The ultimate off-road machine was a product of post-war shortages.
The Mercedes Unimog is probably the most capable off-road machine there has ever been. It has been put to countless uses, but it started life over 70 years ago as a humble tractor in a Germany that had been completely shattered by World War Two.
Daimler engineer Albert Friedrich began developing the Unimog concept in October 1944, as allied forces swept through Germany. Blueprints were drawn up the following August, just three months after the European conflict ended, which detailed an agricultural vehicle that would improve productivity in fields and forests and speed the process of getting Germany back on its feet.
The blueprints were shown to an uninterested board, but Friedrich presented them to the occupying authorities anyway, and was granted permission to build ten prototypes. On October 9, 1946 Unimog Prototype 1 - little more than a bare chassis - turned a wheel for the first, hauling a load of wood.
Innovatively, the engine and gearbox were mounted to the right of the center-line of the chassis, which meant the driveshaft protecting-torque tubes could be mounted at right angles to the axle, giving huge wheel articulation. It’s so effective, the layout is still used.
The Unimog went into production in 1947, powered by a 25 horsepower (19 kilowatt) diesel engine that propelled it to a dizzying top speed of 30 miles per hour (50 kilometers per hour). It also featured four-wheel-drive with front and rear differential locks; power take-offs at the front, middle, and rear; attachment points for implements at the front, middle, rear, and sides; and a closed, two-seater cab. It was a tractor, but more hospitable than anything Hanomag or Fendt had to offer.
In the time since, over 400,000 Unimogs have been built, with no less than 30 variations on the theme, which have been put to every conceivable use - probably literally.
And, in case you’re wondering, Unimog stands for Universal Motor Gerat, a wonderfully literal phrase that translates from German as “universally applicable motorized machine”.