Musings on the Motoring World

The original Hummer wasn’t as big as many have been led to believe

Though enthusiasts decry the death of enthusiast sedans and sports cars, times have never been better for off-road fans. Every year since the debut of the 2017 Jeep Wrangler, we have welcomed an all-new Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen, and the return of the Land Rover Defender and Ford Bronco. But that’s not all. This week itself will mark the return of The Daddy, the Hummer.

Electrifying return

Yes, the Hummer, emblem of America’s military might and early-2000s extravagance will be making a comeback. This time it will be discarding its image of oil-hungry excess that prompted the Chinese government to cancel a potential buyout in 2010. It is the current year, and General Motors will be tapping the zeitgeist, repurposing Hummer name into an all-electric sub-brand.

Even on a diet of volts, General Motors says the new Hummer won’t be a limp-wristed oversized golf cart. Its electric motors are primed to dispense 746kW and 15,592Nm of torque, which is overkill for a big rig. Not least it supercar-chewing three-second 0-60mph sprint claim.

While the all-electric Hummer will bear a futuristic reinterpretation of the brand’s iconic design cues, it certainly won’t match the size of its military-grade progenitor – the Hummer H1.

The big shot

Measuring in at 2197mm from one wing mirror to another, the H1 was the girthiest of off-roaders. Little wonder why Arnold ‘The Governator’ Schwarzenegger took a liking towards it.

Like the Cadillac Eldorado’s flamboyance and the Dodge Viper’s V10 heart, the Hummer was emblematic of American exceptionalism. A famous Top Gear segment said it was designed to be wide enough to travel in the tracks left by tanks! How cool is that? Well, it would be if it was true.

A famous overstatement

Whether it was a genuine consensus or Clarkson’s typical exaggeration, the myth certainly stuck. However, looking at the images of its first deployment as the Humvee – in Operation Desert Storm in 1991 – you can see where everyone got that impression.

When the Humvee entered the Gulf conflict, people were in awe at its size. It was bigger and more intimidating than the military Jeeps it was designed to replace. Reaganomics had made America great again, and this new military truck would be big enough to project that superiority whilst grounding down the opposition.

Deployed alongside the M1 Abrams main battle tank in Operation Desert Storm, the Humvee looked like its offspring, tagging along in its Middle East adventure to enforce America’s foreign policy. It isn’t a stretch of the observers’ imagination to assume the two were built to work hand-in-hand. Cracking out the rulers, on the other hand, would quickly disprove that assumption.

Measuring the details

Considering that the Humvee has a track width of 1828mm, and its specialised 325mm-wide run-flat tyres, its footprint would be 2153mm at its widest. Now that is a great deal wider than say, a 1790mm wide Toyota Corolla.

However, it is nowhere close to the 3657mm-width of an M1, much less the smaller 3602mm wide M2 Bradley. Even with an assumed tread width of 635mm, the Humvee would still fit comfortably between both tanks’ footprints.

The XM966 Combat Support Vehicle Program – the program that resulted in the Humvee’s creation – doesn’t mention any requirements for working in tandem with tanks or tracked vehicles in. Instead, the program’s key technical requirements pertained to off-road performance and width restrictions for air transport.

It doesn’t make any sense for the Humvee to be designed with such an operational dependency on tanks. The XM966 program demanded a multi-role off-roader that could traverse any terrain independently. Making it a tag-along merely defeats that purpose. So why did so many believe the myth?

Built for off-road conquest

One aspect has to do with its proportions. Its wide centre console that bisects the cabin and low roofline, gives onlookers an exaggerated illusion of width. It wasn’t as though the space around each seat is as spacious as one expects in a normal car.

In fact, the expansive centre console takes up so much of the Humvee’s cabin space, there are only small pockets of space to fit the four individual seats. This was because, unlike conventional 4x4s that sat the cabin on top of the drivetrain, the Humvee’s cabin is built around its running gear.

By sandwiching the drivetrain and cabin, the Humvee achieves 400mm of ground clearance while its height is greatly reduced. This in turn gives it a lower centre of gravity, enabling it to be driven along a 40-degree side slope without tipping. By doing so, engineers were able to meet the XM966 program’s tough requirements for off-road capability.

In a way, the Humvee boasted a supercar-like engineering ethos. Like early Lamborghinis, occupant comfort took a backseat to objective performance metrics in its development. Soldiers just had to live with its limitations. The Humvee was never intended for civilian use, that is, until the Governator popularised it.  

No big deal

Even if the all-electric Hummer is similar in size to the Humvee, it wouldn’t look out of place amongst today’s pick-up trucks. America’s favourite, the Ford F-150 measures in at 2029mm wide, a mere 168mm wider than the civilised Hummer H1.

Still the bigger fish on the market, but nowhere the leviathan everyone once thought it was. Not that it would matter as the larger-than-life brand already bears a larger-than-life image in the public conscience. And that, in this day and age, is all that matters.