March 23, 2010
The CarDomain Obscure Muscle Car Parking Lot: The Hummer H3 Alpha
By Jim Brennan
Welcome to another installment of the CarDomain Obscure Muscle Car Parking Lot, a regular feature which aims to expand the definition of what a muscle car is, and to discover hidden treasures while doing so. Throughout this series, I’ve showcased a lot of coupes, sedans, a couple of wagons, and a few pickup trucks. This is the first SUV in the series–and look, it’s from a defunct GM brand that has become the symbol of automotive excess during the past several years. Just the name Hummer conjures up images of everything from desert warfare, to over-the-top, chrome-encrusted celebrity rides. The H3 was an attempt to play down the perceived excess that had become the Hummer image, while increasing the market share of the brand at the same time. But the H3 was saddled with an anemic five cylinder motor, which wasn’t rectified until 2008 with a 5.3L V-8 engine transplant. Introducing the Hummer H3 Alpha.
Two years after the its introduction, Hummer’s runt of the litter finally received a V-8 variant, and was given a new designation, the H3 Alpha. With 300 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque, the Alpha’s 5.3-liter V-8 is the engine the H3 should have had all along. In this application, the engine develops 300 horsepower under the H3′s chunky hood, in an engine compartment originally designed around a five cylinder in-line. In a road test by Car & Driver, Hummer claimed that the Alpha hits 60 mph in 8.0 seconds. That’s slower than the much larger–and more powerful–2008 H2, which can hustle its 6650 pounds to 60 in a reasonably impressive 7.8 seconds with a 393-hp, 6.2-liter V-8 and six-speed automatic.
Much of the blame for the H3′s lack of thrust can be attributed to the four-speed automatic, which was retained because of underhood packaging constraints. The Hummer engineers already had enough to do in their efforts to squeeze the longer, wider, and heavier small-block V-8 into the tight engine bay of the H3. Parts of the front-of-dash panel had to be moved rearward, and the frame had to be modified so the engine mounting points could be accommodated and a new, heavier-duty cooling system could be installed. The transmission was modified to accommodate a larger-diameter torque converter, and the front anti-roll bar was beefed up to handle the 100 pounds of additional weight.
Packaging of the exhaust system and the application of 2009 emissions controls made it impossible to achieve the same horsepower and torque figures for their version of the 5.3 as those in other GM applications, such as the 2007 Chevrolet Silverado. All of this can be rectified with a little judicious tuning. Remember the 5.3L V-8 has been around for a while, and the ability to get more power from it shouldn’t be too hard.
In conclusion, should a Hummer (any Hummer) be considered a muscle car? This is the smallest Hummer, with a large engine, and with the right modifications, it should be able to perform like a muscle car. And if you crave this beast, the time is right to purchase one, as values have fallen off the face of the earth, due to soaring fuel prices, the decline of SUV popularity generally, and the elimination of the Hummer brand by GM. I predict that these trucks will become a hot collectible within the decade, but what do you think? Should a Hummer ever be considered a muscle car? I am sure that this posting will generate a lot of debate.
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