ROCKCRAWLER.com
An Unexpected Experience:
AM General's
Hummer
H1 Driving Academy

By Shawn Pagan

Send this article to a friend!

Hummer H1 AcademyDay 2 arrived bright and early. Steven Spengler arrived at the Marriott in time to have breakfast with the group. Afterward, he drove us to the AM General Plant just up the road in Mishawaka where we were led on a tour of the AM General Facility. Once at the plant we were led around between two buildings. The one to our left was the H2 facility, which we were told was pretty much like any normal car line – mass produced vehicles where production of numbers was the primary goal.

Our attention was thenturned to the doors of the Hummer plant. As we were led inside, our “Tour Guide” (a long time employee of AM General with many stories to tell) explained to us that cameras were not allowed in the H1 / HMMWV (High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle) Plant. He also gave us a quick history of the company and his role there.

The first stop in the facility was next to a fully camo'd military Hummer being built for overseas duty. They showed us the thin seats the military uses, the stripped-down sections and he gave us a quick overview of the differences between a civilian HI and a military Hummer. The list was much shorter than I expected. Essentially, the H1 is very similar to its military brethren. The largest changes are for comfort and street-legality.

The H1 has a higher hood to accommodate the Turbo (most of the military versions do not have turbos), it’s designed with real seats that have a level of comfort for travel, the electrical system is 12 volt and the air intake system is plumbed differently. The 12 volt system is used to operate the civilian-required lighting, and the standard Monsoon Stereo system (got to have your tunes). The H1 is designed to be safe and work in about 30” of water and as we were told that even though they sell a deep fording kit they don’t really recommend going deeper, even with it installed because of the street-going electronics.

Hummer H1 AcademyThe military versions, on the other hand, tend to have stiffer springs for a higher load capacity (because when’s the last time a Marine Grunt checked the load rating before shoving everything he needed to move in the back), a 24 volt electrical system and are able to be shut off and started while completely submerged in water. In addition, military versions come in all different shapes and sizes from open “trucks” to completely-enclosed ambulance and radio trucks.

As we walked around the plant from the order to the ready-to-be-delivered vehicle it was obvious that this was truly a “configure to order” assembly line. Civilian H1’s and Military HMMWV's for various duties are built in line with each other. The components are nearly the same and the same people build each part, for each vehicle. For example, have you ever noticed the rows and rows of rivets holding the aluminum panels on a Hummer? Each hole is drilled individually, an adhesive compound is then placed on each sheet, the sheets are layered together and a rivet is place thru the hole . All of this work is done using manually-controlled tools.

Hummers are built by hand! Yes you heard me, by hand just like a Ferrari or Lamborghini. They use an automated assembly line, but the build work at each station is completed by members of the United Auto Workers Union.

After the Hummers have gone through each station they are delivered for final test runs and paint. This is another place where the civilian and military HMMWV's differ. The Hummer’s aluminum panels don’t take well to “civilian” paint jobs. The materials used on the hummer are best suited for flat paints and not the shiny metallics and polishes that the consumers want on their rides. Consequently, the non-military ones go off to a different paint shop where the aluminum is prepared and the civilian colors are shot.

Upon visiting the paint shop and watching them paint a brilliant white on some industrial trucks for the Border Patrol, it was obvious how much work, time and effort go into a single Hummer H1, military or business contract. It’s a work of art – a functional work of art.

As we left the plant, we stopped and looked into a new 2004 Hummer and were very surprised by a new interior which consisted of new colors, new materials and as much more comfortable feel as well as an aesthetically-pleasing layout. One of the people in the class (a current H1 owner) commented that the new interior finally looked and felt like it should in a $100,000 vehicle.

Upon completion of the plant tour we headed to the Hummer Technical Center where we were treated to a working lunch and a presentation outlining what we would be doing for the next few days. This is the place to ask questions and get any of your concerns out in the open before you really get into the week.

At the Technical Center, we were shown cut-away views of the Hummer engine, transfer case, drivetrain and the vehicle itself. All of these things would come back to play in a few days when we returned to the Technical Center for a class called “Vehicle Field Repair.”

Engine cut-away
Inside the oil pan
Torsion Limited Slip and brake assembly
Eaton Electric Locker assembly
Cut-away interior and controls
Chassis cut-away

After lunch we headed for the first time to the actual Training Facility and got our first view of the Off-Road Driving Course. After a quick discussion, we all jumped into an H1 (in the passenger seat) and were driven around the facility and the trails that make up the course area. I have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised as the track and area had places that would surely prove to be difficult and challenging. In addition to the extensive trail system and the man-made obstacle course which consisted of rocks, vertical walls and horizontal walls, moguls, log crossings, water crossings, teeter totter, etc they had also created a number of man-made obstacles that emulated famous off-road landmarks like “golden crack,” “dump bump,” and even had a “mini-Rubicon.”

Entrance to the Dealer Test Track
H1's waiting for students

After our tour of the area, we changed seats with our instructors and got to drive around on some of the easier trails in order to get a feel for the vehicles. At this point it became obvious to me that I was in for some fun. They really had some challenges for me to get through. I was impressed not only with what the Hummer could do out of the box, but also with the patience and work ethic that the instructors showed with everyone. It was obvious that they enjoyed their jobs and were doing something they loved to do.

H1 Fording Basin
30" of (cold) water
Training area trails
Nice and tight forest trails

After what seemed to be a way-too-short amount of time, we brought the H1’s back into the corral and settled down in the class room for a safe recovery class which included field work and an intro to navigation class.

The recovery class did a great job of explaining the different tools that can be used, how to safely use those tools and what to look for when inspection for damage. They even included a few displays of damage caused when things go wrong.

Recovery items
Discussion about each piece
Outside lessons. Step 1, "The Strap"
Pulling a vehicle
Hummer winching techniques
Connecting the remote

Our first day at the Academy proved to be a great introduction to Hummer, AM General, the Tech Center and the Off-Road Driving Facility.

On To Day 3