brown camouflaged ones that belong to the army land forces. There is a local joke with them, they are so wide they cannot drive through the villages, and even in the countryside, where dirt roads around the crops are narrow, they cannot move easily. On top of that, this is a country with mountains, where the roads are even narrower. An army mount has to be able to go everywhere, therefore these must have been left aside to rot or be sold to some other country.
    When I was serving in the forces, time ago, the jeep-utility 4 wheel vehicle was called MB240, they look like the MB G-series, 2 door short chassis canvas covered, folding down windscren, 4 cylinder diesel engine, as an added bonus they were assembled here by a company in Thessaloniki that provided factory servicing. A potent vehicle, I think it was being produced 1980-2000.
    https://www.armyvehicles.dk/merc240gd.htm this is a page describing it.
    There were still some olive green American Jeeps around, these things are undestructible, I think their military designation was M38 or something like that with the letter M and a number. We were feeling like taking part in a period movie, we had some old rifles M1 Garand type, that had some stamps on the wood from the previous owners, I remember one saying “3rd cavalry” or something like that, possibly from a WWII US or Commonwealth unit, history was a living reality. These vehicles were perfectly suited to the terrain characteristics, being slim, light, nimble and economic to run. All this old equipment was the product of good thinking and quality manufacturing, it was working.

    1. Interesting stuff, thank you gpant. I cannot imagine what motivated the Greek government to buy such an unsuitable vehicle. The Mercedes-Benz seemed a much better choice. Here’s the photo of the MB240GD from the website you referenced:

  8. Hi Daniel, this is the MB240, I have had some rides in this, never driven one though. It feels a little cramped inside in the rear. The guys who drove them were satisfied with the ride and handling. They said it was like a big old school off-road car, remember the Nissan patrol, the Isuzu trooper, this kind of feel. In some newspapers I have read that the government is searching for a new vehicle to replace them, I don’t understand why, are they so worn out? The best looking MB240 are the ones with a high radio antenna and with multi colour painting, seem more impressive.

  9. Great article which reminded me another car with triple windscreen wipers: the UMM Alter .

  10. I’ve seen a few at shows with military vehicle collectors (and they were never used by the Australian Army that I know of); there were a tiny number sold here new including one in the town I grew up (after I’d left), it was owned by a guy who had a railway sleeper cutting business. Apparently one day he came across thieves taking some of his timber in the forest and chased them with the H1 until ‘convincing’ them to stop and abandon the timber; I’m not sure if more than vehicular intimidation came into play.

    Otherwise it was just the rich and flamboyant who owned them, I can think of a tennis player and stockbroker. I don’t imagine many had a lot of mileage put on them due to being unsuited for 0n-road use particularly in cities.

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