From the June 1995 issue of Car and Driver.
Because I currently live out my misspent life on the radio, I had casually mentioned on the air that Car and Driver was arriving momentarily and that the magazine had asked me to evaluate the gasoline-engined version of AM General’s HMMWV (“Humvee” or “Hummer” to the rest of us)—this one destined not for the military but for the carriage trade. Now, as I approached the behemoth for a closer look, I found for the first time what proved to be true for the next two days that I had this bruiser in custody: a Humvee in mufti draws crowds.
The Car and Driver guys—executive editor John Phillips and photographer Aaron Kiley—were grinning as they handed me the keys. One of them said, “Lord Vader, your car awaits you.” I don’t know whether they remembered, but a quarter of a century ago The Washington Post had dubbed me “the Darth Vader of the Nixon Administration.”
This particular Hummer certainly qualifies as a Darth Vader, glistening in its black wet-look paint, like the Imron coatings used by proud owner/drivers of the menacing big-rig Peterbilts, Kenworths, and Freightliners that suddenly appear in your rear seat with a blast of the air horn when you momentarily stop paying attention in the fast lane. But the big rigs do not blow their horns at the Humvee.
So there it sat, the civilian Hummer, the self-appointed king of wheeled off-road vehicles, dominating the parking lot of radio station WJFK in metropolitan Washington D.C. My task, among others, was to see whether the machine was as “bad” on the road as its reputation off the road. Alas, in the urban jungle, this baby proved to be a pussycat, not a tiger.
It wasn’t the absence of a gun turret, although I did notice this immediately. Nor was it the surprisingly comfortable Isringhausen seats. No, the tip-off that the legendary Humvee has been emasculated by the forces of political correctness was the first thing the driver sees after climbing in: the underside of the sun visor is placarded with admonitions to “Wear Seat Belts” and “Don’t Drink and Drive.” Marvelous. Somewhere, I am certain, there’s a sign inside that reads “Wash Hands After Going to the Bathroom.”
Then there’s the engine. This vehicle weighs 6766 pounds. What did AM General choose to propel over three-and-a-quarter tons? A 350-cubic-inch small-block Chevy V-8. Although that engine is configured for maximum torque (300 pound-feet at 2400 rpm) and is more or less politically correct, it is overwhelmed, pushing this machine from zero to 60 mph with all of the acceleration available to a beached whale: 18.1 seconds. Eighty mph comes up in 46.8 seconds—it only feels like a week—which also brings you to within 3 mph of the Hummer’s top speed.
If you slow for traffic on the infamous Washington Beltway (at 55 mph, you’ll be rammed from the rear by traffic flowing 30 mph faster, although in the Hummer you won’t feel the impact), then you’ll be two exits behind your running mates by the time this machine gets back up to speed. All the while, the straining small-block sounds as if it were lubed with sand imported from Daytona Beach.
Brakes? Another problem. Wear steel-soled motorcycle boots and drag your feet. Decelerating from 70 mph to a dead stop requires 253 feet—the worst figure C/D has reported since its last Hummer test, in July 1992. And speaking of feet, mine weren’t happy during my daily 60-mile round-trip commute. The heater (whose controls have been lifted from my 1994 Chevrolet Suburban but should have been based on the simpler and more effective controls in my ’95 Chevy C/K pickup) is of the fry-one-leg-and-freeze-the-other variety. It recalls vehicular memories, but only to those of us who have been around for a while.
My mother always told me that if I couldn’t say something good about someone, I shouldn’t say anything at all. And the United States Army taught me that I shouldn’t report a problem without suggesting a solution.
So let me first say good things about the Hummer. The finish is first-rate, exactly as it should be for a vehicle costing $71,760 that seeks to hang out in country club parking lots competing with Range Rovers. Moreover, if you get stuck in traffic, the Hummer has huge steel hooks fore and aft, with which you can be plucked skyward by a cargo helicopter and loaded easily aboard a ship. In addition, no one wants to mess with you when you’re driving a Hummer. Buy a red one and they figure you’re with the fire department. Blue paint hints of a police department. And black? Well, a black Hummer is something from the DEA’s SWAT team, no question about it. Loom up in their rear-view mirrors and watch them give way.
You can get girls with the Hummer, too. The problem is that the Hummer is so wide (86.5 inches, making it 10 inches wider than a Chevy Caprice), the driver is in Washington D.C. and the passenger is in Baltimore. Seriously, if you stretch out your right arm and your newfound girlfriend signals a left turn, you just might be able to grasp hands over the immense drivetrain tunnel that separates the front seats. The huge lids covering the drivetrain, fore and aft, serve as a giant bundling board. Mothers nationwide can relax.
As for solutions, a better engine for the civilian Hummer already reposes under the hood of my Suburban: a 454-cubic-inch big-block V-8. If that engine engenders fuel-economy fears, well, the Hummer’s current small-block can’t do any better than 7 to 9 mpg—and that was in predominantly freeway driving. (Given the vehicle’s wildly pessimistic fuel gauge, we thus had a Beltway cruising range of only 135 miles.) Given my experience with big-block Suburbans, the larger engine, doing the same job without working up such a sweat, would do as well on fuel economy and probably better. And it would add a dose of testosterone in the bargain.
The Hummer also needs bigger brake rotors—a set of flashy Brembos would be nice, if only for the image. And someone at AM General is going to have to cut through the bureaucratic red tape and dispense with all the politically correct placards in the cockpit, letting those of us who know which end of the tube a round comes out of to enjoy the heavy iron.
This evil monster came into my possession shortly after the White House had been shot up, front and rear, and had been kamikazied by a Cessna. So we figured the President would be a bit edgy. We thus circumnavigated the Chief Executive’s mansion several times, imagining Bill and Hillary peering through the curtains and muttering, “Oh God, what now?” as they rang frantically for the Secret Service.
See, you thought I was rehabilitated. In your dreams, baby. For once, The Washington Post was correct. When AM General gets the civilian version of the Hummer right, then Lord Vader wants one. In black, of course. Oh, how I love the dark side.
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