Precursor to the privately owned off-road vehicle
Wide range of vehicle bodies
Four-wheel steering for a small turning circle
In technical terms the Mercedes-Benz G 5 (W 152 series, 1937 to 1941) was the successor to the 170 VL, being equipped with all-wheel drive and selectable all-wheel steering. Once again the military showed little interest, and in order to expose the G 5 to a wider public, the company presented it at the London Motor Show in October 1938 as a ‘colonial and hunting vehicle’. Three body versions were available ex factory: a military Kübelwagen body, a touring car with side windows and a folding tropical roof, and an all-purpose crew vehicle for the police, for instance. In addition, the vehicle was available ‘with any special-purpose body desired,’ to quote the original brochure of 1940. Power was provided by a four-cylinder engine with a displacement of 2.0 litres and an output of 45 hp (33 kW) at 3700 rpm. The all-wheel-drive system featured three differential locks. A rarity at the time, the transmission had five forward gears, first gear having a low ratio of 7.22:1 and being exclusively reserved for off-road operation. The handbrake acted on the prop shaft, while the suspension was fully independent all-round. Maximum speed of the G 5 was 85 km/h, with a proviso in the operating manual not to exceed 30 km/h when all-wheel steering was activated.
Several of these vehicles saw use with the German mountain rescue services, some of them well after the end of the Second World War. In 1940 the rescue services praised the G 5 in the following terms: ‘We are firmly convinced that by virtue of its four-wheel drive and four-wheel steering, the G 5 is outstandingly suitable for use by the Alpine rescue services. The vehicles are particularly suitable for negotiating most of the roads and tracks in the foothills, and also otherwise impassable roads in the high Alps. This […] saves a great deal of time, which is always of benefit to the accident victim. […] There is no uphill gradient on the usual mountain roads and tracks that cannot be overcome by this vehicle. The only obstacles occur when the road becomes too narrow.’
Despite the wide range of variants and its technical perfection, the G 5 met with little success. 378 units were built in total. Nonetheless this model may be seen as the forerunner of the privately-owned off-road vehicle, so popular nowadays. However, it would be many years before Mercedes-Benz included all-wheel-drive passenger cars in its model range: 1979 saw the introduction of the G-Model, which has since become an outstanding success.