“Only in America.” Nowhere in the vehicular universe does that statement apply more than when in reference to the Hummer H1. Originally designed strictly for military use, this absolutely massive four-wheel-drive utility vehicle earned its 15 minutes of fame as a civilian conveyance when it became the ride of choice among Hollywood celebrities and professional athletes who thought it oh-so-chic to pilot the ultimate ruff-and-tuff image machine.
But the Hummer’s early days were anything but glamorous. When the Army decided in the early 1980s that it needed a new go-anywhere vehicle, it held a design contest. AM General won the contest and the contract. The result was AM’s High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle, or HMMWV, which became known simply as the Humvee. Production started in January 1985.
Boasting 16 inches of ground clearance as well as super-aggressive approach and departure angles, the Humvee could clamber over a 22-inch-high obstacle, handle a 60 percent grade and wade through up to 30 inches of water.
After getting television exposure during its heroic performance in the “first” Gulf War, the Humvee struck a warm, fuzzy chord with the general public. So much so that AM General decided to introduce a civilian version for 1992 that was officially called the Hummer. Arnold Schwarzenegger, famously intrigued by this four-wheeled equivalent of his indestructible Terminator character, amassed a small collection. In 1999, General Motors bought the rights to the Hummer brand name and renamed the brute the H1.
All Hummers had the same basic four-door body that was available with a choice of tops: hardtop, slantback, soft top and wagon top. At 101 inches wide and weighing more than 7,000 pounds, a Hummer was nearly 3 feet wider than a compact car and weighed more than two midsize family cars. Nearly all were powered by a General Motors 6.2- or 6.5-liter V8 engine available in diesel or turbodiesel form. A 5.7-liter gasoline-fueled V8 was available for a few years (1995-’97), but was axed as it was overtaxed by the Hummer’s great weight. Regardless of engine, all Hummers had an automatic transmission (either a three- or four-speed depending on the year) sending power to all four wheels. An onboard tire-inflation system allowed the tires to be “aired down” for serious rock crawling and then pumped back up before hitting the pavement.
Although incredibly capable on rough terrain, a Hummer H1 is not something you’d want to use as daily transportation on blacktop. The massive dimensions make maneuvering in city traffic — not to mention parking — a nightmare. Performance is sluggish — the H1’s 0-60-mph performance, at over 16 seconds, is nearly twice as slow as some economy cars and only marginally quicker than the Columbia Glacier. Lastly, the cabin is about as luxurious as a postal truck’s, and with the tucked-up driveline components taking up valuable passenger space, the seats are comically small.
The final year of the Hummer H1 was 2005, though it actually continued one more year as the H1 Alpha. This model boasted a number of changes under the skin that made the beast the best it had ever been. But by this time, the Hummer’s price tag was upwards of $100,000, diesel cost more than $3 a gallon and most people were no longer interested in posing as hard-core military personnel on a covert operation to the shopping mall.
Most Recent Hummer H1
Although most Hummers (pre-H1 and H1 alike) are visually identical, the 1996-2005 versions are most similar beneath the macho bodywork. For ’96, a 6.5-liter diesel V8 replaced the former 6.2-liter engine and offered 170 horsepower to the 6.2’s 150. But more importantly, a turbocharged version of the 6.5-liter was available too, which furnished 195 hp and 430 pound-feet of torque. A 5.7-liter gas V8 was also available for 1996 and ’97, but it wasn’t a match for the heavy Hummer. Active safety was greatly increased for 1999 via the adoption of antilock brakes and traction control.
The new millennium saw the debut of the slantback model and the option of a CD changer, while 2001 brought a revamped gauge cluster, rear armrests and optional 17-inch alloy wheels. A 10th-anniversary package, complete with badges, marked 2002, as did a new steering wheel and more legroom for front passengers. An electronically locking rear differential became available for 2003, as did a 12-CD changer. The 6.5 turbodiesel picked up 10 hp and 10 lb-ft for 2004. The last Hummer H1 rolled out in 2005, replaced the following year by the more powerful H1 Alpha, which itself lasted just the single year.
Past Hummer H1 Models
Produced from 1992-’95, nearly all the earlier Hummers were powered by a standard 6.2-liter diesel engine (a 5.7-liter gas engine powered some ’95s) and had minimal changes during its first four model years. These were even more lackluster performers than the later versions, as they didn’t benefit from the option of turbodiesel power or a 4th gear for the automatic transmission.