In 1972, Daimler-Benz and Austrian manufacturing conglomerate Steyr-Daimler-Puch began work on what would become one of the greatest automotive rags to riches stories of all time.
Few cars have weathered the decades quite like Mercedes’ G-Wagon; a statement made even more impressive by the fact that the model wasn’t initially considered a car at all.
After a little influence from key Mercedes-Benz shareholder, the Shah of Iran, work began on a new all-terrain vehicle (Geländewagen) for use in the military. After six years of extensive testing, including stints in the Sahara and Artic Circle, a production model was made available to the public in 1979. Early variants were hand-built in Graz, Austria, and badged as either Mercedes or Pugh, dependent on market. Each was as robust as you could expect; stripped back, utilitarian tools designed for hard graft.
The model immediately found favour. The G-Wagon’s practicality and sheer off-road capability were undeniable, and Mercedes worked hard to improve its on-road mannerisms. With each passing year, more refined engine and interior options were introduced – but the body-on-frame chassis and orthogonal design staunchly remained.
Improving the G-Wagon was a project that Mercedes-Benz never really seemed to finish. As the decades rolled on, each revision seemed more decadent than the last. By 2002, you could specify AMG’s 5.4 litre V8 petrol; by 2005, Mercedes had strapped on a supercharger.
Mercedes’ military offroader soon became the ally of the rich and famous. In the unlikely event you’re wondering what Arnold Schwarznegger, The Pope and Kim Kardashian have in common - all have used a G-Wagon as their daily runabout.
Perhaps the most extreme incarnation of Geländewagen arrived in 2013; the enormous, six-wheel-drive, 6.2 litre supercharged G63 AMG 6x6. Despite the thumping £379,000 price tag, around 100 examples were sold around the world.
In 2018, an all-new second-generation model was developed by Mercedes after almost forty years, but incredibly, the new car retains the same external design characteristics as the original. Beneath the skin it’s safer, larger and lighter. Vast improvements in handling have been achieved during an extensive redesign, but the iconic shape has remained.
Erich Ledwinka, chief designer of the original G-Wagon, clearly got it right first time. Few off-road vehicles have stood the test of time quite like the Geländewagen – it’s as at home on the battlefield as it is in Belgravia.
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