Hummer History

Hummer History

How the military's Humvee went civilian
on

Even though the Jeep was the motorized symbol of the American army during WWII and the Korean War, by the 1970s it had become obsolete. The military needed a new general-purpose vehicle efficient at moving soldiers and light equipment to the battlefield. How that vehicle came into being and turned into a civilian model as well is a war story in itself.

The call went out to three veteran military contractors: Chrysler Defense, Teledyne Continental and AM General Corporation (AMG). The latter was a distant relative of the old Willys-Overland company that had designed the first Jeep prior to WWII. Unfortunately, in the 1930s Willys didn't have the production capacity needed so initial Jeep production had been handled by Ford and General Motors. AMG began producing Jeep derivatives during the Korean War.

HMMWV

Located in South Bend, Indiana, AMG had cranked out thousands of Jeeps before winning the Jeep replacement contract in 1983. Their new vehicle received the military nomenclature of High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV). Soldiers found this to a mouthful and quickly nicknamed them Humvees. AMG officially named the vehicle the Hummer.

The design was an engineering triumph. It was 15 feet long, 7 feet wide and weighed over 5,200 pounds. Based on a steel frame with an aluminum and fiberglass body, the Humvee sported a fully independent suspension and a General Motors 379-inch diesel V-8 engine producing 150 horsepower and enough torque to pull a freight train. An automatic transmission put the power to the ground through an all-wheel drive system with geared hubs. The all-terrain tires were 36 inches tall and air pressure could be adjusted from the cockpit. Top speed was just over 60 mph.

Various Versions

Although most Hummers have a family resemblance, there were over 20 versions optimized for specific military applications. The most pressing need in battlefield transport was ferrying troops and material, and the M998 version was designed to do just that.

All Hummers had openings for four doors, but the back two door openings could be filled in with panels if they were not needed. A removable top and roll bar could be fitted, and the windshield could be laid flat on the hood. These troop/cargo carriers could seat two crew and eight soldiers. Another version of this model, the M1038, was fitted with a winch.

Remember the Rat Patrol television series about WWII-era desert fighting, where Jeeps with machine gun mounts terrorized German troops? That spirit was alive and well in Hummer-land. Special armament carrier versions, the M1025 and M1026, mounted gun rings that would accept machine guns and grenade launchers. The M966 model even carried TOW missiles into action! These missiles deployed two fine wires behind them to allow the operators to guide the missile to the target without worrying about radio jamming devices. TOW missile-armed Hummers accounted for several Iraqi tank kills in Operation Desert Storm. The M998 model even mounted Stinger missiles to keep hostile aircraft at bay.

Other specialized Hummers served as battlefield ambulances and shelter carriers. Some were armored to withstand light arms fire, while others towed howitzers and other equipment wherever needed. There were even special kits with a snorkel tube for the engine intake, allowing Hummers to traverse deep water without stalling out.

In 1991 AMG introduced the Heavy Hummer (M1097), which had a beefed-up chassis to handle heavier loads (up to 10,000 pounds). This chassis became the basis for many Hummer versions. In 1994 the M1097 model was upgraded into the Hummer A1 Series and began replacing the earlier Hummer versions. Improvements in the A1 resulted in the 1995 Hummer A2, which had a more powerful engine, a four-speed transmission and many other changes. Improved armor was specified for Hummers after the tragic the Somali expedition in 1992.

TV Star

When Operation Desert Storm went into high gear in 1990, the Hummer was on every American television set as U.S. forces drove into action. Movie star Arnold Swarzenegger fell in love with the Hummer and asked AMG to build him a one-off civilian version with a Corvette V-8. This attracted a great deal of attention, and soon others wanted a Hummer of their own.

In 1992 the first civilian Hummers were delivered. Unlike their military cousins, the civilian Hummer had insulation, sound deadening and a semi-comfortable interior. However, it was still pretty Spartan despite "luxury" items such as cloth seats, air conditioning and heating. At this point the Hummer name became primarily used on civilian versions, and Humvee on military ones.

Although most individuals bought Hummers as novelties for cruising around town or off-road, some were also sold as ambulances, industrial vehicles or firetrucks that could access rough wilderness areas.

Initially the Hummer was only offered with a GM diesel engine, but in 1995 the 350-inch Chevy V-8 briefly became an option. It was dropped in 1996 and a 190-hp turbocharged diesel was added. The civilian Hummer proved to be tough and virtually unstoppable, but also thirsty (less than 10 mpg) and slow as Christmas due to its 6,840-pound weight. Hummers were offered in softtop or hardtop versions. The hefty price tag of $50,000 to $90,000 (depending on model and options) put it out of the reach of mere mortals.

Demand for the Hummer dropped off quickly. By the late 1990s government cutbacks had rolled back sales of the Humvees, and the civilian market never really took off. AMG was losing money fast. In 1999 General Motors rode to the rescue by purchasing the rights to sell the civilian Hummer (now called the H1), and the rights to use the Hummer brand on future vehicles. AMG continues to build the H1, but the GM-built Hummer H2 that followed is an all-new truck based on GM Tahoe running gear. The $100,000 H1 now sports leather interiors and a 205-hp diesel, and seems poised to continue in production as long as there is demand. Now 20 years old, the Hummer is still humming along.

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