Short version: Rising to all challenges with G power
Four decades forever upwards: that is the essence of the history of the Mercedes-Benz G-Class. On the one hand, this refers to the outstanding off-road capabilities of the vehicle presented in 1979, and the fact that it has remained true to itself and its values for almost 40 years on the other. From the very start, there was no way but up for the G-model with regard to its status as an automotive icon. For decades, the G continuously evolved from a useful off-road vehicle with high ride quality on the road. The constant development work of Mercedes-Benz ensured that the vehicle always remained fresh and up-to-date.
From 4 to 9 February 1979, the G-model of the 460 model series had its world première in Toulon, France. On this occasion, the Mercedes-Benz press kit emphasised the values of “uncompromising off-road and on-road capability” as well as “maximum variety of use". This also applies fully to the new G-Class of the 463 model series, which celebrated its première in January 2018. In addition to this there is the tradition of performance and unique character. The G-Class has grown into this role over the past decades with ever more success.
Joining forces for the G
The history of the G-model began in summer 1969. At the time, Daimler-Benz AG and Austrian Steyr-Daimler-Puch AG entered into talks about a possible cooperation. Both manufacturers offered vehicles with excellent off-road capabilities as part of their product ranges: the Mercedes-Benz Unimog as well as the Puch Haflinger and the Puch Pinzgauer. In 1971, the idea of jointly building an off-road vehicle was fleshed out for the first time. It was to combine extreme off-road capabilities with good handling on the road. Probably as early as in the autumn of 1972, the CEOs Dr Joachim Zahn (Daimler-Benz AG) and Dr Karl Rabus (Steyr-Daimler-Puch AG) then came to a basic understanding on jointly developing the light-duty off-road vehicle. The construction team was headed by Erich Ledwinka personally, Chief Engineer of Steyr-Daimler-Puch.
The development now progressed with force. The first wooden model was created by April 1973. The first roadworthy prototype was already being tested in 1974. Photos in the technical description published internally in 1975 showed how quickly the designers and engineers arrived at a design that already came very close to the eventual G. The final styling with the clear profile was defined by Mercedes-Benz Design headed by Bruno Sacco. The stylists masterfully combined the large, smooth surfaces of the vehicle body with the technically defined characteristics such as large approach and departure angles as well as a relatively large vehicle height with a rather small overall width.
The G-model was built from the start at the Puch plant in Graz-Thondorf. Mercedes-Benz delivered engines, axles, steering systems, transmissions, large stamped parts and other components from various locations in Germany to Graz. Series production started in February 1979 shortly after the première of the G. The responsibility for it was in the hands of Geländefahrzeug Gesellschaft (GfG), founded by the two companies in 1977.
The G was launched to market first as the 460 model series: A universally usable off-road vehicle with relatively austere interior. All the more detail work went into the drive system technology. An on-demand all-wheel drive and fully locking differential locks (instead of limited-slip differentials) ensured optimal off-road capabilities. The frame design and rigid axles with coil springs were aimed at versatility and robustness off the road.
At the start of series production, the models 240 GD and 300 GD with diesel engine as well as the 230 G and 280 GE with petrol engine were available. There were two different wheelbases (2400 and 2850 millimetres) as well as different body styles (open vehicle, closed station wagon and panel van with closed side walls). In addition to the 460 model series with 12-volt on-board power supply, Mercedes-Benz offered the 461 model series with 24-volt on-board electrical system for military customers. Its CKD version (completely knocked down) was assigned to the 462 model series.
A continuous advancement process for the G-model began shortly after its market launch, which would prove to be the key to the lasting success. The important steps included the standard-fit power steering (first in the 280 GE and 300 GD, from 1987 in all models) and standard-fit differential locks (1985) as well as the introduction of a closed-loop three-way catalytic converter (from 1986 as optional extra at first on the 230 GE) and the anti-lock braking system (ABS) in the 463 model series from 1990. The optimisation of comfort and safety was embodied, among other things, by the standard-fit combination of the most capable driving dynamics and all-wheel-drive systems starting in 2001. It comprised the electronically controlled traction system 4ETS, the Electronic Stability Program ESP®, and BAS Brake Assist.
The major facelifts in particular represented important development leaps for the technology of the G. For example, the 463 model series was launched in 1990 equipped with permanent instead of the previous on-demand all-wheel drive. Subsequently, eight-cylinder and even twelve-cylinder engines were used in the powerful and luxurious G-Class. At the same time, Mercedes-Benz cultivated the tradition of the G as a versatile utility vehicle. In 1990, this role was initially played by the 460 model series, before it fell to the 461 model series starting in 1992. Today it is the professional variants of the G-Class which carry these capabilities into the future.
The tradition of exclusive appointments in the history of the G-Class started with refined details such as Recaro individual seats for driver and front passenger, which were available as optional equipment as early as 1981. The interior was enhanced as standard in 1982. In 1990, the 463 model series brought fine-wood applications into the off-road classic that was just eleven years young at the time. This constant change allowed the G-Class to acquire new customers from the circle of private users. They appreciated in particular the exclusive and powerful variants of the G. A first highlight in this regard was the Mercedes-Benz 500 GE V8, built in small-series production starting in 1993. From 1998, the G 500 then became the standard top-of-the-range model of the Mercedes-Benz G-Class, as the family of off-road vehicles has been called since 1993. With it, the nomenclature of the G followed the system established in the other passenger car model series.
A particularly successful chapter in the history of the G began in 1999: that is the year when the G 55 AMG became the new top-of-the-range model of the 463 series. It formed the basis for the lasting success of the G-Class high-performance vehicles from Mercedes-AMG. Further standards in this regard were set by the G 55 AMG Kompressor (2004), the G 63 AMG and the G 65 AMG (both 2012), the G 63 AMG 6x6 (2013) and finally the Mercedes-AMG G 63 of the new G-Class presented in February 2018.
That the G continues to master all challenges successfully in its fourth decade was also demonstrated by other highly exclusive models such as the G 500 4x4² from 2015 and the Mercedes-Maybach G 650 Landaulet from 2017. Because both variants of the iconic off-road vehicle opened new dimensions for the G-Class: the G 500 4x4² with regard to the yet further improved off-road capabilities thanks to portal axles; the Mercedes-Maybach G 650 Landaulet in line with the systematic realisation of automotive luxury far off the road as well.
The new generation of the 463 model series celebrated its world première at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit in January (fuel consumption, combined: 13.1-11.5 l/100 km; combined CO2 emissions: 299-263 g/km*). It carries the strengths of this charismatic performer into the future. Once more, the G reinvented itself in important details: for example, with the chassis developed jointly by Mercedes-Benz and Mercedes-AMG, which features a classic rigid rear axle and a double-wishbone front axle with independent suspension. What didn’t change were the excellent off-road capabilities – the new G-Class even surpasses its predecessor in many disciplines. And on the outside, the credo anyway is: the genes of the G from 1979 will be evident in a G-Class at first sight.