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Monday 26th December 2011

Driven: Mercedes Unimog

Cool name, cool looks, cool tech ... the Unimog is just, well, cool



You know how kids just seem drawn to big stuff like tractors and diggers? There's just something about the bright colours, chunky looks and impressive size that gets stubby little fingers pointing and fleeting, stumbling utterances of pleasure from childish lips.

Unimogs use 40 per cent less fuel than tractors
Unimogs use 40 per cent less fuel than tractors
And some of us don't grow out of it. Chances are if you've ever seen a Unimog in the metal you'll have reverted back to that three-year-old self, pointing and cooing and full of innocent wonder.

Why on earth should a decidedly unglamorous vehicle like a Unimog do this though? Sure, you can understand it with a supercar. But Unimogs aren't fast. They do deeply unexciting jobs like clean tunnels and road signs. But in that curious German way Mercedes has managed to take an efficiently Teutonic and matter of fact description - Universal-Motor-Gerat - and condense it into something that instantly sounds cool. Translated it means universal motorised tool and, yup, that's pretty much what the Unimog is.

But appliances aren't meant to be cool. They're meant to be ... appliances.

Unimog can do 56mph on the road
Unimog can do 56mph on the road
I want one of those
In the metal the Unimog's proportions are so outlandish as to be almost cartoonish. Monster-truck worthy tyres mean it towers above everything while the cab, slatted, functional and yet styled with references to Unimogs of old looks like nothing else. From every surface sprout massively overbuilt mountings, sockets and, well, stuff. It's like every Tonka toy you ever had, oversized and made real.

It's a fair climb up into the cab, the steps barely circumnavigating an enormous tyre already dripping in mud. The view from the cab is incredible, the windscreen curving down to seemingly your ankles and the deep side windows meaning you have fantastic visibility. Indeed, given the height off the ground you could almost be in one of those old-school Bell helicopters with the goldfish bowl cockpits.

Tree surgeons love their Unimogs
Tree surgeons love their Unimogs
The controls are bewilderingly complex too. Unimogs are endlessly customisable and some permit conversion from right- to left-hand drive and vice versa by sliding the whole steering wheel, console and pedal box across to the relevant side of the cab in less than a minute.

Complex beast
The basic controls are straightforward enough, there being a big truck wheel, three pedals and a sequential gear selector shaped like an aircraft throttle. But there's also a fearsomely complex panel controlling the off-road hardware and another for the load bed and - where fitted - various hydraulic implements that can be hung from it both front and rear.

And here's the clever stuff. Unimogs have long been used by German local authorities for all sorts of duties but the price - our test vehicle would cost around £130,000 - has been a barrier to wider acceptance here beyond a few specialist operators. Tree surgeons and utilities companies are among existing fans, the latter using the Unimog's go-anywhere ability for fixing remote power lines and suchlike. Here the ability to deflate the tyres from the dash means soft ground and moorland can be covered without carving up delicate habitats. It might look fearsome but the 'mog can tread lightly when needed.

You can't get one of those on your M-Class
You can't get one of those on your M-Class
Broad repertoire
Councils - Wiltshire among them - are coming round to the Unimog's potential though. Come winter they can grit and plough snow but there's year-round use for them too, from verge clearing to sign cleaning. In the latter role alone a Unimog with a mechanised washing arm can clean four times as many signs in a day as a crew of guys can manually.

Gatwick airport has a fleet of them for clearing snow off runways and specially adapted Unimogs are also employed to clean the walls and roofs of the Rotherhithe, Blackwall and Dartford tunnels. And with a torque convertor transmission a Unimog can even shunt trains of up to 900 tonnes.

With tyres like that it seems a shame not to go mud plugging though, Mercedes inviting us to the off-road test area at the Millbrook proving ground in Bedfordshire.

The short wheelbase and zero overhangs have always been a Unimog trademark, likewise the portal axle design that hoicks the diffe

Splish, splosh and as fun as it looks
Splish, splosh and as fun as it looks
rential above the centre line of the hubs and dramatically increases ground clearance. As used on military vehicles like the VW Beetle-based Kubelwagen and original Humvee, the portal axle has become a signature Unimog feature, likewise the coil-sprung suspension (unusual back in the early 50s) and power take-offs (PTOs) mounted at the front, middle and rear of the vehicle.

60-year tradition
The U300/400/500 range launched in 2000, the huge windscreen and curved bonnet harking back to the original of 1951. And though the 60 intervening years have seen a huge amount of development today's Unimog is remarkably honest to the original concept.

For all that complexity it's very easy to drive too. As standard there are eight forward gears and six or eight reverse. Transfer boxes can multiply that by two or three according to needs, making a total of 24 forward gears if you reckon you require them.

Pulls like a train, etc...
Pulls like a train, etc...
Thankfully a selector switch with, respectively, a hare, a packhorse or a tortoise for standard, low range and crawler gears helps slim the choice down and to get going you simply dip the clutch, knock the selector and it'll pick the appropriate ratio. The clutch is sharp and the 'mog gets going with a lurch and you quickly start rattling through the gear changes. Each is greeted with a hiss of pneumatics, a clank of heavy duty components from somewhere beneath you and renewed forward progress all the way up to a top speed of 56mph.

The main controls for off road driving are the two-stage exhaust brake, controlled via a column stalk, and the rotary dial operating the differential locks. With that enormous field of view steep downhill slopes are somewhat alarming, the exhaust brake holding the Unimog at a crawl no matter how unlikely the gradient. And on the way back up you work your way through the gears with a succession of psssst-clack shifts and then a sense of unstoppable progress as the giant tyres claw their way through sand, gravel and mud with utter disdain.

60 years of usefulness
60 years of usefulness
It's barely a taste of what the Unimog can actually do but if the sight of one of these things is enough to prompt childish giggles that's nothing compared with the chance to actually drive one. And while there's no possible reason for running a 'mog as a civilian vehicle there are ways in which the Unimog itchcan be scratched more manageably. Of which more in due course...

 



Mercedes-Benz Unimog U500
Engine:
6,370cc 6-cyl turbocharged
Power (hp): 286@2,200rpm
Torque (lb ft): 826
0-62mph: N/A
Top speed: 56mph
Weight: 7,500kg
MPG: N/A
CO2: N/A
Price: c. £100,000 depending on specification

Dan Trent
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Author Discussion

johnpeat

Original Poster:

4,214 posts

150 months

[news] 
Monday 26th December 2011 quote quote all
There can be no better sign that some people have more money than sense, than the fact Brabus have done at least 1 customised Unimog...

What the hell you need one for I've no idea - but it's the ultimate in blinged-out Tonka Toys smile

Chicharito

1,017 posts

36 months

[news] 
Monday 26th December 2011 quote quote all
johnpeat said:
There can be no better sign that some people have more money than sense, than the fact Brabus have done at least 1 customised Unimog...

What the hell you need one for I've no idea - but it's the ultimate in blinged-out Tonka Toys smile
If you had the money, you just would, wouldn't you?

Olf

11,390 posts

103 months

[news] 
Monday 26th December 2011 quote quote all
Hopefully a useful lesson for LR with the new Defender - You don't need to spoil it to modernise it.

Great kit.

ShayneJ

1,022 posts

64 months

[news] 
Monday 26th December 2011 quote quote all
Amazing tools.
Post lottery win i would absolutely have a brabus mog as an off road toy.
I know well what they are capable of in the sticky stuff.
there is very little to compare outside of military machinery.

George H

12,486 posts

49 months

[news] 
Monday 26th December 2011 quote quote all
Unimogs are so cool! My Unimog of choice would have to be the 406 U900 though smokin
Advertisement

Ray Luxury-Yacht

8,065 posts

101 months

[news] 
Monday 26th December 2011 quote quote all
My friend has one for sale...it's great, shame he's getting rid of it, but he's building some ropey old American thing now biggrin


Numeric

358 posts

36 months

[news] 
Monday 26th December 2011 quote quote all
Ever since I was a small child and saw these pottering (they were a bit underpowered then) about in the Alps I have always wanted one. That I have precisely none, and I mean NO us for one makes not a single jot of difference! I lust after one of these far more than any super car. Mind you there was that couple who had been touring the world in their's with a camper van back end....could that be my use?

Cock Womble 7

29,908 posts

115 months

[news] 
Monday 26th December 2011 quote quote all
johnpeat said:
There can be no better sign that some people have more money than sense, than the fact Brabus have done at least 1 customised Unimog...

What the hell you need one for I've no idea - but it's the ultimate in blinged-out Tonka Toys smile
You mean like this?



That was one of the highlights of the PH Sunday Service at MB World for me.

omgus

6,463 posts

60 months

[news] 
Monday 26th December 2011 quote quote all
Yep, that^^^^^^ is prime lottery list stuff.

There is no need for a Brabus Unimog but the moment I saw it I knew it was a needed in my life.

Greg_D

5,029 posts

131 months

[news] 
Monday 26th December 2011 quote quote all
The guy who comes to shift stuff round my property with his bobcat uses one of these to tow his rig, mega cool in an understated way....

thinfourth2

30,054 posts

89 months

[news] 
Monday 26th December 2011 quote quote all
omgus said:
Yep, that^^^^^^ is prime lottery list stuff.

There is no need for a Brabus Unimog but the moment I saw it I knew it was a needed in my life.
I wouldn't want a brabus unimog

No 3 point linkages
No PTOs
No Hydraulics
No tipping bed
No HIAB
No winches

I'll have a full agri spec one please


TimJMS

2,285 posts

136 months

[news] 
Monday 26th December 2011 quote quote all
PH said:
"Unimogs use 40 per cent less fuel than tractors"
A Kubota B20 or a 600 Quadtrac?

Without a vario transmission then for any given task I seriously doubt it.


Blown2CV

10,528 posts

88 months

[news] 
Monday 26th December 2011 quote quote all
thinfourth2 said:
I wouldn't want a brabus unimog

No 3 point linkages
No PTOs
No Hydraulics
No tipping bed
No HIAB
No winches

I'll have a full agri spec one please
I agree with you

_g_

741 posts

86 months

[news] 
Monday 26th December 2011 quote quote all
'Civvy use' - makes a pretty good 'go anywhere' motorhome.


Olf

11,390 posts

103 months

[news] 
Monday 26th December 2011 quote quote all
_g_ said:
'Civvy use' - makes a pretty good 'go anywhere' motorhome.

Point of order - That's not a 'Mog...


This is a 'Mog camper:



r1ch

2,403 posts

81 months

[news] 
Monday 26th December 2011 quote quote all
I have absolutely no use for one, and nowhere to keep one, but I want one.

AJLintern

3,507 posts

148 months

[news] 
Monday 26th December 2011 quote quote all
When my parents had our leylandii hedge removed the tree surgeons arrived in an old 406 Unimog. It was driving around the field sounding like a tank - very nice yes I've wanted one ever since! biggrin

_g_

741 posts

86 months

[news] 
Monday 26th December 2011 quote quote all
Oops, sorry. First link didn't work and I randomly chose another one from the same page.

Here we go:


I got a ride in the back of/tow from a unimog when my van got stuck at a (motorbike) enduro event - made me very happy smile.

UltimaCH

2,491 posts

74 months

[news] 
Monday 26th December 2011 quote quote all
Universal-Motor-Gerat = perhaps changing the first letter and abreviate all the rest you get an AMG model biggrin Wishful thinking...
I will take one of these any time over a SUV or whatever those contraptions are called. On the road you get RESPECT every time thumbup

Edited by UltimaCH on Monday 26th December 11:30

minky monkey

1,252 posts

51 months

[news] 
Monday 26th December 2011 quote quote all




I like Rogers Rescue one, I'd love a go in that.
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