See How Cheap Government Humvees Can Still Take That Hill

See How Cheap Government Humvees Can Still Take That Hill

Unless you’re a member of the military or a particularly fortunate police department, you’ve probably never driven an AM General HMMWV, the machine colloquially known as the Humvee. AM General did build a civilian version, the Hummer H1, but it was outrageously expensive, hard to maintain and always remained a rarity, an off-road juggernaut sequestered in Beverly Hills and South Beach. And if you wanted to buy an old Army machine, too bad—until recently Humvees were either in service or scrapped. 

But now that the Humvee’s on its way out (replaced by the Oshkosh Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, which has no sort of catchy acronym), the government’s had a change of heart. Not only will they sell you a HMMWV via auction site GovPlanet, but they’ll include the all-important SF97 form, the piece of paper that allows you to apply for a title (though whether you progress to full registered street-legality will depend on the bureaucracy of your individual state). Now you can drive a Humvee for an average transaction price of around $10,000. The question is: would you want to do that?

To find out, GovPlanet selected a representative example of a $10,000 Humvee and brought it to Outback Motorsports Complex, a 700-acre off-road paradise laced with all sorts of challenges—deep water, hills, narrow jungle-like tracks, mud and sand. A friend of mine told me that in the Army, they refer to the Humvee as “God’s SUV,” because its capabilities are so astounding that drivers begin to feel invincible. “When they get stuck, you end up having to pull them out with a bulldozer, because the guy said, ‘Oh yeah, a pond 10 feet deep? Of course I can drive through that.’” How silly. A Humvee can only drive through a pond that’s five feet deep.

That’s with the fording kit, which this particular 1987 model doesn’t have. So I’ll have to settle for fording a mere 30 inches. Which, one might notice, is significantly higher than the sill for the doors. That’s OK: I brought waders.

In terms of off-road pros and cons, the Humvee’s only major detriment is its sheer size. More than seven feet wide and 15-feet long, the Humvee simply doesn’t fit down narrow trails. But if it’s got room to roam, it’s well neigh unstoppable. With 16 inches of ground clearance, you simply breeze over obstacles that would rip the differentials out of most pickups. The geared hubs double the torque to each wheel, which is important because there’s not a whole lot of torque to be had from the GM 6.2-liter diesel (150 horsepower, 250 lb-ft). But at low speeds, all that torque multiplication helps give the impression that you’ve got decent punch. 

The nicest surprise is how well this old hulk rides. With four-wheel independent suspension and coil-overs at each corner, you can bounce the front end off the ground before your innards really get scrambled. But that sort of action requires a turn of speed that’s hardly ever required. Big throttle inputs generally aren’t needed in a vehicle that can creep up a 60-degree slope. Trust the traction.

Mike Gipson, owner of Outback, directs me toward a modest-looking puddle known as “Chevy Hole”—a reference to the first truck it ever swallowed. I plow in and the Humvee’s left front tire, all 37 inches of it, disappears into the drink. The truck heels left and claws forward, reaching the vertical (muddy, slippery) face of the opposite bank. It digs to a stop, so I back up, add a little throttle and bounce right out on the second try. “This is the first truck that hasn’t needed to be winched out of that hole,” Mike says. Then we go drive through a pond. Water sloshes in over the door sill, but so what? The Humvee is thoroughly unperturbed.

“I’ve got to get one of these,” Mike says as we head back to the gate. If you’re thinking the same thing, here you go: Item number 592462. It’s rude, it’s basic, it’s totally unlike anything else you can buy. The Hummer’s always been a serious vehicle, a military implement, a creature of necessity. Now it’s time to have some fun.