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From Desert Storm, An Urban Dune Buggy?


Personal Business: AUTOS

FROM DESERT STORM, AN URBAN DUNE BUGGY?

The car of my dreams is parked out front, engine emitting a throaty burble, angular profile radiating menace. Passersby jostle for a look at its aluminum body. My hosts beckon me, signaling that it's time to start our road test. We roar off into downtown Washington traffic, as envious glances follow us out of sight.

A Ferrari F40? Perhaps a Lamborghini Diablo? Nope. My dream car is the snub-nosed troop carrier known as the Hummer, colloquially called the Humvee. The Humvee has been a workhorse of Operation Desert Storm, carrying scouts on night missions, dodging mines, and lobbing antitank missiles at Iraqi armor.

TV exposure has transformed the homely transport into a glamorous war wagon. Naturally, manufacturer AM General in South Bend, Ind., has been deluged with requests: "I've received letters from folks all over the country who want one," says AM General spokesperson Craig MacNab. (Alas, a civilian model is only in the talk stage.) Why would anyone want a 5,200 pound Humvee lurking in their driveway, spooking the neighbor's dog? Well, perhaps because this thing is the ultimate off-road vehicle, capable of charging up 60-degree grades and fording deep streams. "You can drive it through anything," says Army Captain Bob Stone, who talked to BW's Russ Mitchell at an outpost in Saudi Arabia.

Spartan lines, monster tires, and exposed coil springs give a Humvee a Rommelesque look that draws an instant crowd. By comparison, the $45,000 Range Rover, a safari-cruiser beloved by yuppies, looks like a wimpmobile.

The Humvee has four-wheel drive, independent suspension, disk brakes, and a three-speed automatic transmission. Power comes from a 6.2-liter General Motors diesel V-8 that cranks out 150 hp and 250 ft.-lb. of torque--enough to earn the Humvee its mountain-goat reputation.

On the road, the vehicle accelerates majestically, going from zero to 50 mph in 20 seconds (it's best to keep the gas pedal mashed to the floor). The ride is harsh: Every bounce comes through the seats and vibrates up your spine, but you're generally having too much fun to care. The interior features lots of gauges, plastic knobs reminiscent of a `48 Plymouth, and an in-your-face heating system that could double as a mobile hair dryer.

BRISK RIDE. The Humvee's wide turning radius and limited rear vision make it a handful in traffic. But when you own a Humvee you can park anywhere, especially when you order the optional roof-mounted .50 caliber machine gun or TOW missile launcher--perfect for a brisk ride through the South Bronx.

The roughly $30,000 Humvee isn't for sale--yet. But AM General has agreed to part with just one, for muscle-hulk Arnold Schwarzenegger. "We made an exception for Arnie," confesses a company official. "But he only wants to drive his to Spago."EDITED BY TROY SEGAL Lee Walczak


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