How Unimogs Work

Unimog History
This is a GAZ-66 Russian 4x4 military truck produced by GAZ.
This is a GAZ-66 Russian 4x4 military truck produced by GAZ.
Steve Taylor/Getty Images

After World War II ended, the plan the Allied Powers devised for restructuring Germany was to make it a primarily agricultural country -- heavy industries were to be eliminated in order to keep the nation from building weapons of war again.

To that end, a Daimler-Benz engineer named Albert Friedrich began to develop a new type of tractor that differed greatly from conventional farm vehicles. The first Unimog prototypes were created in 1947, and featured a sloping hood with a canvas roof, a pickup-truck bed and massive tires. Large-scale production began in 1948 [source: Unimog International].

By the 1950s, the industrial restrictions on Germany were lifted, and many began to see the Unimog's potential beyond the farm. The vehicle was used as a bus, as military transportation and as a construction vehicle. Over the years Mercedes added more powerful diesel engines and more sophisticated technology, like synchronized transmissions and better four-wheel-drive systems.

As the vehicle's popularity increased, so did its model range. By the 1960s Mercedes was selling a variety of Unimogs in different sizes for different purposes. The tall, flat-nosed vehicles came as pickup trucks, tractors, industrial vehicles and other configurations.

Though relatively compact compared to, say, an 18-wheeler semi truck, by the 1980s the Unimog sported two or three axles, a 240-horsepower engine (about 10 times the power output of its original powerplant!) and a gross-vehicle weight rating of between 4 and 14 tons (3,629 and 12,701 kilograms) depending on the model.

Not long after the vehicle's 50th birthday, new Unimogs were unveiled for even more purposes, such as forest firefighting and disaster aid. Today, Unimogs can be purchased new in several different body sizes and can be customized with different attachments. They also sport a variety of transmissions and extremely powerful, low-emissions diesel engines.

Up next, what makes the Unimog so successful that it's been in production since the 1940s? The answer: impressive technology that makes it worthy of wearing a Mercedes-Benz star on its grille.

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