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Retro Review: Hummer H1

Jesse McGraw

With all of the news surrounding Hummer’s rebirth as an EV, we figured it’d be nice to take a look at the gas guzzling original Hummer H1.

Quite the Change of Heart

GMC Hummer EV - media.gmc.com
GMC Hummer EV - media.gmc.com

The Hummer is making a comeback as an electric vehicle. It’s cool but weird right? The 4-wheel drive, off-road capable, behemoth that was known for getting 10 miles per gallon and laughing in the face of Prius owners, is now one of the lead vehicles in the auto industry’s push towards an electrified future. It’s kind of a slap in the face to both sides of the fossil fuel argument, but probably the right move for GM as the Hummer EV Edition 1 reservations sold out within 10 minutes of opening them.

We figured the best way to appreciate this new page in the Hummer story would be to look back at its beginnings. Not the compact H3, not the luxury appointed H2, but the rolling command center that was the Hummer H1. The H1 was the original Hummer model that came about in the same way Jeep had, through the military.

Changing Hands and Military Plans

1942 Willys jeep - Luxury Car Report on YouTube.com
1942 Willys jeep - Luxury Car Report on YouTube.com

Originally, the Willys Jeep was a collaboration between Ford and Willys-Overland during World War II. Following the war, Kaiser Motors bought Willys-Overland and was eventually named the Kaiser-Jeep Corporation. The company would continue working US defense contracts for military vehicles until Kaiser left the automotive world and sold the Jeep rights to American Motors Corporation (AMC) in 1970. AMC then renamed Jeep’s General Productions Division as the AM General Corporation.

In the 1970s, the US Army was working to create the ultimate personnel vehicle for use in conflicts to replace the Jeep. They had been using Dodge trucks and had even received a prototype from Lamborghini, but they weren’t what the US Army was looking for. In 1979, the Army sent out their ideal specifications for a High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV) to auto manufacturers in an attempt to create the ultimate military vehicle. Only three companies sent in designs that met specifications – Chrysler, Teledyne Continental, and AM General. The US Army chose AM General’s design in 1981 and gave them a contract for the development of prototypes.

1985 HMMWV Military Humvee - Slattery Auctions on YouTube.com
1985 HMMWV Military Humvee - Slattery Auctions on YouTube.com

While AM General was working on prototypes, a majority of its parent company, AMC, was purchased by the European brand Renault in 1982. The US government had regulations in place that did not allow for military contractors to be owned by foreign governments, and Renault was a part of the French government at the time. The resolution was for AMC to sell AM General to Ling-Temco-Vought (LTV), an American conglomerate, in 1983.

After multiple prototypes of the AM General HMMWV were tested in different climates, different off-road scenarios, and had endured over 600,000 miles, AM General was handed the production contract in 1983. AM General went on to produce 100,000 HMMWVs, also called Humvees, over a 10-year period starting in 1985. Then, AM General once again was sold to another company in 1992 called the Renco Group. This change in ownership also ushered in a new chapter featuring the introduction of the Hummer brand and its civilian based Humvee, and eventually leading to the Hummer H1.

The News and the Terminator Got Us the Hummer

HMMWV in the Gulf War - King Rose Archives on YouTube.com
HMMWV in the Gulf War - King Rose Archives on YouTube.com

The Gulf War was in full swing in the early ‘90s and marked the introduction of live news from the front lines of battle. The American public was watching the conflict in the Middle East play out on their TVs in real time. Through these images people were introduced to the super capable and advanced military Humvee.

There was also the involvement of Arnold Schwarzenegger. The action movie star was introduced to the Humvee when a military convoy passed by the set of Kindergarten Cop. He strongly urged AM General to create a civilian version for himself, because it reminded him of the military tanks he worked with while serving in the Austrian Army. While it took some time for AM General to come around to the idea, Arnold was provided with the first civilian Humvee from the company in 1991.

Arnold Schwarzenegger's first Hummer H1 - CNBC on YouTube.com
Arnold Schwarzenegger's first Hummer H1 - CNBC on YouTube.com

Whether it was due to safety, capability, patriotism, or just wanting to own the same car as the Terminator, the American people wanted their very own Humvee. In 1992, AM General introduced the world to the Hummer H1, a civilian Humvee.

The Hummer H1

1994 Hummer H1 - Sourcemotors on YouTube.com
1994 Hummer H1 - Sourcemotors on YouTube.com

The original Hummer H1 came in three distinct flavors – a hardtop 4-door sports utility truck, a Jeep Wrangler-esque removable soft top SUT, and the Alpha Wagon SUV. For the collectors out there, a 2-door truck version with a longer bed and a 4-door slantback that looked more like military model were made in limited quantities as well. All of the models sported the 7-slot grille and round headlights that harkened back to the Willys Jeep.

Under the hood of the Hummer H1 you can find either a 6.3L diesel V8 with a 3-speed automatic, a 6.5L diesel V8 with a 4-speed automatic, a 5.7L gas V8 with a 4-speed automatic, or a 6.5L turbo diesel V8 with a 4-speed automatic. There was also a 6.6L Duramax turbo diesel V8 with an Allison 1000 5-speed automatic that could be found in the limited 2006 Hummer H1 Alpha. Throughout all of its engine configurations though, the Hummer H1 sported a radiator positioned at an angle above the engine and an air intake positioned outside the hood on the passenger side. This configuration allowed it to ford water at a depth of 2.5 feet and created compact front end increasing approach angle for off-road.

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2003 Hummer H1 6.5L V8 - carsforsale.com
2003 Hummer H1 6.5L V8 - carsforsale.com

The civilian Hummer H1s didn’t gain any bullet proof body armor or a roof hatch for a turret like the US Army’s HMMWV could. However, it did retain a lot of the same components you’d find in a HMMWV. The Hummer H1 was produced on the same assembly line as the military Humvee, so it has the same frame, same hood, same body panels, same portal axles, and the same inboard brakes. Hummer H1s also came with the same off-road capability that the US Army desired.

The Hummer H1 featured a ground clearance of 16 inches and the wheel positioning allowed it to have a high 72-degree approach angle. The tires featured rubber or magnesium-aluminum alloy inserts giving it run flat ability and the tire pressure was controlled with the Central Tire Inflation System (CTIS). CTIS let the Hummer H1 driver increase tire pressure for on-road travel and decrease tire pressure for off-road scenarios all at the press of a button.

Interior of the Hummer H1 is astonishing, but not entirely in a good way. It is absolutely massive inside and if AM General wanted to they could have had two rows of seating that could hold eight adults. Instead, you’ll find 4 captain’s chairs with a large hump taking up the space in the middle of the vehicle. There’s not much to the interior of the H1 besides vents, speakers, and cup holders. That is, unless you’re the driver. The Hummer H1 driver’s seat is a full-on command center full of gauges, switches, and levers. If you didn’t read the manual, then your front passenger probably became your copilot for one of these things.

Hummer H1s Were Cool, But Not Practical at All

1998 Hummer H1 - carsforsale.com
1998 Hummer H1 - carsforsale.com

All of the Hummer H1’s military roots didn’t make it a great car in reality. The Humvee wasn’t made for daily commutes in busy city streets. It was made to tackle the elements with ease and dive headfirst into a military conflict. Sure, it’s fun to have a vehicle that could drive over a small sedan that stole your parking spot or climb up an incline that’s a borderline vertical wall, but the actual driving experience is an abomination.

The Hummer H1 as a civilian vehicle is too ridiculous in performance and practicality. It weighed over 6,000 lbs, had a 0-60 mph time of about 18 seconds, top speed was 96 mph if you could ever get there, and braking from highway speed requires patience and a long open stretch of runway to slow down this mammoth. With how wide the H1 is, parking in a normal spot is unheard of. You’d have to be the guy who takes up 4 parking spots just because that’s the only place it would fit. Then there’s the age old 10 miles per gallon stat for the Hummer H1. God bless your soul if you ever took a road trip in one of these things.

2006 Hummer H1 SUT - Ultimate Experience on YouTube.com
2006 Hummer H1 SUT - Ultimate Experience on YouTube.com

AM General eventually ended production of the H1 after the 2006 Hummer H1 Alpha. This left the Hummer brand to move on with the H2 and H3 until the brand was completely shelved in 2010. In the end, over 11,000 Hummer H1 models were produced in its 14-year lifespan. Today, you can find Hummer H1 models for sale at $30,000 to over $200,000. There’s even decommissioned military Humvees for sale if you really want that true Army aesthetic.

Here’s to a New Electrifying Beginning

GMC Hummer EV - media.gmc.com
GMC Hummer EV - media.gmc.com

GM’s reintroduction of the Hummer brand signifies a rebirth, but with corrected flaws. The Hummer EV promises to continue the off-road prowess the Hummer H1 had while also being a more efficient and better handling vehicle. 4-wheel steering, capable of a 3.5 second 0-60 time, over 300-mile range, and not to mention all of the great tech advancements like Crabwalk and the Super Cruise Driver-Assistance make the Hummer EV better in every way. We’ll still fondly remember the HMMWV and the civilian Hummers for what they were, but we’re more excited to watch Hummers of tomorrow start to hit the streets.

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Jesse McGraw
Jesse McGraw

Jesse's life-long car obsession began when he started collecting Hot Wheels as a child. He’s constantly keeping up with the latest car news and diving deep into automotive history. His automotive journey began with a rusty ‘99 Dodge Dakota held together by zip ties, only recently replaced by an impeccable 2014 Kia Soul. You can find him modifying and racing cars in video games when he’s not playing paintball or writing about cars.

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