The Unimog S: a load carrier with outstanding offroad mobility and a bestseller in its category

Stuttgart, Apr 7, 2005
  • Produced for a quarter of a century
  • Worldwide use
  • Proven in civilian and military quarters alike
The Unimog: professional in its appearance – and a big success – right from the start. When its fathers presented the Unimog at an exhibition of the German Agricultural Association in Frankfurt/Main in August 1948, the visitors’ highly positive response was reflected by as many as 150 orders placed there and then, despite the vehicle’s proud price of DM 11,230. Its producer, the renowned mechanical engineering company, Gebrüder Boehringer in Göppingen, was unable to meet the high demand. Before Boehringer had taken over, Messrs. Ehrhard & Söhne in Schwäbisch-Gmünd had produced six prototypes in 1947/48.
By the end of 1950, just 600 units of the new universally applicable motorized implement had come off the limited-capacity assembly line in Göppingen; then in 1951, the entire Unimog team of chief engineer Albert Friedrich moved lock, stock and barrel to the Gaggenau plant of Daimler-Benz. And production picked up instantly, rising from 1,005 units in 1951 to 3,799 units the following year.
The ingenious design created by the Unimog’s fathers in the fall of 1948 is also revealed by the fact that many features of the Unimog archetype have been retained to this day, i.e. four equal-sized wheels, all-wheel drive with differential locks, portal axles for operation in extremely difficult terrain, power take-offs front and rear and a small platform for the transport of loads and equipment. It should also be mentioned that the Unimog did not suffer any teething troubles in its early years – its design had been well-thought-out down to the smallest detail.
Rising demand
The design’s potential went far beyond the field of agriculture and forestry to whose requirements the Unimog had been tailored. The original track width of 1,270 millimeters, for instance, corresponded precisely to the distance between two rows of potatoes at the time. That was all the same to the military who were, in their turn, greatly intrigued by the new vehicle’s enormous offroad mobility. As early as 1947, the specialists of the US military government had been highly impressed by the capabilities of a prototype which had been demonstrated to them in Ludwigsburg.
Hence, everything spoke in favor of creating a military version of the Unimog, converting it into a gasoline-engined small truck with special offroad mobility. First steps in this direction were taken in 1953. A prototype was set up with a track width increased from the 1,284 millimeters customary at the time to 1,400 millimeters and a wheelbase extended to 2,120 millimeters (retaining clutch, transmission and ax-les). The first demonstrators in 1953 finally had a track width of 1,600 millimeters and a wheelbase length of 2,670 millimeters. And the design engineers opted for the 2.2 liter gasoline engine from the 220 sedan.
Order placed promptly by the French army
In a first demonstration to experts from the European Defence Community (EDC) in the summer of 1953, the Unimog did so well that the French occupation forces immediately demanded a prototype. Their wish was fulfilled in June 1954 with the supply of two prototypes. Upon which the French army promptly ordered a total of 1,100 vehicles which were supplied by Gaggenau from May 1955.
From then on, the military forces from countries all over the world showed great interest in the Unimog S. The new Unimog also benefited from the fact that the Federal Republic of Germany established its own armed forces again in 1956. The Federal German forces founded in that year were to buy some 36,000 units of the total volume of 64,242 units built of the new Unimog S alias Unimog 404 (production continued until 1980).
A fully-grown platform makes all the difference
The Unimog S differed significantly from its agricultural relatives with their small platforms in that it featured a fully-grown platform, 2,700 millimeters long and 2,000 millimeters wide, which, in the production version, was mounted on a chassis with a track width of 1,630 millimeters and a wheelbase length of initially 2,670 millimeters (2,900 millimeters from 1956).
The 25 hp pre-chamber diesel engine, a rather stolid unit that required time-consuming pre-glowing, was replaced by the 82 hp six-cylinder gasoline engine from the sedans, which gave the Unimog S a top speed of 95 km/h, making it almost twice as fast as its diesel-engined brethren. Other features which distinguished the Unimog S from its civilian brethren included an easy-to-shift synchronized transmission instead of the constant-mesh transmission, booster brakes instead of hydraulic drum brakes and a payload capacity of 1.5 tons.
Open for every type of superstructure
Given its genes and its readiness to take on every type of superstructure, the Unimog 404 launched into a military career that was as diversified as its civilian one: materials and crew carrier, tractor for implements and artillery, mobile weather forecasting station, work-shop vehicle, ambulance or mobile orderly room – these were just a few of the many functions the Unimog S performed. Even airborne troops had their own Unimog which they sent down to earth suspended from parachutes on occasions.
On request, the plant supplied the Unimog not only with the standard folding top (that could be stowed away under the seats complete with the side windows), but also with an enclosed all-steel cab and a 3,000 millimeter long platform. This version of the new Unimog was soon “discovered” by the civilian world as well, especially because its 82 hp gasoline engine enabled it to keep up in road traffic much better than the diesel-engined farming pendant from Gaggenau, the latter’s power output being limited to 52 km/h. What’s more, the Unimog S was capable of towing as much as 4.4 tons.
This fast Unimog S was also used in large numbers by fire brigades throughout the world, meeting their demand for offroad mobility and high speeds in emergencies. The talents of the Unimog S still come into their own in many places as it is still being used today as forest fire fighting vehicle, equipment carrier, water tender or foam tender.
Concept retained for a quarter of a century
Like the Unimog archetype of 1948, the 1955 Unimog S incorporated a well-thought-out concept that did not require major modifications throughout its long production period of a quarter of a century.
Strictly speaking, the refinement measures were limited to just a few additions to the range. From 1971, several models were also available with the cab from the 406 series (produced from 1963) as well as with an optionally available more powerful engine. From 1971 until 1980, a particularly powerful engine worked under the short hood, the 2.8 liter six-cylinder M 130 gasoline engine which developed 110 hp and gave the Unimog S a top speed of 100 km/h.

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  • 78124
    Unimog S used by the Stuttgart fire brigade at Stuttgart airport, 1958.
  • 74115
    View of complete Unimog S chassis, 1956.
  • A40138
    Mercedes-Benz Unimog S: expedition vehicle with a superstructure by Messrs. Voll, Würzburg, 1958.
  • U38253
    Unimog S on the Sauberg proving grounds near Gaggenau, 1956.
  • U38256
    Unimog S used as a civilian helper in rough terrain, 1959.
  • U52265
    Unimog S: radio vehicle, 1959.
  • U38254
    Unimog S proving its fording capabilities, 1956.
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