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The King of Off-road – Unimog Brand History

The Unimog brand is definitely a household name for off-road fans. In front of it, Hummer, Land Rover and other powerful off-road vehicles that ordinary people think of are just a bunch of childish toys. It relies on excellent machinery structure and unparalleled comprehensive performance have an unshakable sacred position in the field of off-road vehicles. And now this brand has been born for a full 60 years. During these 60 years, it has been inherited and innovated continuously, and interpreted a legend for us.

● The first Unimog model was born (1945-1948)
 originally launched as a versatile agricultural vehicle

Like the situation at that time (World War II), the birth of Unimog was full of adventure. Its inventor, Albert Friedrich, was the head of Daimler Benz’s Aeroengine Design Department. As early as the beginning of World War II, Albert Friedrich had the idea of designing compact tractors, and began the development of Unimog since the end of the war in 1945. At first, he wanted to design an agricultural vehicle that was different from the ordinary tractor. Friedrich initially described the Unimog as an “engine-powered universally applicable machine for agriculture”, but at that time the name “Unimog” had not yet taken shape. The new car under development uses a four-wheel drive system with four wheels of the same size (the wheels on the front and rear axles of the tractor are usually of different sizes). It can be used as a tractor, agricultural machinery platform, fixed working platform and conveyor vehicle. The maximum output power can reach 25 horsepower. It has a six speed gearbox and the target maximum speed is 50 km/h.

After the initial concept was determined, Friedrich contacted the US Army who was occupying Germany at that time, because at that time, the production of any industrial appliance in Germany required the consent of the Allied forces to obtain the production license. Friedrich chose Messrs. Erhard & Sons Company in Schwaebisch as partners in the development of prototype cars, which is manufacturer of gold and silverware.

In the second half of 1946, Friedrich successfully produced the first trial car, with a tilted front engine cover, a soft top cockpit, and a cargo platform behind the cabin. The overall shape of the vehicle was very consistent with that of the actual production vehicles. At the same time, for the first time, the new car was officially named “Universal-Motor-Gerät” (universally applicable motorised machine), abbreviated as “Unimog”.

The Unimog trial car was officially unveiled in the spring of 1947, but until then, engineers still had to find a suitable diesel engine for it. Friedrich and others hope to be able to carry the OM 636 engine developed by Daimler-Benz in the new car, but when the trial car is completed, the engine has not even decided to mass produce.

After solving the problem of engine supply, the new car should have entered the stage of mass production, but the new problem hindered the progress again. Although the company did its best to assist in the development of new cars, Friedrich was forced to look for new partners because it was not a major in automobile or large-scale machinery manufacturing and did not have the appropriate capacity to help mass production of new cars. At that time, many car manufacturers were not interested in Unimog. They finally found Boehringer, a machine tool manufacturer in Goppingen, and began to manufacture Unimog in 1947. In the German agricultural exhibition held in Frankfurt in 1948, the mass production vehicle of Unimog was officially unveiled in front of the public for the first time. In August 1948, Unimog began to officially carry out mass production. As Boehringer itself is not a professional automobile manufacturer, Friedrich’s team must not only be responsible for engineering development, but also find talents to establish Unimog’s exclusive sales system.

● Acquired by Daimler-Benz (1950-1961)
 Models are officially mass-produced

Until the summer of 1950, Boehringer produced a total of about 600 Unimogs. The first generation of Unimog hung a bull head factory emblem with a U-shaped horn on it. But the popularity of new cars has exposed the manufacturer’s own shortage of production capacity, and the high investment needed to increase production capacity is not enough for small factories like Boehringer. In this context, Friedrich had to sell the entire development team, new car plans, technical patents, and new sales system to Daimler-Benz, which formally took over Unimog in the autumn of 1950 and moved the production line to their truck factory in Gaggenau.

After Unimog was transferred to Mercedes-Benz, the first Unimog was renamed Unimog 2010, but other aspects of the model have not changed, including the use of the bull head logo, the body length remains at 3.5 meters, and the engine continues to use 25-horsepower Mercedes OM 636, the simple and practical folding cab roof, four-wheel drive system, and the chassis with four tires of the same size have remained the same.

In terms of production and sales, the sales outlets taken over by Boehringer are gradually integrated into the sales organization of Daimler-Benz. At that time, tractors were a new business area for Daimler-Benz sales organizations. More rational production in Gaggenau reduces costs and increases sales. However, Unimog was not allowed to use the Mercedes logo on the Radiator Grilles until 1953, and did not use the Mercedes logo to replace the previous bull head logo until 1956.

After transferring to Mercedes-Benz, the designer quickly realized that the original model could not meet all needs in 1952. Unimog has therefore been further developed, and in 1953 the 401/402 (long wheelbase version) model was launched. On new models, the cab of the car offers two options, a soft-top box and a new fully enclosed type. The fully enclosed cab is produced by Westfalia. Westfalia Company was later known for producing mobile homes and is now an associate company of Daimler-Chrysler.

In 1955, Daimler-Benz produced the first Unimog S (404 series). The Unimog S has a longer wheelbase and is mainly designed for military use (in the context of the establishment of the German Army in 1956). In the life cycle of the Unimog S (it has been produced for 25 years until 1980), the German military has been a super customer of this version, making it the best-selling model series in the history of Unimog. Due to its excellent off-road capabilities, the Unimog S is widely welcomed by the military around the world. Some of the first batch of Unimog S are sold to the French military.

Unimog S has oval radiator grille and embedded round headlight, which is the typical design of Daimler-Benz commercial vehicle at that time. The cab has a glamorous and enduring design, while the wheelbase has the previous 401 / 402 series, with an wheelbase of about 1000 mm increased to 2700 mm and 2900 mm. In terms of power, Unimog S does not use diesel engine, but uses reformed car gasoline engine. The gasoline engine has an initial power of 82 horsepower and a displacement of 2.2 liters. Later, the gasoline engine also came out with 110 horsepower and 2.8-liter displacement versions. Over the years, Unimog S is not only favored by the military, but also popular in the civilian field.

In 1956, there were many changes in the original production of Unimog 401 / 402. The engine power is increased from 25 horsepower to 30 horsepower, and the model name is changed to Unimog 411, and the version with longer wheelbase can be selected. A year later, Unimog replaced the ordinary constant mesh transmission with a synchronous transmission. By 1959, synchronizer transmission became the standard equipment of Unimog, which also created a precedent for agricultural vehicles.

In 1957, the appearance of the Unimog also changed a lot. The Unimog S with a long wheelbase was replaced with a brand new cab, and the Unimog 411 series engine power was gradually increased to 32 horsepower and then to 34 horsepower. With a series of technological innovations and series expansion, Unimog’s sales have also continued to rise. In May 1961, the 50,000th Unimog was put off the production line at the Gaggenau plant.

● Rapid development: launching diversified models (1963-1975)

In the early 1960s, the compact basic Unimog was no longer able to meet the growing market demand and a more diverse scope of operations. The Unimog S, mainly designed for the military, although it has a version other than olive green paint, it is not the best choice for the civilian field. Therefore, Daimler-Benz launched the mid-size 406 / 416 series in 1963. The wheelbase of this new Unimog series is 2380 mm, while the 416 wheelbase is 2900 mm. Powered by a 65-horsepower four-cylinder diesel engine model called U65 (named according to engine power), this model was later developed into the U70.

In 1966, Daimler-Benz reorganized the Unimog series. The midsize 406 series U70 is incorporated into the small-sized Unimog 411/U34. Later, as the engine power increased, U70 developed into U80 and U84 (both named after the engine power). At the same time, Daimler-Benz also launched the 416 series (wheelbase 2900 mm) corresponding to the Unimog S. This series initially included the U80, which later developed into the U90, U100, and ultimately the more powerful U110. In addition, Daimler-Benz also launched the lightweight 421/403 series, and later added the 413 series, thus filling the gap between the small-sized Unimog and the medium series. The difference between these new series is the wheelbase and the engine. The engines come from the sedan series (421 series/U40 with a 2.2-liter engine) and the commercial vehicle series (403 series/U54 with a 3.8-liter engine). The engine power of these models has also continued to increase until the model series was updated in 1977.

In May 1966, the 100,000th Unimog was put off the assembly line. In nearly 20 years of history, Unimog has made tremendous development since the initial chassis prototype was completed. Unimog has already established a reputation for legendary off-road vehicles around the world. Despite its great success, Unimog is rarely used in agriculture. To cover this market segment, Daimler-Benz launched a special model in 1972: MB-trac.

This new agricultural tractor combines the Unimog engineering design (including all-wheel drive and four wheels of the same size) and the shape of the tractor (long, narrow hood and high angled cab). Unlike conventional tractors, MB-trac’s cab is located between the axles and uses a fully enclosed design: MB-trac is like a car in a tractor. In just a few years, the original MB-trac 65 and MB-trac 70 (subsequent model 700) models developed into a large-scale model series, including the extremely powerful MB-trac 1800. Nevertheless, MB-trac is not very successful. The MB-trac series was officially discontinued in 1991.

Two years after the MB-trac came out, Unimog launched a new 425 series in 1974. Mass production began in 1975: The U120 model of the 425 series is the top heavy-duty model in Daimler-Benz’s multi-function tractor operating vehicle series. Notable features of the U120 model include a new angular cab and large horizontal hood. A black radiator grille with a large surface is connected to the edge of the hood. The wheelbase is 2810 mm, and the maximum allowable total weight is 9 tons. In 1975, Daimler-Benz started production of the Unimog 435 series for the German military as a successor to the Unimog S. There are three models with different wheelbases in the 435 series. The wheelbases are 3250 mm, 3700 mm and 3850 mm. So far, Unimog has owned a variety of small, medium, large models and special model for the military, which constitute a very complete model system.

● Vehicle technology is constantly updated (1976-2001)
 model rename/50th anniversary

Since 1976, Unimog has launched the 424 series. This series of models includes U1000, U1300/L, U1500 models and the flagship model U1700/L equipped with a 124 KW (168 horsepower) engine. These models form a medium and heavy-duty series based on the total weight of the vehicle. They are characterized by angular shapes. The letter “L” in the new name represents the long wheelbase version. In addition, the model names of the previous series have also been renamed, including U600/L, U800/L, U900, and U1100/L. These models belong to the lightweight series, and their cabs are characterized by classic round shapes. The Unimog S, the only gasoline engine model in 1977, is still in production, but sales have dropped significantly.

In terms of technical upgrading, in addition to the most low-end models, all Mercedes-Benz Unimog models are also equipped with disc brakes when they are launched, which is far earlier than the application of disc brakes on trucks. In 1977, the 200000th unit of Unimog was put off the production line, which set a new record of sales volume of Unimog.

In the following years, the Unimog series basically did not change. Until 1985 to 1988, the new models were put on the market again. Daimler-Benz completely replaced the previous series with the Unimog 407, 417, 427 and 437 series. Cabs from the medium and heavy-duty series are now also used in lightweight vehicles. The new wheelbase length, size, weight, chassis and engine constitute a new vehicle line. After this update, Unimog has a bigger range of models than ever before: from the lightweight and particularly easy-to-handle Mercedes-Benz Unimog U600 to the three-axle version U2400. The U600 has a power of 44 KW (60 horsepower) and a total vehicle weight of 4.5 tons. The U2400’s six-liter engine set a new power record: 177 KW (240 horsepower). The maximum permissible gross weight of the twin axle version is 14 tons.

In 1993, the all-wheel-drive three-axle version Unimog U2450L 6×6 further refined the model series. The original developers more than 40 years ago could not have imagined that from the first Unimog to the latest top model, the power of the new engine was almost ten times that of the original. In 1994, another Unimog Funmog was released as a Mercedes-Benz model. This is a model with leather seats, carpets and many luxurious interiors. It is also the most expensive Unimog with a price of 150,000 marks. In 1996, the UX100 came out. This type of vehicle is characterized by its small size and fast driving speed. It is specifically used for sidewalks, parks and other locations.

By 2000, Unimog’s new UGN405 series was launched. Its models include U300, U400 and U500, which are customized for municipal operations. These new models have a beautiful appearance, a practical and attractive cab (made of composite fiber materials), and a driver’s workspace called VarioPilot (which can be quickly moved from left to right or from right to left), a new VarioPower high-performance hydraulic system, and an engine rated at 205 KW (280 horsepower) to meet the diverse requirements of different customers.

From June 9 to 10, 2001, Mercedes-Benz held a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the birth of Unimog in Gaggenau. In this Daimler-Chrysler plant, Unimog has been produced for half a century as a world-renowned equipment carrier and high-performance off-road vehicle. With its unique model concept, Unimog stands for reliability, firmness and durability.

● Shifted to Walter factory (2002 to present)
 New models are more luxurious and comfortable

On August 2, 2002, the production of Unimog was moved from the Gaggenau plant to the Walter plant, which is the largest truck manufacturing plant in Europe. At the same time, the 51-year history of the production of Unimog at the Gaggenau plant (with an output of more than 320,000 vehicles) has also come to a halt. Dr. Klaus Maier, former head of the Mercedes-Benz truck business unit, said: “Mercedes-Benz Unimog will continue to move towards a better future. By relocating the production plant, we have created a foundation for sustainable economic efficiency and further process optimization for Unimog. ”

At the 2002 Commercial Vehicle Exhibition, the Unimog Special Vehicles product unit presented the Unimog U3000-U5000 with extraordinary off-road performance to the public. The new Unimog model is suitable for extreme off-road terrain and international safety services. The main fields of operation are fire protection (especially forest fire control), disaster relief and long-distance exploration. At the same time, the new Unimog models are also widely used in non-civilian areas, as well as service and maintenance in areas that are difficult to access.

In 2002, Unimog introduced the optional AutomaticShift@ (AMT) transmission. AutomaticShift@ significantly reduces the pressure on the driver during transportation and operation, allowing the driver to focus more on the operation process and traffic conditions. Whether it is a machine tool operation, driving on the road, or off-road driving, the driver can always enjoy the benefits of AutomaticShift@.

In 2005, Unimog U500 Black Edition was launched at the Dubai motor show. The U500 Black Edition has unparalleled all-terrain off-road capability of Unimog. It is designed for high- demand private owners, especially suitable for the needs of customers in the Persian Gulf region. And the interior is also very luxurious, comparable to the Funmog model that previously launched.

By 2007, it was good news for local municipalities with fleets of vehicles, ground care and landscaping companies, gardening gardeners and enterprise: the Unimog U20 was launched in June 2007. This machine-carrying vehicle with a weight of up to 7.5 / 8.5 tons is more flexible than any all-wheel-drive truck, and has a versatile design that suits various tasks, but the price is comparable to an advanced municipal operation tractor.

On June 4, 2011, Daimler-Benz held a grand celebration at the first Gaggenau plant where the first Unimog model was born to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Unimog. Daimler Company invited many loyal fans of Unimog, some car owners and collectors to witness the 60th anniversary of the world’s most famous “the king of off-road”. At the same time, Mercedes-Benz also released a Unimog concept car at the scene, this concept car uses the Unimog U5000 chassis, has excellent off-road performance, oversized tires and chassis fully exposed for future development trend.

Although we have already introduced the 60 year history of Unimog, these models are just superficial for Unimog, because the wide application range of Unimog is absolutely amazing. There is a saying in the German Bundeswehr: Where Unimog can’t go, so can’t the panther tanks. This is enough to reflect the powerful off-road ability of Unimog. Of course, in addition to off-road ability, variability is also its essence.

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