In 1946, Mercedes-Benz hired several American engineers that designed the DUKW (or DUCK) trucks to build a truck that could be worked for agriculture. They were more than happy to. The Unimog was born. It was originally designed to give power take-off to large forestry saws and equipment and/or large pieces of farm machinery. It had permanent 4WD capability, equal size wheels. This, coupled with portal axles, allowed the Unimog to travel along horrible, bombed-out roads at speeds that are still considered insane. Due to their portal axles, their ground clearance was about 26-30 inches off the ground – stock! Their flexible frame acts as part of the suspension. All of this makes it just about the worst choice for a tow rig. Yet, it still does its job very well. Because of its unique build structure, Unimogs can easily climb boulders 1 meter high.
Newer models can have the pedals, steering wheel, and instrument cluster moved from the left side to the right side in the field. This allows workers to conveniently “pass the wheel to their coworkers – provided the vehicle is at a stop!”
The Unimog can be built in up to 40 different combinations! Some of these can be a small gasoline-power engine unit that is a short wheelbase unit (common for delivery or construction) to a 40-foot, 300-horsepower monster!
Just about every military uses the Unimog – even the U.S. Marines. Semper Fi. Back to militaries. Many militaries use at least one type of Unimog. Civilians use them, as well. Many disaster relief organizations have large fleets of Unimogs. The Red Cross uses about 4,000 Unimogs. Fire departments, hazardous-material transporters, utility companies, and equipment carriers. Their capability to operate in almost any situation makes them ideal for this. One place where you can see Unimogs is at McMurdo Station, where they bring supplies, give power, and even build! Unimogs can easily be fitted with a backhoe, front loader, a dump bed, and even cranes. Even the Governator has one – a 2012 U1300 diesel Unimog registered in California!
In North America, Unimogs haven’t been the most popular truck. Part of the reason is that smog requirements for large purpose-built trucks are much different in Germany than the U.S. Some of it also can be given to the lack of enthusiasts. Many Unimogs that you see in North America have been imported, or were sold by the Case Corporation in the 1970s.
Unimogs are very successful in motorsport competitions – especially desert rallys. They have won the Truck Class several times in the 1980s in the Paris-Dakar rally. They have also won by accident – multiple times! Their main purpose is to provide support for cars and/or motorcycles racing in the desert.
Just two years ago, Mercedes-Benz unveiled a wild Unimog concept. It looked crazy. But, Mercedes-Benz said that some of that styling would make it into the new Unimog. Some did. The new Unimog has some of the futuristic styling, which is skillfully blended into the macho sheet metal.
Some of the new equipment that comes with the new Unimog is smart. For example, the cab has been completely redesigned. Now, drivers can see almost 200 degrees – in any direction! New work and power systems allow the Unimog to be even more adept at everything it does. The hydraulics have been redesigned from scratch. They can now push, pull, lift, and do many more tasks. One really neat feature about the new Unimog is the synergetic traction drive that allows the driver to change from manual mode in the transmission to hydrostatic mode while on the go. Most trucks with features like that need to be at a complete stop for that to happen. The biggest changes, however, are from the new engines.
The most potent engine is a massive 7.7 liter diesel that cranks out a monstrous 354 horsepower and a Herculean 885 lb-ft of torque. Many of the engines offered on the new Unimog circulate gasses to comply with emissions standards in many countries.
This truck is not one to be messed with. If you are in a Ford F150 SVT Raptor in the desert, and you see a Unimog, don’t challenge the driver to a race. The Unimog will win. By far. It will also win rock-crawling competitions against Jeep Wranglers, mud pit contests against jacked-up pickups. All of this will look effortless. That’s what happens when you’ve got 57 years of experience behind you.