Mercedes-Benz G-Class – The never endinG story

MB G-Class

When a car like the Mercedes-Benz G-Class is built for more than 40 years at a stretch – with no end in sight, it says a lot about the vehicle. Among other things, it shows that the G-Class is more than just a commercial success and that it has understood how to reinvent itself over the decades,without losing their character.

Ten years before the G-Class is presented in Toulon, there is the first delicate rapprochement between the then Daimler-Benz AG and the Austrian Steyr-Daimler-Puch AG. Initially still broadly defined as cooperation in passenger cars, buses and off-road vehicles.

At the latest during the internal comparison drive in June 1971, it becomes more and more apparent that there are a lot of overlaps in the off-road sector. Puch with the Haflinger and Pinzgauer models and Mercedes-Benz with the Unimog show their strengths off-road and demonstrate to the decision-makers that this is where a profitable cooperation could lie. As early as autumn 1971, the idea of jointly designing an off-road vehicle was given concrete form. However, it should not only be a pure off-roader, but also have good handling characteristics on the road. Until then, off-roaders and everyday cars had often been two separate worlds, but the new model was also to be a kind of leisure-oriented off-road vehicle.

PURE FUNCTIONALITY IN THE FIRST G-CLASS

The first G-Class in 1979, however, still shows nothing of the lifestyle all-terrain vehicle. Practical, functional, sparse – that’s probably the best way to describe the 460 series.

But that’s exactly how it was supposed to be. Among others, it was the Shah of Persia, at that time a major shareholder of Daimler-Benz AG, who wanted an off-road vehicle with a star for his military. History throws a spanner in the works, however, and after the fall of the Shah, the major order is also lost.

The German armed forces were also initially unable to accept it, with the VW Iltis winning the race. The fact that the armed forces have no use for the G-Class for the time being does not detract from the good start. There are still enough customers from trade and industry, local authorities, rescue services, forestry and not least private individuals.

The technical basis of the W460 is completely adapted to the terrain. The framework of the G-Class is a box frame made of closed longitudinal profiles and cross members. In addition, rigid axles, long spring suspension, switchable differential locks and high ground clearance make it ready for off-road use.

Two petrol and two diesel vehicles are available at the start. The 230 G is offered with the M113 four-cylinder carburettor engine, producing 90 hp and later 102 hp. The famous in-line six-cylinder M 110 is used in the 280 GE with 156 hp – from 1984 with catalytic converter 150 hp. 240 GD and 300 GD are the two four- and five-cylinder diesel engines, producing 72 hp and 88 hp respectively. These first performance figures can be called manageable. They are certainly sufficient for off-road use, and in road traffic you can at least keep up.

The G-Class was initially available as an open two-door model with a short wheelbase and as a closed “station wagon” with two or four doors or the short or longer body. Less well known is the W 462 series, which are “completely knocked down” kits that were built in assembly plants around the world, including Turkey and, from 1992, the ELBO plant in Greece.

CONSTANT FURTHER DEVELOPMENT OF THE G-CLASS

Until 1982, the G-Class is further developed in smaller and larger steps. The fact that sales were better than initially forecast naturally encouraged further steps. Just as the fact that the G-Class does not plough through the forests of Europe unrecognised, but is also clearly visible on the roads, does the rest. It is not without pride that the G-Class converted into the Popemobile for Pope John Paul II is on display today in the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart.

From 1982 onwards, the Mercedes Benz G-Class increasingly began to become a more comfortable leisure vehicle suitable for everyday use. The basic 230 GE version was equipped with a 125 hp fuel-injected engine (122 hp with a catalytic converter from 1984), new upholstery and interior trim, and the steering wheel from the S-Class W 126.

WITH ALL-WHEEL DRIVE TOWARDS LIFESTYLE

Hardly a year goes by without some kind of innovation for the G-Class. In 1989, after ten years of production and around 75,000 units built, Mercedes-Benz presented the new W 463 series at the International Motor Show in Frankfurt am Main. It was the most comprehensive change to date in the relatively young history of the G-Class series. Among other things, the G models of the 463 series now have permanent all-wheel drive. The differential locks can be engaged in a fixed sequence at the touch of a button. In the first step, the longitudinal differential is fully locked. Then, if necessary, the lock on the rear axle can be activated and, depending on requirements, also that on the front axle.

In addition, systems such as the anti-lock braking system (ABS) are available as optional equipment. With the market launch in 1990, all kinds of changes were also made to the interior.

Be it the change to the 124 series dashboard and some wood applications, which was already available as standard equipment, or the leather trim, which was admittedly offered as an optional extra for an additional payment. Somewhat delayed to the introduction of the new model series, the workhorses of the class were also reclassified and given a new W-number 461. They resisted the lifestyle aspirations of the 463 models and were, for example, still available with two-wheel drive and selectable all-wheel drive. In the series, the way is again paved in 1993 to make the G-Class palatable to a performance-oriented clientele. The special 500 GE V8 model was built in a limited edition of 446 units and was so well received with its 241 hp eight-cylinder engine that the G 500 went into series production in 1998. Then even more powerful with 296 hp.

Naturally, this also calls the AMG in-house tuners to the scene, who over time bring the G 55, 63 and 65 AMG onto the market. Whether it is necessary to give an off-road vehicle so much power is, however, a matter of taste. At the latest, the air resistance shows the G driver sooner rather than later that propulsion will eventually come to an end, regardless of whether 354, 444 or even 630 hp are slumbering under the bonnet. Some G 63 AMG drivers don’t seem to care about top speed anyway, when they normally spend their lives in the second row of a bus lane in front of a betting office in Berlin-Neukölln.

THE G-CLASS ON NEW PATHS

After more than 300,000 units built, the time is ripe for a new G-Class in 2018. Even the biggest G fan has to admit to himself at some point that all 4×4 veterans eventually no longer comply with regulations regarding pedestrian protection or exhaust emissions.

But instead of a smooth, rounded SUV, Mercedes-Benz is presenting a completely new vehicle in Detroit in 2018, which from the general design language to the details looks like the twin of the W 460 born four minutes later. And so the story of the G-Class is far from over, it’s simply starting a new chapter.

Photos Daimler AG

Author: Paolo Ollig

As editor-in-chief Paolo regularly writes about all the big and small stories related to classic cars and motorbikes. Classic dreams: Lamborghini Countach and Mercedes-Benz 300 SL.

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