We are in a golden age for restomodging in the automotive industry and for an intoxicating blend of Singer's re-imagined 911's, icon's fancy offroaders and many updated Land Rovers. The latest company with ambitions to become a leading brand is Mil-Spec, which strives for what the aforementioned companies do, but with the big, rash, blunt Hummer H1. And in particular, the company plans to make van Hummers an attractive alternative to a used Hummer H1 Alpha. The Alpha is generally considered the best of the breed with the most powerful diesel engine being offered, larger brakes and a nicer interior compared to its predecessors. In order to find out whether the company's early efforts met that ambition, Mil-Spec invited us to drive their third completed vehicle, Mil-Spec 003.
It started as a Hummer H1 from 1995, and as with all Mil-Spec's vehicles, it was completely disassembled and the body and frame were blown in metal. The frame and its components are then powder coated with a black gloss finish. The aluminum bodywork of the truck, in this case a four-door hardtop pick-up variant, is coated in a resilient bedliner-like material designed for easy care. Kevlar bits are mixed with the material for strength, and it can be tinted and have harsher or finer textures.
Under the bodywork, one of the five different engines available on the H1, usually a diesel V8, was replaced by a 6.6-liter Duramax LBZ turbodiesel V8. This engine was available on heavy Chevy and GMC pickup trucks and a related engine was used in the Hummer H1 Alpha. While the engine in the H1 Alpha made 300 hp and 520 pound-pair torque coupled to a 5-speed automatic, the Mil-Spec's LBZ has turbo upgrades and another ECU-tune that gives it 500 hp and 1,000 pounds. -foot can produce the torque. It is also linked to an Allison 1000 6-speed automatic transmission.
The mechanical upgrades do not stop at the engine and transmission. The inboard brakes are fitted with drilled and ventilated discs, and an ARB Air Locker locking rear differential is fitted. Double additional transmission coolers also appear and can be switched on if necessary. The 003 got 20-inch wheels with 38-inch terrain tires, but larger tires can be added if desired. These wheels and tires are not compatible with the Hummer's original central belt inflation system, allowing drivers to deflate and inflate tires with a switch, but it was also unreliable. As such, the system was removed, but the air compressor for the rear differential can be used to re-inflate tires on the valve stem, so that changing the air pressure in the field is still possible. On the 003, these tires are also covered by protruding fender cheeks attached with screws that add 7 inches of width to make the truck more than 7 and a half feet wide. A modified snorkel was also added for deep water breeding.
The interior also gets a thorough transformation. Each inner surface is covered with a seaworthy leather that is weather-resistant and has a quality accent mark. The dashboard is greatly simplified compared to the messy, sticky factory job. Classic custom gauges stand for a small steering wheel and in keeping with the waterproof theme, the SUV has a marine quality stereo. Mil-Spec has also filled the interior with a lot of sound and heat insulation, as well as two upgraded air conditioning units, one at the front and one at the rear.
That is an extremely long list of impressive sounding work, but how is it like a package? The powertrain is probably the most surprising and fun part of the truck. The turbo diesel delivers effortless acceleration that feels like magic, since this thing weighs more than 7000 kilos. Mil-Spec says that it can do 0-60 km / h in 5.5 seconds, and although we could not manage it ourselves, it felt like it was within reach of the possibility. The gas also reacts, very little lay, and the transmission is super smooth. Having the six gears really helps to take advantage of the torque, making it fun to get this mammoth from light to light. Fortunately, the brakes are sufficient, making the Mil-Spec stops like a normal truck.
The acceleration is not the only thing that feels effortless. The whole car is just as easy to drive as a full-size pick-up truck. The steering is light and easy to use, and is actually pretty precise and tells you a bit about what the tires are doing. The result is that you can confidently dial the steering angle and guide it along normal city streets without too much thought. Tight streets in the neighborhood might give you a break, considering the width of the truck, but you're sitting on the far edge of the left side and the corner of the right side is very easy to see thanks to the shape of the Mil-Spec, so it's is not bad even when it is squeezed. The stiff suspension jars a bit, but more importantly, it lets you carry a bit of speed through corners.
The isolated interior of Mil-Spec does admirable work and keeps the cabin quiet. The only real sound 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. Everything you hear from the powertrain is a sweet turbo whistle and some rattling from the V8. And as we said, Mil-Spec has done a great job of redesigning the interior and especially putting it together. The upholstery feels great and the seams are of high quality: uniform and laser straight. Especially the audio system is nicely integrated on a shelf behind the back seat. And everything is pretty simple and functional looking, which fits in the extra, focused image of the Hummer H1.
In addition to being a well-executed machine, the Mil-Spec 003 also has a serious presence, such as an exotic sports car. It is just as indispensable, with solid tires, Etch-A-Sketch styling and the size of apartment complexes. It helps that this thing is really off-roadworthy, because it is the H1, not the bright show boat H2. And with metro Detroit, probably the biggest buyer of V8 Mopars, no one is more worried about being a fuel lover. Of course, the mood of your audience can vary, for example if you drive through the center of San Francisco.
No matter how good the package is, what the Mil-Spec does not feel is one of the great machines from Singer of Icon. It does not have that extra bit of artistry – a uniqueness that makes one of those custom vehicles from simply a custom made 911 or FJ40 to something very special.
This is partly because the other off-road vehicles of the 003 and Mil-Spec usually resort to components that do not look like the exterior or that are special to the company. These are the same types of off-the-shelf bits that we have seen over the past few years on huge amounts of jeeps and pickups at SEMA: flares with bolted connections, standard wheels, LED lights and tubular sports bars and tire racks. The interior suffers the same problem. The air vents come from a Ford Super Duty, the switches for the climate control are staggered auxiliary equipment tumblers with sticker labels, the gauges are universal round examples with custom faces and the head unit is a standard marine unit. There is also no reason why you should not take your Hummer H1 to a trusted restaurateur or custom car shop and ask them to do most of the mechanical upgrades to it.
But even if it does not feel as unique and special as anything from Singer or Icon, it has a saving grace. Stock Hummer H1 Alphas, the Mil-Spec version is benchmarking, go for between $ 150,000 and $ 220,000. That makes the Mil-spec, with its restored frame, much nicer interior, much more powerful engine and many add-ons that add up, seems a good value at $ 239,000. As such, it is good that the Mil-Spec is not the unique reimagining of the basis Singers and Icons, because what the company really does, put marketing hype aside, is to create the best Hummer H1's against a fair price.