Let’s have a chat about Unimogs – Tow anything, carry anything, drive anything and do everything

By Dex Fulton 10 Min Read

Universal Motor Gerät. Nope that wasn’t a sneeze, it’s the long-form name of arguably the best off-road vehicle ever to roll out of a factory – the Mercedes Benz Unimog. Yep, it’s a big statement perhaps but it’s well warranted, especially when you think about what most people look for in a 4X4.

Load carrying capacity? How does a 12,000kg max load sound? Towing ability? That’s up around 8 Tonne, next. Off-road ability? Look, these things come with like 39in tyres, portal axles, front and rear lockers and often a huge hydraulic winch – you ain’t getting stuck easily champion, promise. 

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Unimogs have been used in agriculture, construction and military applications since forever. They have a reputation of being one of the most reliable and over-engineered rigs out there. For well under the cost of a new Land Cruiser 79, you could have a truck that’ll outdo it in pretty much every work or off-road scenario you can think of. 

Interest piqued? Of course it is, let’s take a closer look shall we?

MOG HISTORY

Unimogs were initially developed in the late 1940s by Boehringer as agricultural machines. Essentially designed to do the same job as a tractor but be able to run down the road at high speeds safely. To that end, they’re fitted out with some pretty sweet power take off (PTO) units as standard; able to adapt everything from snowploughs to hydraulic cranes to buckets to the front end.

By 1951 they were owned and built by Daimler (Mercedes Benz) who would carry on with the manufacturing until the present day.

All up there has been three major series of Unimog built. Interestingly, they were not designed for military use the inventor, Alfred Friedrich, expressly forbade them from being used in a military force. He wasn’t listened to.

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The wartime applications for trucks that could be used for everything from troop transport to ditch digging became evident early on in the piece, and the U1700 models were used in a bunch of European armed services. As well as the USA commissioning over 2000 of them for the army and Marine Corps.

Oh yeah, Australia grabbed more than a thousand too and put them to good use throughout the 80s and 90s as the workhorse of the ADF. Even taking them into warzones in Afghanistan, Iraq and PNG. Not bad for an old tractor eh?  

SPECIFICATIONS

There are eleventy-seven variants of trucks with the Unimog logo on them but given that the majority on the market are ex-military U1700L models, we’ll focus on them. 

The OM352A engine is a straight-six turbocharged direct-injection diesel putting out 110kw and just over 460 Newtons at 1800rpm. While it’s not going to set any performance records on fire, this thing pulls like a freight train and does so without fuss for a lot of kilometres when maintained. 

Behind the engine is the rather brilliant UG-3 eight-speed manual transmission. This can be operated in either forward or reverse making the versatility off the charts. The box is backed up by a high-low transfer case. Even with the massive rubber, first-low is literally slower than your Zimmer-frame-sporting Grandma’s walking pace. 

Suspension

The suspension is a little different to most off-roaders. It starts with coil springs and shocks at all four corners. It’s surprisingly supple given how much weight these things can carry.

The secret is really found in the chassis, which is designed to flex as part of the suspension. It consists of a torque-tube set-up. Essentially a single, central link that encases the driveshaft and locates the axle longitudinally but allows for a relatively high degree of torsional movement (flex).

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The axle is located laterally by a Panhard rod. It’s an unconventional system, but it flat-out works. Providing a fantastic middle-ground between load-carrying and off-road movement. 

What’s the diff?

The diffs are arguably the bees’ knees in terms of off-road prowess. Not only do they feature twin selectable lockers that ensure traction is maintained, they also have portal reduction hubs.

Basically, instead of there being a wheel at the end of each axle, there is a gear instead, which runs through two idler gears below it, then to a fourth gear that attaches to the wheel hub. This has the twin benefits of further reducing the overall gearing and dropping the wheels away from the differential centreline which provides otherwise impossible to achieve ground clearance.

There are not enough synonyms of “awesome” to adequately describe how good these things are, but take it from us, it’ll redefine the term “off-road ability” for you. 

THE RED TAPE

Come on, you didn’t really think it’d all be smooth sailing, did you? First things first, driving a Unimog will require at least an MR Licence. It’s probably worthwhile getting that side of things sorted out before you end up with a costly lawn ornament. 

Next hurdle is registration. Now because our government apparently can’t organise a federally agreed-upon set of rules for registering vehicles, you’ll have to check with your state’s motoring authority and go from there.

With that said, there is nothing intrinsically illegal about a Unimog. There are many examples registered across the country. Factor in a mechanical inspection and dealing with the bureaucracy of an overbearing motoring body as a minimum. Nothing you can’t handle though. 

YEAH, BUT HOW RELIABLE ARE THEY?

In a word: extremely. A nice, under-stressed motor in an overbuilt frame with tough-as-nails components throughout. They’re literally designed to do the difficult jobs on the land and get home in time for ‘das abendessen.’

However, they do have some years on them. Despite the majority of second-hand examples being maintained according to schedule by the armed forces, expect to maybe replace a few things like globes, gauge senders and a solenoid or two. 

Having a mechanic who knows Mogs can be a godsend for larger issues should they crop up. There’s very little on them that can’t be replaced or rebuilt – often surprisingly cheaply. Engines with half a million kays on them are not uncommon. 

SERVICE HISTORY, WHAT’S THE DEAL? 

As mentioned, almost all of the U1700s in this country have made their way to the second-hand market via the military. Which is a good and bad thing.

It’s good because the military have service schedules that are generally stuck to and a well-serviced Mog will outlast religion. It’s bad because an ex-Army Mog may only have a few thousand kays on the clock but has done a few hundred thousand hours in a PTO capacity. Digging post holes or pulling lesser 4x4s out of a bog. Nothing to necessarily worry about, more just something to be aware of. 

PUT IT TO GOOD USE

Ok, so you’ve made up your mind to buy a Mog. Congratulations, everyone who knows you and knows Mogs is officially jealous. But what can you do with one? Well, pretty much anything is the most accurate answer.

Want to tow your 5T plate boat, or throw your race car on the tray, or maybe mount a luxury camper on the back? It’s all available to you. Universal Motor Gerät, remember? It roughly translates into “anything you bloody want to do with a motor.”

I’M SOLD, WHERE DO I GET ONE?

Unimogs in Australia are sold via an auction system as they become available from the ADF. When it comes to getting your hot little hands on one, there’s only one place to go. Hit up Australian Frontline Machinery’s website.

You can get the info on when the next auction starts (they’re run monthly) and what’s on offer. Just don’t blame us when you come home with three Mogs, a Mack tipper, two Land Rover Perenties and a decommissioned French Submarine, ok? 



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