Mil-Spec 003 First Drive Review | The ultimate Hummer H1
We’re in something of a golden age for automotive restomodding, and into a heady mix that includes Singer’s reimagined 911s, Icon’s fancy off-roaders, and lots of updated Land Rovers. The latest company with ambitions to become a top-tier custom car brand is Mil-Spec, which aims to do what the aforementioned companies do, but with the big, brash, blunt Hummer H1. And in particular, the company is aiming to make its Hummers a compelling alternative to a used Hummer H1 Alpha. The Alpha is generally considered to be the best of the breed with the most powerful diesel engine offered, larger brakes, and a nicer interior compared with its predecessors. To find out whether the company’s early efforts live up to that ambition, Mil-Spec invited us to drive their third completed vehicle, Mil-Spec 003.
It started life as a 1995 Hummer H1, and as with all of Mil-Spec’s vehicles, it was completely disassembled, and the body and frame media-blasted down to metal. The frame and related components are then powder-coated with a black gloss finish. The truck’s aluminum body, in this case a four-door hardtop pickup variant, but is coated in a resilient bedliner-like material designed for easy care. Bits of Kevlar are mixed in with the material for strength, and it can be tinted different colors and have rougher or finer textures.
Underneath the body, one of the five different engines that were available on the H1, usually a diesel V8, is replaced with a 6.6-liter Duramax LBZ turbodiesel V8. This engine was available on heavy duty Chevy and GMC pickup trucks, and a related engine was used in the Hummer H1 Alpha. Whereas the engine in the H1 Alpha made 300 horsepower and 520 pound-feet of torque mated to a 5-speed automatic, the Mil-Spec’s LBZ has had turbo upgrades and a different ECU tune allowing it to produce 500 horsepower and 1,000 pound-feet of torque. It’s also coupled to an Allison 1000 6-speed automatic transmission.
The mechanical upgrades don’t stop with the engine and transmission. The inboard brakes are given drilled and vented discs, and an ARB Air Locker locking rear differential fitted. Dual auxiliary transmission coolers also make an appearance and can be switched on as needed. The 003 received 20-inch wheels with 38-inch mud terrain tires, but larger tires can be added if desired. These wheels and tires aren’t compatible with the Hummer’s original central tire inflation system, which allowed drivers to deflate and inflate tires at the flip of a switch, but was also known to be unreliable. As such, the system was removed, but the air compressor for the locking rear differential can be used to reinflate tires at the valve stem, so changing air pressure in the field is still possible. On the 003, these tires are also covered by bulging bolt-on fender flares that add 7 inches of width to make the truck over 7 and a half feet wide. A custom snorkel was also added for deep-water fording.
The interior gets a thorough transformation, too. Every interior surface is covered in a marine-grade leather that’s weatherproof and features quality accent stitching. The dashboard is vastly simplified compared with the cluttered, plasticky factory job. Classic custom gauges sit ahead of a small steering wheel, and in keeping with the waterproof theme, the SUV has a marine-grade stereo. Mil-Spec also stuffed the interior with loads of sound and heat insulation, as well as two upgraded air conditioning units, one up front and one in the back.
That’s an extremely long list of impressive sounding work, but how is it as a package? The powertrain is probably the most surprising and enjoyable part of the truck. The turbodiesel delivers effortless acceleration that feels like magic considering this thing weights over 7,000 pounds. Mil-Spec says it can do 0-60 mph in 5.5 seconds, and while we weren’t able to time it ourselves, it sure felt like it was within the realm of possibility. The throttle is responsive, too, very little lag, and the transmission is super smooth. Having the six gears really helps take advantage of the torque, making it fun to hustle this mammoth from light to light. Thankfully, its brakes are sufficient, stopping the Mil-Spec like a regular truck.
The acceleration isn’t the only thing that feels effortless. The whole car is as easy to drive as any full-size pickup truck. Steering is light and easy to use, and its actually reasonably precise and tells you a good bit about what the tires are up to. As a result, you can confidently dial in steering angle and guide it along normal city streets with scarcely a second thought. Tighter neighborhood streets may give you pause, considering the truck’s width, but you sit on the very edge of the left side, and the corner of the right side is very easy to see thanks to the Mil-Spec’s shape, so it’s not too bad even when it’s being squeezed. The stiff suspension jars a bit, but more importantly it lets you carry a bit of speed through corners.
Mil-Spec’s insulated interior does an admirable job keeping the cabin quiet. The only real noise intrusions are some occasional rattles from the body, wind noise (because this is one of the least aerodynamic cars in history), and the mud-terrain tires. All you hear from the powertrain is sweet turbo whistle and some V8 rumble. And as we mentioned, Mil-Spec did a very nice job redesigning the interior, and especially in putting it together. The upholstery feels great, and the stitching is high-quality: uniform and laser-straight. The audio system in particular is nicely integrated on a shelf behind the rear seats. And everything is fairly simple and functional-looking, which fits the spare, purposeful image of the Hummer H1.
Besides simply being a well-executed machine, the Mil-Spec 003 also has serious presence, like an exotic sports car. It’s just as unmissable, with massive tires, Etch-A-Sketch styling, and apartment building size. It helps that this thing has real off-road cred, since it’s the H1, not the glitzy showboat H2. And with metro Detroit probably the largest buyer of V8 Mopars, nobody is too worried about it being a fuel guzzler. Of course, the mood of your onlookers may vary if, say, you’re driving through downtown San Francisco.
As good as the overall package is, what the Mil-Spec doesn’t feel like is one of the great machines from Singer or Icon. It doesn’t have that extra bit of artistry – a uniqueness that takes one of those custom vehicles from simply being a customized 911 or FJ40 into being something truly special.
That’s partly because the 003 and Mil-Spec’s other off-road vehicles mostly resort to bolt-on parts that don’t look or feel special to the company. They’re the same kinds of off-the-shelf bits we’ve seen on oodles of Jeeps and pickups at SEMA the last few years: bolt-on flares, off-the-shelf wheels, LED lights and tubular sport bars and tire racks. The interior suffers the same issue. The air vents are from a Ford Super Duty, the switches for the climate control are plasticky auxiliary equipment toggle switches with sticker labels, the gauges are universal round examples with custom faces and the head unit is an off-the-shelf marine unit. There’s also no reason you couldn’t take your Hummer H1 to a trusted restorer or custom car shop and ask them to perform most of the mechanical upgrades to it.
But even if it doesn’t feel quite as unique and special as something from Singer or Icon, it has a saving grace. Stock Hummer H1 Alphas, the version Mil-Spec is benchmarking, go for between $ 150,000 and $ 220,000. That makes the Mil-spec, with its restored frame, way nicer interior, much more powerful engine and lots of add-ons that add up, seem like a good value at $ 239,000. As such, it’s all right that the Mil-Spec isn’t the unique reimagining of its base that Singers and Icons are, because what the company is really doing, marketing hype aside, is creating the best Hummer H1s around at a reasonable price.