Celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2019, the Mercedes G-Class has transitioned from its military roots to become more of a lifestyle vehicle. It’s as luxurious as you expect any car carrying the three-pointed star badge to be, but it’s still as competent in the off-road should you ever want to drive off the beaten path. With low-range, 100-percent locking differentials and a slope climbing ability of up to 100%, Mercedes says the G can go “virtually anywhere.”
An interesting fact released by Mercedes emphasizes the SUV’s legendary reliability as 80% of all the G-Class vehicles ever made are still on the road. As a refresher, the model is built by Magna Steyr in Graz, Austria where the 300,000th unit was assembled two years ago. Over the years, it has spawned numerous derivatives, from a Popemobile and the opulent Landaulet to the sporty AMGs and the 6x6 behemoth.
Gallery: Mercedes Unimog meets the G-Class
As for the UNIversal-MOtor-Gerät (the latter German word means machine/device/instrument), it’s still the fully fledged workhorse it has been since day one. Much older than the G-Class, you can trace the Unimog’s roots back to 1946 when the first prototype was built. It was twice as fast as the regular agricultural vehicle of that era, and came with AWD with front + rear locking differentials for some serious off-road chops. The prototype was well-received, prompting the start of series production three years later when it was baptized as the “Unimog.”
Due to popular demand, production had to be moved from Maschinenfabrik Boehringer in Göppingen to the Daimler-Benz truck plant in Gaggenau, Baden in June 1951. Dubbed “U 25,” the very first Unimog had to make do with just 25 horsepower, while the Unimog S launched in 1955 packed 80 hp from its (thirsty) six-cylinder 2.2-liter engine also found in the 220 S luxury sedan of that period.
Since its inception, the Unimog has been built in more than 350,000 examples and has been assembled since 2002 at the world’s largest truck assembly plant in Wörth. The aforementioned Unimog S is still the most popular version of the vehicle ever made.
In what is described as a “summit of the off-road giants,” the G-Class and Unimog got together for a promotional film showing the capabilities of the two legendary off-roaders to tackle rough terrain. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.
Mercedes-Benz Off-Road Icons
Unimog and G-Class: summit of the off-road giants
Vehicles that rise to top form in extreme terrain, have captivated with amazing technological feats for decades and have a dedicated worldwide fan base in their corner. Mercedes-Benz has no less than two of them. What the G-Class is in the passenger car sector, the Unimog is among commercial vehicles. And while the G-Class is celebrating its 40-year anniversary this year, the Unimog can look back on a tradition that spans more than 70 years. Enough reasons to bring both of them together for a summit.
There are vehicles that whet the appetite for adventure and arouse the childlike urge to play in every adult: The Mercedes-Benz G-Class and the Mercedes-Benz Unimog are among them. As unique characters, they both have been taking their very own path for many decades. And this path often starts where others already have reached the end of theirs – thanks to their off-road capabilities. Both of them have already repeatedly demonstrated their reliability and ability to get anywhere at the Dakar Rally and other events. In addition, the Unimog and the G-Class share maximum robustness and durability as well as the tremendous model variety, with which they fulfil virtually any customer request. No wonder that they also cut a splendid figure in Hollywood: In the blockbusters “Jurassic World” of 2015 and “Transformers: The Last Knight” from the year 2017, the two icons even shared the screen. The current G-Class celebrated its world première in Detroit in January 2018 with Arnold Schwarzenegger on stage. In addition to the G-Class, the superstar once also had a Unimog sitting in his garage.
The Mercedes-Benz G-Class
A class of its own
The Mercedes-Benz G-Class was a revolutionary concept from the start: The combination of superior off-road capabilities, perfect on-road suitability and safety was unprecedented in this form. The “longest-serving” Mercedes passenger-car model series has been in production in the Austrian city of Graz for four decades, a process that involves a lot of manual work and passion. The high quality standard pays off: Eighty percent of all G-Class vehicles ever produced are currently still travelling the roads and terrains of the world.
“The G-Class has always stayed true to itself over the decades: from the edgy profile to the hallmark noise when the door is clanged shut”, says Peter Schoren, Head of G-Class Product Management and Sales. “At the same time, it has constantly evolved technologically. The current model is the best G-Class of all time in all aspects – regardless of whether we are talking about the comfort, the off-road capabilities or the agility on the road”.
Unstoppable and versatile
Thanks to its standard ladder-type frame, the 100-percent locking differentials and the LOW RANGE off-road reduction gear, the G-Class gets virtually anywhere. On a suitable surface, its slope climbing ability is up to 100 percent. The G-Class retains its handling stability at bank angles of 35 degrees and with a fording depth of 70 cm even smaller streams can be crossed without difficulties.
Accordingly, the G-Class is predestined for a wide range of uses. For example, it demonstrates its strengths in many special-purpose versions at police forces, fire brigades and emergency services. The off-road icon also enjoys world fame as the “Popemobile”. Painted a mother-of-pearl hue and fitted with a special-purpose body made of glass, it accompanied Pope John Paul II as an official vehicle in the 1980s.
For 20 years, the G-Class has also been available as an AMG model with an extra helping of performance. More than one in three G-Class vehicles sold is a
Mercedes-AMG G 63* (combined fuel consumption: 13.1 l/100 km; combined CO2 emissions: 299 g/km), making it the most popular variant within the entire G-Class family.
The fact that an off-roader can also meet the very highest standards was proven in 2017 by the Mercedes-Maybach G 650 Landaulet limited to 99 vehicles – with V12 engine, portal axles, electric fabric top and exclusive appointments in the rear compartment.
Today, the individualisation range of the G manufaktur offers the possibility to configure an even more exclusive G-Class, with the customer turning a G into his or her G. As a result, more than one million possible combinations can be realised in production from September 2019. This not only applies to G-Class vehicles to be newly ordered, but for also for already existing orders, even until a few weeks before production. Theoretically, vehicles could be produced in Graz for several decades without any two of them being identical.
Starting this year, customers from around the world have the opportunity to test the tremendous capabilities of the G-Class, improve their driving skills in extreme terrain and experience the “Schöckl proved” quality seal. The G-Class Experience Centre opens its doors on the former Nittner Air Base in Feldkirchen, about 15 kilometres south of Graz.
The Mercedes-Benz Unimog
An off-road institution
While the G-Class also cuts a striking figure as a lifestyle vehicle, the Mercedes-Benz Unimog is a real workhorse. It does duty as a forest fire-fighting vehicle in France, climbs Mount Etna in Sicily as a tourist shuttle and supports the German Maritime Search and Rescue Service as a sea rescue vehicle. In concert with more than 650 Unimog service outlets in over 130 countries, its off-road capabilities and reliability make it a loyal companion around the world. Readers of “Off Road” magazine voted it off-roader of the year in the category “Special-Purpose Vehicles” for what was already the 15th time in a row.
Dr Ralf Forcher, Head of Marketing, Sales and Service Mercedes-Benz Special Trucks: “In a certain sense, our Mercedes-Benz Unimog vehicles are a class by themselves, specialists for the exceptional jobs, with a diverse range of qualities for any conceivable mission. The superior handling of our legendary short-nose Unimogs only comes fully to the fore on the most demanding sections of an off-road route. Our all-round talent also delivers benchmarks in terms of efficiency, service life expectancy and maintenance costs”.
Hard times, unusual solutions – the zero hour of the Unimog
Daimler-Benz engineer Albert Friedrich designed the Unimog in 1946 together with Erhard & Söhne Company from Schwäbisch Gmünd, which originally supplied ashtrays for the Mercedes-Benz saloon cars. The new vehicle was conceived as a “motorized multi-purpose machine” for agriculture. Compared with the farm tractor technology at the time, it had numerous innovations on board. With a top speed of 50 km/h, it was twice as fast as a common agricultural vehicle. In addition, it was fitted with:
- Sprung and dampened axles
- All-wheel drive and front and rear locking differentials
- Brakes not only at the rear axle, but also at the front axle
- A two-seat enclosed cab with padded seats
- An auxiliary cargo bed above the rear axle with 1.0 t load-carrying capacity
- A static weight distribution of 2/3 on the front axle and 1/3 on the rear axle
- Implement attachment options at the front, middle and rear
- Power take-off operation at the front, middle and rear
- Power take-offs for implements
The response exceeded all expectations; series production at Maschinenfabrik Boehringer in Göppingen got the green light in 1949. That is also when the vehicle got its name: Unimog, an abbreviation for the German Universal-Motorgerät or Universal Motor Machine.
The home of the Unimog: Gaggenau in Baden
The demand for the universal genius soon outstripped the production capacities in Göppingen. Starting in June 1951, the Daimler-Benz truck plant in Gaggenau, Baden, became the new home of the Unimog. A fitting place: the first off-roader made in Gaggenau dated way back to 1907.
The first Unimog, the U 25, got along with just 25 hp: Under the bonnet of the vehicle that measures 3.57 metres in length was a four-cylinder engine with a displacement of 1.7 litres. 5846 units of the U 25 were built. The Unimog S marked the first major evolution in 1955. It is still the best-seller among the Unimog models until today. It was powered by a 2.2-litre petrol engine with six cylinders and 80 hp. This engine was also installed in the 220 S luxury saloon at the time. However, its petrol consumption was luxurious as well, which is why the subsequent model series 416 from the year 1965 was produced exclusively with diesel engines.
The Unimog models became a sales hit during the years of the economic miracle. In its 24 years of production, 45,336 units of the U 416 were sold – the Unimog model series with the second-highest sales after the Unimog S. It was used for an accordingly diverse range of applications: as an aid convoy vehicle, on the rails in road-rail specification or even as a patient transport ambulance. In addition, there were variants as a tractor unit or conversions to three-axle vehicles and tracked vehicles.
The 250,000th Unimog came off the assembly line already in 1984. By 2002, Gaggenau produced 320,748 units, with that number standing at over 350,000 units today. An exceptional number for a highly specialized vehicle such as the Unimog. Since 2002, the Unimog production is located at the world’s largest truck assembly plant in Wörth. Since 2006, a dedicated museum in Gaggenau has been exhibiting the fascination that is the Unimog, which can also be experienced there on an in-house test track with a gradient of 100 percent.
Nothing outperforms them in terrain: U 4023 and U 5023
In addition to the Unimog implement carrier, which is a familiar sight as an orange municipal vehicle, there are two variants of the Unimog with extreme off-road capabilities: the U 4023 with a gross vehicle weight rating of 10.3 t and the U 5023 with a gross vehicle weight rating of 14.3 t. In each case, the last two digits stand for the output of 231 hp (170 kW), which is produced by a 5.1-litre four-cylinder engine. Low in comparison to the G-Class at first glance. However, for commercial vehicles it is torque that is crucial. And that is where the Unimog delivers an impressive 900 Nm, which are on tap constantly across the entire main operating range of 1200 to 1600 rpm.
This power pack, the selectable all-wheel drive, the on-demand inter-axle and inter-wheel locks as well as eight forward and six reverse speeds with off-road reduction gear make the Unimog the “master off the road”. It conquers gradients of up to 45 degrees or 100 percent. It can tilt by up to 38 degrees, which corresponds to a maximum tilt angle of 76 percent and it has a fording depth of up to 1.20 metres.
Such extreme operations are made possible by, amongst other things, the standard-fit portal axles, which result in an impressive ground clearance of 41 cm. Coil springs with their large spring travel allow an axle articulation of up to 30 degrees. That is why a Unimog can have the left front wheel on top of a rock and the right front wheel in a depression – and still maintain ground contact with all four wheels. Another off-road highlight is the “Tirecontrol plus” tyre pressure control system: The right tyre pressure for the particular surface is selected at the touch of a button (“Road”, “Sand” or “Rough Road”) and the Unimog always has the necessary grip as a result.
Around the world in the Unimog
These exceptional abilities also make the Unimog interesting as an expedition vehicle. One example is the U 4023 refined by Hellgeth engineering Spezialfahrzeugbau Company. Its gross vehicle weight rating is just 7.49 tonnes.
This is made possible thanks to systematic lightweight construction in building the box body and the cabinetry and by using lightweight aluminium for mounted parts and rims. As a result, the kerb weight including driver and fuel is just 6925 kilograms, making a dream of many globetrotters come true: They can drive a modern Unimog with camper body and extreme off-road capabilities holding the old “Class 3” driving licence.
Milestones in G-Class history
1979 The first G-Models are presented to the press. Production start-up of the models 240 GD, 300 GD, 230 G and 280 GE.
1980 During his visit to Germany in November 1980, Pope John Paul II is for the first time chauffeured in the “Popemobile” based on the 230 G.
1981 Optional equipment available for the cabriolet now includes air conditioning, side-facing bench seats and a hard top. There is a choice of 22 colours.
1983 In the Paris-Dakar Rally, Jacky Ickx and Claude Brasseur are first across the finishing line in a 280 GE.
1985 The “G” is significantly upgraded as part of the model refresh. Standard equipment now also includes differential locks, central locking system and a rev counter.
1987 Further model update with power windows, automatic antenna and larger tank.
1989 Launch of the 463 series with elevated equipment level and four engine variants: 250 GD, 300 GD, 230 GE and 300 GE. There is a choice of three body styles: Convertible, short-wheelbase Station Wagon and long-wheelbase Station Wagon.
1993 The 500 GE appears as the first V8 model of the off-roader. The 5-litre light-alloy engine of the limited special model develops 177 kW/240 hp. From September, the G-Models are officially known as the G-Class. The model designations are G 230, G 300, G 350 TURBODIESEL etc.
1994 Second model update for the 463 series adding vented front disc brakes and a driver airbag. 1996 The G 300 TURBODIESEL with in-line six-cylinder engine (130 kW/177 hp) is launched.
1997 The G-Class Cabriolet makes its début in a new variant with an electrohydraulic soft top.
1998 The G 500 with V8 engine (218 kW/296 hp) is added to the standard model range.
1999 With the G 55 AMG, an AMG variant is part of the official sales portfolio of the G-Class for the first time.
2001 The G-Class is given a considerably upgraded interior as part of a model update. The extended standard equipment level now includes new dynamic control systems and is presented at the International Motor Show (IAA) in September. Among them are ESP®, BAS Brake Assist and the new electronic traction control system ETS.
2004 World première of the new G 55 AMG with supercharged V8 engine. The most powerful G-Class to date has an output of 350 kW (476 hp).
2006 Bi-xenon headlamps with cornering light function are featured in the G-Class as standard. The G 320 CDI replaces the previous diesel models G 270 CDI and G 400 CDI.
2007 Further update: the G-Class is given a new instrument cluster with four analogue dial instruments.
2008 Introduction of the new 5.5-litre V8 engine with 285 kW (388 hp). Modified radiator grille with three louvres.
2012 Completely redesigned dashboard and centre console, with the modern COMAND Online infotainment system on board as standard. The Group’s subsidiary from Affalterbach sends the G 65 AMG into the running, which is powered by a 6.0-litre twelve-cylinder engine with a carbon-fibre/aluminium cover. Generating 1000 Nm, the G 65 AMG is the most powerful series production off-road vehicle in the world at the time. Also launched is the G 63 AMG with 5.5-litre twin-turbo V8 engine.
2013 The three-axle G 63 AMG 6x6 with 400 kW (544 hp), six driven wheels, an off-road reduction gear in the transfer case, portal axles, five lockable differentials and a tyre pressure control system demonstrates superior off-road characteristics.
2015 For the first time, the designo individualisation range offers exclusive colour and material compositions both inside and out. In addition, the new G 500 4x42 with portal axles enters series production.
2017 With a superlative V12 engine, portal axles, electric fabric top and exclusive appointments in the rear compartment, the Mercedes-Maybach G 650 Landaulet limited to 99 units meets the expectations of customers who demand only the very best of their vehicle.
2018 The new G-Class celebrates its première at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. With its unmistakably boxy exterior and fundamentally restyled interior, it sets technological standards yet again. On-road, the G-Class reinvents itself – with modern assistance systems, outstanding handling and optimum safety. Off-road, it surpasses itself: the new suspension, the DYNAMIC SELECT drive programs, the “G-Mode” and the three 100-percent differential locks enhance performance, ride comfort and agility – on any surface.
2019 The G-Class turns 40, the AMG variant celebrates its 20th anniversary. Thanks to the new G manufaktur individualisation range, customers can turn the G-Class into their very own personal G. The G-Class Experience Centre opens about 15 kilometres south of Graz: on the site covering more than 100,000 m2, customers and fans can drive the G-Class in extreme conditions on two off-road sections, the G-Rock with various approach ramps and an on-road area.
Milestones in Unimog history
1946 The prototype of the “U 1” with a Daimler OM 136 petrol engine (25 hp) is realised. On 9 October 1946, the Unimog Prototype 1 completes its first test drive, back then called “verification drive”. Chief constructor Heinrich Rößler is personally at the wheel and tests the prototype – still without cab, but fully loaded with wood – on rough forest roads near Schwäbisch Gmünd.
1951 After the start of production, the first U 2010 manufactured in Gaggenau comes off the assembly line on 4 June 1951. In the short business year 1951 with only seven months of production, 1005 units are manufactured.
1953 The second Unimog model series, the U 401, marks the first use of the “4” as the first digit of the Unimog’s three-digit model series designations. The Mercedes star now complements the trademark introduced for the Unimog by Boehringer – the distinctive ox head.
1963 The U 406 model series marks the start of the medium-heavy series.
1970 On 12 August 1970, the 150,000th Unimog, a U 421, is presented to a charitable institution as a donation by then Daimler-Benz Member of the Board Dr Hanns-Martin Schleyer.
1975 Première of the heavy-duty Unimog model series (SBU) with the model series 425 (U 1300, U 1500, U 1500 T).
1987 From 1987, the Unimog U 1300 L (model series 436) and U 4000 (model series 437.4) are built in a Turkish variant at the Mercedes-Benz truck plant in Aksaray. More than 10,000 units have been produced in Turkey to date.
1996 The Unimog division of then Mercedes-Benz AG makes the decision to split the Unimog into two model series. This results in separating the Unimog with extreme off-road capabilities from the professional implement carrier series.
2000 Presentation of the new Unimog implement carriers of series 405 (U 300–U 500).
2001 Shortly after the new implement carrier, the new generation of the Unimog with extreme off-road capabilities (model series 437.4) for fire brigades, energy industry and transport jobs is already presented with the models U 3000–U 5000.
2002 The shift from Gaggenau to the Mercedes-Benz truck assembly plant in Wörth am Rhein marks the beginning of a new chapter in Unimog history. 6000 tonnes of inventory, 2600 recorded positions with over 34,000 items make the 48-kilometre journey across the Rhine River. On 26 August 2002, production starts. By the time of the move of the Unimog production operations, 27 model series in all were built in Gaggenau, whose total sales amounted to over 320,000 units.
2006 The Unimog gets its own museum: the Unimog Museum opens in Gaggenau on 3 June 2006. The inaugural weekend attracts some 8000 visitors.
2011 Mercedes-Benz receives the coveted “red dot award design concept” design award for a spectacular Unimog design study.
2013 The current Unimog implement carriers are introduced in connection with the statutory provisions of the Euro VI emissions standard.
2015 Launch of the Mercedes-Benz Unimog U 4023 and U 5023 with extreme off-road capabilities.
2015 An entire fleet of Mercedes-Benz vehicles is in the spotlight of the sequel of the Jurassic Park trilogy, Jurassic World, including the G-Class and a Unimog as a ‘dinosaur ambulance’.
2019 To date, 30 model series of the Unimog (including the Boehringer Unimog 70.200) with more than 260 model variants have been launched to market. More than 350,000 units were sold in over 70 years – certainly unique for a special-purpose vehicle.