“Moj! Stand to, soldier!” My 14-year-old looked at me with the same blank stare that greets every other attempt I make to whip my domestic platoon into shipshape. “Now what, dad?” she asked glumly.
“Moj,” I said, “you and I are about to embark upon a challenging expedition. I won’t promise you it’ll be a walk in the park, but it’s not Mission Impossible either. So pack up your kit; get your game face on; and I’ll meet you at the vehicle at 1800 hours. Got that, soldier?”
“Yeah, sure. Whatever.”
And there she was at 1800 hours, pronto. Her Vol-orange Adidas bag was slung across her shoulder, and she held her tennis rackets at the ready. We hoisted ourselves up into the Hummer; I cranked the turbo-diesel to life; and we clattered up the drive on our way to a regional tennis club championship in Alpharetta, Ga. That’s right: 250 freeway miles behind the wheel of what is possibly the biggest standard-production passenger vehicle not to require a special operator’s license.
Moj fell asleep even before we hit the interstate.
I can tell you that four hours behind the wheel of an AM General Hummer, chuffing along at 70 miles-an-hour with a 195-horsepower turbo-diesel V8 sitting almost amidships, provides plenty of opportunity for reflecting upon the present state of our automotive infatuation. For one thing, the Hummerin particular, the chrome-yellow-with-black-soft-top Hummer ferrying Morgan and me to the outskirts of Atlantarepresents something of a traffic “event” on the highway. Unbidden, a swarm of rubbernecking fellow travelers surrounded the Hummer for virtually the entire trip, as if to create an impenetrable cordon sanitaire around the Mother Ship on her way to an outer galaxy. According to any other aesthetic, the Hummer would be reviled as ugly, ungainly, grotesque; but in automotive terms, it is inarguably striking, perversely beautiful.
Onlookers are drawn to the Hummer with a combination of awe and dread: It stands 16 inches above the ground; the tops of its tires almost reach a man’s hips. Its maw is broad enough, at 86.5 inches wide, to devour five people standing shoulder-to-shoulder. Dispensing with a bumper, the Hummer greets the world with a gargoyle’s leer. Slits for nostrils ventilate a massive array of radiators dedicated to cooling the engine, oiling system, transmission, transfer case, and power-steering pump. Little black gremlin’s ears poke out of the bright yellow hood. They are the “airlift rings” so useful for helicoptering Hummers into and out of the nether reaches of Off-Roading Paradise.
A Hummer’s work, after all, is never done within plain view of the madding crowd. And what that crowd almost never gets to see is a Hummer fording streams up to 30 inches deep, scaling vertical rocks 22 inches high, traversing 40-degree slopes sideways, or tackling 60-degree grades head-on. Even a Hummer’s occupants never get to see all of the exotic technology that accounts for a base price which is itself quite out-of-sight at $83,733. As-tested, moreover, the citified Hummer which Moj and I commandeered for Operation Straight Sets totaled a nearly blinding $101,375. You can rest assured, however, that this civilian descendant of the military’s Humvee (High Mobility Multi-purpose Wheeled Vehicle, or HMMWV) is no $7,000 toilet seat. What you don’t see with the Hummer is precisely what helps you most.
Take the four-wheel disk brakes, for example. They’re mounted inboard at the axle ends of each differential to keep them out of harm’s way and give them more direct stopping control. Then there’s TorqTrac 4 (TT4), a four-wheel-drive system that constantly compensates for wheel slippage. Hummer’s special trick is to employ geared hubs at all four wheels. The resulting powertrain steps down gear ratios through transmission, transfer case, differential, and hubs to a mind-boggling maximum rate of 33:1. Considering the turbo-diesel’s monstrous torque output of 430 ft.-lbs., this means a Hummer can literally crawl along centimeter-by-centimeter with an iron grip. And this grip is further enhanced by an optional Central Tire Inflation System (CTIS), with which tire pressures can be manipulated on the fly. While scaling bare rock, for example, CTIS can deflate each tire to, say, 10 psi to achieve the maximum grippy surface area; and then, back on the trail, CTIS will allow resumption of standard cruising pressures of 35 psi/front, 40 psi/rearall without ever having to stop or slow down. An optional run-flat system, moreover, gives Hummer a 20-mile range at 30 miles-an-hour, even with all four tires out of commission.
Inside, Hummer’s interpretation of creature comforts puts the emphasis decidedly on “creature.” Driver and three passengers are each assigned individual telephone booths for seating, and every seat is a minimum of two arms’ lengths away from every other one. Kitted out in city-slicker mufti, our Hummer boasted a powerful eight-speaker Monsoon stereo with six-CD changer. Indeed, a cyclonic sonic gale is required to combat the buffets of wind assailing Hummer’s padded tarpaulin of a top at freeway speeds.
Although Operation Straight Sets didn’t result, this time, in a championship, it’s nevertheless fair to admit that the Hummer achieved its own conquering successdespite 11 miles-per-gallon performance and an eerie knack during nighttime driving for reflecting every external light source onto the inside of the windshield. Moj, it seemed, found strength in the Hummer that translated into ever-escalating victory on the tennis court. And I won too, by earning tolerance for a big, floppy sun hat that never fails to elicit her green groan of disgust. Not this time. “That hat looks so stupid,” Moj volunteered in strict contravention of the chain of command; “but at least we’ve got the Hummer.” Well said, soldier. Carry on.
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