HUMDINGER! Boy toy: Men line up at the auto show to lust after the beast that just keeps on rolling.

February 06, 1996|By Rob Hiaasen | Rob Hiaasen,SUN STAFF

First of all, what would possess anyone to leave a heated home to navigate, claw and slosh through the area's frozen all-terrain to the Maryland State Fairgrounds to see this year's international auto show?

What would drive anyone to come out in 12-degree temperatures? What could drive anyone here?



Quick, get out of the cold. Here in Exhibition Hall 200, follow the mob of men past the sparkling white Cadillac DeVille to the Amazing World of the Hummer. Live the Legend, the poster says. "THE WOLF IN A FIELD OF SHEEP. A WOLF IN WOLF'S CLOTHES " repeats the Rod Serlingesque voice on the big-screen TV. Dozens of wide-eyed, bundled guys watch the video, again and again and again. They can't learn enough about the Hummer -- nothing can stop or bore them now.

The Hummer is a $50,000 (and up, up, up) civilian version of the military's Humvee -- that squared, tire-full and tireless vehicle that leaps small buildings in a single bound. The Humvee was a hit in Desert Storm. It was a hit in the Great Storm, when the National Guard used them to get around snowbound Baltimore last month.

Of the 342 cars on display at the nine-day auto show, the Hummer is winning the popularity contest. "SHRUGS OFF PUNISHMENT THAT WOULD DISABLE ANY OTHER TRUCK " stop, please. Quit teasing us. "FEELS AS NIMBLE AS A DIRT BIKE." Stop! "IT'S A BEAST -- SLIGHTLY TAMED." It's like phone sex for Rambo.

The Hummer is simply the latest, ultimate boy toy.

"It's just like what every kid ever wanted," says Dr. Larry Boas, internal medicine man from Towson.

"I love it. I love it," he says, leering at a metallic green Hummer, with beige bucket seats, a roof rack that could carry a mobile home and tires that could crush a Miata into little Mazda pieces.

"$70,000 for this ugly thing?" asks Marge Boas, Larry's wife.

"Ugly? It's beautiful. I'll get rid of my Mercedes for this," Larry says. No kidding -- they have two Mercedes. He's a doctor, remember?

"He'd have the biggest tractor if he could. He loves backhoes, all that stuff," Marge says. "He just loves big, manly vehicles. I think all men do -- they just don't admit it."

Larry Boas is not going to buy a $70,000 Hummer -- well, not today. It's enough just to be near one, to touch it, to wipe a clean finger across its broad backside, to marvel at its steering wheel, so small for such a beast. It was enough Sunday for grown men to wait in line just to sit on the Hummer's sweet leather seats. All that was missing was a buffet of skinned muskrat.

Certain words will always move a man. At the Hummer exhibit (Hummer T-shirts marked down to $29!), the riveting words again come from the voice on the big screen: Track width. Gear reduction. Brake throttle modulation. Bore and stroke. And don't forget Torque. It's all in the video, which can be seen through Sunday, when the auto show ends.

Get this: The Hummer can climb a 60-percent grade of "mountainous recesses," plow through two feet of muck or mud, slam through a 3-foot snow drift and scale an 18-foot wall. Just remember to change the oil every 3,000 miles and the air filter now and then.

Get this: The Hummer "navigates bank drive-thrus" and claims to be easy to parallel park.

"It's just awesome," says Scott Owen of Bowie.

When Scott was in the service, he trained on Humvees at Fort Bragg, N.C. He knows them well. He knows exactly where to mount a really big gun on a Humvee. Scott, however, has no idea where to locate $70,000 to buy one. So, he'll keep driving his cheap Ford Escort and dream of Hummers.

"I think I'd have to buy two. One to paint a really pretty color" -- viper red? -- "and one to destroy."

Scott's brother, Rick, is getting his picture taken behind the wheel of the Hummer -- beaming like he has his arm around Cal Ripken. Both men finally leave the Hummer site, but not before taking one more long, adoring look.

At the auto show, it must be kind of tough for the other cars and trucks to be assigned near the Hummers. No one seems to be swooning over the white Cadillac. Compared with the Hummer, the nearby Grand Cherokee looks puny, like it's suffering from torque envy. Fifty paces from the regiment of Hummers is the Hyundai exhibit -- featuring nice cars, thank you very much. And all are under $70,000. Some even have front cup holders. Can the Hummer claim that?

"They're drooling," says Louisa Taylor, glancing at the guys watching the Hummer video. Louisa, Debra Port and Joann Hussein are "narrators" who travel the auto show circuit to talk about Hyundai cars.

"Everywhere we go, we get stuck next to the Hummers," Louisa says, by now quite used to the Hummer crowds. "It's OK. We ignore them," she says.

Hummer of a date

OK, here's a question. It's a first date, and what if the guy shows up at your house in a Hummer?

Louisa: "I'd change my clothes. We're probably going out in the mud."

Debra: "If it was Montana, I'd think he must be a rancher. But if it's in a city, it's just too excessive. He's showing off. He's got an ego problem."

Joann: "I can picture this guy on the couch, drinking a beer, with his shirt off. Not very classy."

Louisa: "An evil Army guy."

Debra (standing atop the revolving platform featuring the newest Hyundai): "Just bored rich people."

Well, as the video says: "A HUMMER IS NOT FOR EVERYONE."

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