Seat time in an H1 has always been hard to come by. Especially trail time - using Low range on severe, military training trails. And especially, when Rod Hall is your spotter.
The occasion was the introduction of the H1 Alpha, a faster, more powerful, and easier-to-maintain Humvee. The brakes are better, it will tow more, and the crawl ratio has been improved, but the experience of operating a truly authentic 4x4 in its element remains the same.
We were honored to have as copilot one Rod Hall, who we first became acquainted with some 20 years ago when he dominated open-desert distance racing. The man is a legend, and good company besides. However, as a rule, race drivers do not make good passengers, so we tried to drive smoothly. We did not want to make Rodney spill his coffee, brace himself against the dash, or scream out loud, but we failed. Plus, we dinged the mirror on the very H1 Rodney now uses for his personal transportation. Much to his credit, and consistent with his outlook, Mr. Hall remained a calm, knowledgeable and relaxed copilot/trail leader 99 percent of the time. The other 1 percent is on us.
In our defense, driving an H1 is not like driving your average 4x4. And it had been a while since we sat in one. The cockpit takes a moment to get used to. There are 22 large rocker switches on the driver side alone, along with six small round gauges and a seventh with two needles, one red and one green, for tire pressure and inflation, front and rear. The space between the driver and passenger is occupied by Mr. Duramax and Mr. Allison.
First thing about driving an H1: It takes a few hours to notice that the left front tire is right under your left foot. So, on a narrow mountain road, you tend to hang the passenger over the edge. On the trail, you keep the driver side clean and pinstripe the passenger side. This will make any passenger uneasy, race driver or not.
The other thing is that you have ground clearance to burn. You can roll right over rocks you would normally drive around. There is a good 16 inches clearance down the middle, not to mention a 47-degree departure angle, a 32-degree break over, and a 30-inch fording depth. Plus, it's pretty hard to roll an H1. We've seen it done, but with a 60 percent grade capability and 40 percent side slope angle, it's not easy.