Military vehicles are designed with specific objectives in mind, like carrying mounted weapons and doing reconnaissance over rough terrain without breaking down. Why would any reasonable person want to drive a car as compromised as that?
The history of Arnie’s whip
It doesn’t make sense but think about all the 4×4s that spawned as a result of warfare: Jeep Wrangler, Toyota Land Cruiser, Land Rover Defender and Mercedes G-Class.
There seems to be a fairly simple psychological explanation for this and the best example to use is the High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle, colloquially shortened to Humvee.
The Humvee’s story starts where the original Jeep’s story ends. The Jeep had served America well during WWII, so it was obviously worth keeping around. Unfortunately, it got old and the military kept on replacing its fleet with temporary solutions until it finally signed off on a new all-purpose vehicle. The result was the Humvee.
It may seem like it followed down the same path as other military vehicles, which were put on sale because there was still some stock left after whatever war ended.
Not so with the Humvee: there were never plans to sell it to civilians. It’s particular set of skills just wasn’t necessary on an everyday car.
According to the military’s brief, it had to be much larger than the Jeep and have double its ground clearance. In addition, the electronics had to be completely waterproof at a depth of 760mm and the top speed had to be somewhere in the 90km/h region.
As you can imagine, most manufacturers were interested in scoring such a lucrative contract but the wish list was so impossible that only three actually built cars for the military to inspect. The contract was awarded to AM General and it was used for the first time during the Panama invasion in 1989.
That’s when the Humvee entered the public domain. The war in which it was fighting was quite different from the wars fought earlier. People could catch up on the action thanks to 24-hour news channels, where the Humvee played the starring role.
The Americans are nothing if not patriotic and what’s more patriotic than driving the same car used to fight a war thousands of kilometres away. Still, AM General insisted it was for military use only, until one influential actor saw a fleet of Humvees driving by and decided he wanted one. That actor-turned governorturned actor again was Arnold Schwarzenegger and nobody says no to Arnie.
Arnie became the first civilian owner of a Humvee and a few others followed shortly after. General Motors saw some potential in the car and trademarked the name ‘Hummer’. From then on out, the Humvee was sold as the Hummer by GM, still made by AM General.
The Hummer H1 (as it would eventually be named once the H2 and H3 followed) was produced from 1992 all the way to 2006.
The H1 was a highly competent off-roader, as most of the military components were carried over. That meant a wide track for added stability on gravel roads, robust protection for the drivetrain components and approach and departure angles of 72 and 37.5 degrees respectively. The H1 was even equipped with a central tyre-inflation system, which allowed the owner to inflate or deflate the tyres from inside the car.
Still, it was horrid to live with day to day and, by 2002, interest in driving a military vehicle had started waning. An upgrade was necessary and the result was the Alpha model.
This particular model used GM’s 6.6-litre Duramax turbodiesel, which produced 220kW and 705Nm of torque.
The interior was kitted out with all the luxuries available at the time but the overall design meant they could only do so much. The centre tunnel that ran the length of the interior was just too wide and the seats too cramped.
More than anything, owning a military vehicle had become politically incorrect.
The H1 was discontinued in 2006, with the H2 and H3 keeping the brand alive for four more years.
By 2010, it was all over. GM tried to sell the brand to a Chinese company but the deal fell through and the final nail was hammered into Hummer’s coffin.
In our current environmentally-obsessed climate, it’s highly unlikely we’ll see the likes of Hummer again, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing.