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1998 Hummer

  • Driver

Maybe kids today don't press their noses, metaphorically or literally, against the windows of car dealerships to see the newest Ford or Chevy, like we did when we were kids.

But if you fear that youthful enthusiasm for cars has been lost in a maze of gangsta rap recording artists, video games and computers, you should have been at the Campbellville Waldorf

School a week ago Thursday, when I drove my son Patrick to school in a brand new Hummer.

The kids were lined up to sit in the thing, and clamoured just to touch it. We're thinking of taking it to the school's May Fair tomorrow, four tickets for a sit, eight for a ride. Lady

Leadfoot would never have to work another bingo fundraiser in her life.

With the possible exception of the New Beetle, this is still the attention getter of all time. Don't ever plan on being on time in this thing; you'll be swarmed everywhere you go.

The Hummer was developed in the early 1980s as a "High Mobility Multi-Purpose Wheeled Vehicle" HMMWV, pronounced HumVee for the U.S. Army by AM General, the former military

and heavy vehicle division of American Motors, now an independent manufacturer.

The combination jeep/personnel carrier/mild mannered tank gained renown as the vehicle that won the Gulf War. The publicity it earned there led to the creation of a civilian version, named the Hummer.

Its iconic status was assured once Arnold Schwarzenegger bought a couple.

Everybody's first question: "Geez, isn't it big?"

You'd think it would have a laser projection system that would display a message on every other vehicle's sideview mirror: "WARNING: this object in the mirror is way bigger than it

appears."

However, the tape measure indicates that a Hummer is no longer than a Ford Contour. Its wheelbase is shorter than a Suburban's.

A fullsize Ford pickup is taller.

Width? Okay, it's wide, but only 121 mm more than a Jaguar sedan. And you have to add in two gigantic sideview mirrors.

Driving downtown won't be your favourite expedition.

What makes the Hummer look so big is that it's so square, the body sides are vertical, and the truck fills up the envelope almost completely.

Painted white, it looked like a rolling Kelvinator. It should either have had a red cross on the roof, or a big H painted on the hood, indicating a helicopter landing pad.

Kuwait, here we come.

It also looks wide inside, since the left and right pairs of seats are separated by a football field wide centre console, under which nestles all the mechanical gubbins.

If you're going to send your daughter out on a date, this would be the vehicle.

The second question: Where do you park it?

Answer: Wherever you want.

I heard one story about a Hummer owner who drove his truck up a flight of steps of an office building in downtown Toronto, parked it on the plaza, put a dealer display card in the

windshield and went to his client's office.

Any official passing by would assume it was some sort of advertising campaign. Hummerman avoided paying huge money for parking and having to take his monster truck into a tight

garage. Try that in your Chevy Lumina.

Third question: What's it like to drive?

Answer: Surprisingly easy.

It comes with power steering, power brakes and automatic transmission.

Once you get used to the width and the view from within, which feels like you're peering out of a mailbox, it's really quite simple.

Why no manual gearbox? The average recruit for the U.S. Army probably has never used a stickshift.

Besides, they'd burn clutches out faster than they go through Spam.

While the Hummer's heritage is clearly military, it's been papered over with a thin veneer of civilization, with smallish but supportive and comfortable seats, and such luxuries as power

windows, remote central locking and mirrors.

Don't expect fit and finish commensurate with this vehicle's price, however.

Bottom line: this is still a military truck.

COMPLIANT RIDE The ride is pleasantly compliant, not as harsh or military truck like as you'd expect.

It's no Cadillac, sure, but you won't be badly shaken or stirred on any reasonable road surface.

Your ears will be, though. Despite a newf or '98 sound deadening package, a Hummer is loud.

"What was that?"

I said, it's loud!

The engine, the gears, the tires, the wind. Loud.

Answer: The optional Monsoon sound system, custom tailored to the Hummer interior, and driving massive amounts of clear, sweet sonic power through a total of 14 speakers, including a huge separate subwoofer. Toss Aerosmith into the sixdisc CD changer, crank the volume up to 30 (it goes to 37; I checked) and who cares how loud the truck is?

(Your neighbours? Oh, yeah…)

My tester had the optional General Motors 6.5 L turbo diesel V8 engine, the same one GM uses in its light and medium duty trucks and Suburbans. This thing is a torque pump, cranking out an amazing 430 lb.-ft. at just 1800 r.p.m. Need to move any small buildings around?

You can also choose a non-turbo GM 6.5 L diesel. Hummer used to offer a GM 5.7 L gasoline V8, but even those who could afford a Hummer couldn't afford to put gasoline in it. Nor do you have the time to stop every 20 minutes to refuel; diesel is definitely the way to go.

The full-time four-wheel drive system features a two-speed transfer case with lockup, and Torsen "torque biasing" front and rear differentials, which can direct twist to whichever tire has

the most grip.

GEARED HUBS The individual driveshafts connect to geared hubs, which provide an additional 1.92:1 gear reduction for additional torque. The shafts reach the hubs about 10 cm above the wheel centre line, improving ground clearance.

In really ugly conditions, such a climbing a gigantic rock in the parking lot right in front of the Fairview Fittings company near the airport, don't ask, you nudge the truck up against the obstacle, select low rangelow gear, depress the brake pedal firmly (yes, left foot braking), apply some throttle, slowly ease off the brake, this technique locks up the diffs, and up

you go.

The office staff was standing well back from the door.

Playing around on my neighbour Klaus Jacklein's farm, I drove this truck through a ditch that none of my passengers could believe was passable. 40 cm of ground clearance at the centre, a

wall climbing approach angle of 72 degrees (reduced to 47 degrees with the optional winch) and a departure angle of 37.5 degrees mean you can go places you'd never even contemplate in

any other wheeled vehicle with a reasonable chance of getting back home.

DRIVE THROUGH STREAMS You can tackle streams as deep as 76 cm, nearly to the top of the gigantic tires. Better find out what's on the bottom of the stream first, though.

If all this isn't enough, my test Hummer had the optional on board tire pressure control system that lets you deflate the tires a little for a wider footprint and more buoyancy on soft

sand or snow, then pump 'em up again when you're back on more solid terrain.

I don't think the Lincoln Navigator offers this.

Final question: What's it worth?

Better to ask, what's it cost?

A two seat hardtop starts at a mere $83,900. A four place open top is $94,500, a four seat hardtop $100,500, and a four seat wagon $105,500. My tester was a wagon with just about every

piece of hardware AM General puts on a Hummer, which brought the sticker to a breathtaking $139,735.

Outrageous? Hey, so is the Hummer.

COSTS LESS THAN PORSCHE TURBO It still costs less than any Ferrari or a Porsche Turbo, and few doubt the value of those, never mind whether they can afford them. You can take three friends and a bunch of gear with you on your Hummer adventures; try that in most Ferraris or any Porsche.

And you're more likely to be able to exploit the far reaches of a Hummer's performance envelope in this country than you are with an exotic sports car.

And isn't part of the fun of owning an exotic sports car the fact that everyone stares at you? Better not show up in one if your neighbour has a Hummer, or you're going to be one lonely

little camper.

Freelance journalist Jim Kenzie prepared this report based on driving experiences with a vehicle provided by the automaker.

You can catch Kenzie each Saturday on Talk 640 Radio at noon.

Email: jbkenzie@interhop.net

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