By: Friedrich Seiltgen
Copyright © 2023
The Mercedes-Benz G-Class Geländewagen (translated: “cross-country vehicle”), aka the G-Wagen, is a four-wheel drive SUV manufactured by Magna Steyr (formerly Steyr-Daimler-Puch) in Graz, Austria, and sold by Mercedes-Benz.
The G-Wagen is characterized by its boxy styling, body-on-frame construction, and three fully locking differentials.
The G-Class was initially developed in 1972 as a military vehicle by a suggestion from the King of Iran, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, a significant Mercedes shareholder at the time.
A cooperative agreement was struck between Daimler-Benz and Steyr-Daimler-Puch. Mercedes-Benz engineers oversaw design and testing while the Steyr team developed the production plans.
The first wooden model was presented to Daimler-Benz management in 1973, with the first drivable prototype beginning various testing in 1974.
In 1975, construction commenced on a new production facility in Graz, where the new design would be assembled nearly entirely by hand.
One of the first orders came from the Shah of Iran for his military, but when he was deposed, the order was canceled.
The first military in the world to use it was the Argentine Army (Ejército Argentino), beginning in 1981 with the military model 461. At least one of these was captured in the Falklands and ended up serving with the Royal Air Force.
The military G-Wagen began service with the German Army (Bundeswehr) and was called the “Wolf.” The Peugeot P4 was a variant made under license in France with a Peugeot engine.
In 1979, the G-Class was offered as a civilian vehicle, and Mercedes never looked back.
The G-Wagen was not officially exported into the United States in its first decade, but a few hundred washed up on our shores thanks to individual “grey market” imports allowed until 1987.
In 1980, the Vatican took delivery of a specially made G-Wagen outfitted with a clear thermoplastic top and served as the Popemobile. The “Papa G” now resides at the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart, Germany.
In 1981, refinements began, including an automatic transmission, air conditioning, an auxiliary fuel tank, protective headlamp grilles, and a cable winch. In 1982, fuel injection and more comfortable seats, wider tires, and fender flares became available. In 1985, differential locks, central door locking, and a tachometer became standard equipment. By the end of 1986, over 50,000 G Models had been produced.
In 1992, the G-Class received its first major styling update. Production began on a new sub-series for professional users. The civilian model began to offer cruise control, a stainless-steel spare-tire cover, running boards, and Burl Walnut wood interior trim. In the same year, the 100,000th G Model was built in Graz, and in 1994, the model line was officially renamed the G-Class.
In 1999, a limited run of V8-powered “G 500 Classic” special editions marked the model’s 20th anniversary. A multifunction steering wheel was added to all models. Later in the year, the new G 55 AMG debuted as the most powerful G-Class yet, with 354 hp.
MERCEDES COMES TO AMERICA
In 2001, more than 20 years after the G-Wagen debut, Mercedes decided that the American market was too large and profitable to ignore and began importing a V8-powered version of the G-Class into the States.
New alloy wheels, a chrome grille, body-color bumpers, and a more luxurious cabin were introduced. New dynamic control systems included the Electronic Stability Program (ESP), Brake Assist, and the 4-wheel Electronic Traction System (4 ETS).
A BRAND-NEW G
In 2018, Mercedes-Benz launched a new second-generation G-Wagen and completely redesigned it thirty-nine years after it debuted. Although it looks the same, only a few parts are shared with the old model.
It doesn’t appear that the G-Wagen is going anywhere anytime soon. Despite introducing an intended replacement, the unibody SUV Mercedes-Benz GL-Class in 2006, the G-Class is still in production and is one of the longest-produced vehicles in Daimler’s history, with a record of 43 years. The only vehicle surpassing it is the Unimog.
That’s all for now, folks! Please keep sending in your questions, tips, and article ideas. And as always – “Let’s Be Careful Out There.”
Friedrich Seiltgen is a retired Master Police Officer with 20 years of service with the Orlando Police Department. He conducts training in Lone Wolf Terrorism Counterstrategies, Firearms, and Active Shooter Response. His writing has appeared in RECOIL, www.floridajolt.com, The Counterterrorist Magazine, American Thinker, Soldier of Fortune, Homeland Security Today, Off Grid, and The Journal of Counterterrorism & Homeland Security International.
Contact him at [email protected].