Ruth Brandon: Big yourself up with a stretch Hummer limo

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Which car would you pick as the quintessential expression of our times? Surely it's got to be the Hummer.

Which car would you pick as the quintessential expression of our times? Surely it's got to be the Hummer. The product of military-industrial desperation, designed to keep GM's Humvee production line active when the Cold War ended and the End of History began, it has become an icon, everything Bushies love and right-on folk love to hate. Of course Humvees, as the world knows only too well, never did go out of production. So now - lucky us! - we have both.

The Hummer is the SUV to end all SUVs. Taller, wider and a full ton heavier than even GM's huge Suburban 4x4, it boasts 16 inches of ground clearance and can climb vertical walls up to 22 inches tall - handy for exiting parking lots when you can't find the change to pay the ticket. And those mountains of metal it interposes between you and the world fulfil almost to excess the twin dreams of SUV drivers.

The timid hermit-crab housewives at whom most SUV advertising is aimed can relax in the certainty that their climb-in carapace is bigger and tougher than anyone else's: once you've shut the door of your Hummer, you're safe no matter what. And aggressive smash-and-run types (Mike Tyson bought six) know they'll flatten anything else on the road. This is a Humvee, after all. That's what they're for.

Now, though, Hummers have extended their appeal to the partygoing market, in the shape of stretch limos. A Stretch Hummer! I couldn't believe it, but there it was, coming down the road in sedate St John's Wood, presumably on its way to Regent's Park, there to drive round and round the Outer Circle for the duration of the party ("Round the park, cabbie, till I tell you to stop"). It was distinctly not breaking the speed limit.

Stretch Hummers are custom-buuilt to order. Everything is removed from the car, it's cut in half, the chassis extended by up to 17 feet, then spliced back together, the brakes beefed up, new tyres, a second battery, new wiring - and that's before the customisation. At £100,000-odd a throw, the drivers of these cars are not about to test their wall-climbing abilities.

Eat your heart out, semioticists: as mixed signals go, you'll never find anything to compete with this. On the outside, the snarling teeth of the Humvee radiator grille, as bombed every day in Baghdad, set in heavy-duty more-than-quasi military steelwork. And inside ... inside, you've never seen anything like it.

The inside of a stretch Hummer is a fantasy in Late Whorehouse. Around the sides, beneath the blacked-out windows, are padded grey leather walls, around which runs a bench divided into seats for 18 by golden-brown fake-fur trim (or perhaps it's real fur, the skins of Afghan lambs run down by off-duty GIs as they race around the hills in their Humvees between tours of duty at Bagram or Kandahar).

Between the windows, 12-inch flat-screen television screens; in the middle of one side a bar, with crystal glasses reflecting turquoise strip-lights. Hardwood parquet flooring. And in the middle of the ceiling: a chandelier. Yes, unbelievably, a real chandelier, with hundreds of glass drops, suspended (though not very far; that's the trouble with partying in a limo, stand up too fast and you'll hit your head against the ceiling, let alone a chandelier) from a circular mirror. And on the partition between you and the driver, yet more fairy-lights and mirrors.

There's a 1,000-watt DVD system, so let's hope the driver's compartment is soundproof or he's got good earplugs; if you like, you can have video games, a fog machine and a karaoke machine (or as the rental companies prefer to spell it, karoake). And if you want, strobe lights and a disco floor; though in that case, if things got really hot, I wouldn't fancy the chances of the chandelier.

All yours, for £200 an hour. Round the park, cabbie?

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