A class of their own: the G-models from Mercedes-Benz.
Debut in spring 1979.
The present G-Class has been around since 1979. Evidence enough of the importance attached to tradition at Mercedes-Benz. But also to innovation, because technically this off-road classic has always been kept up-to-date without losing its four-square external appearance. “Any village blacksmith must be able to make a replacement body panel from just a sheet of metal,” was the stipulation by Arthur Mischke, the responsible director for commercial vehicle development at that time. Never has a utilitarian approach proved more long-lived.
Seven years of development work.
The development work already commenced in 1972. Under the project name “Haflinger II”, an all-wheel drive vehicle for civilian and military purposes was to be created in cooperation with the Austrian company Steyr-Puch. In 1979 the G-model caused plenty of astonishment in the showrooms of Mercedes-Benz car dealers: an off-roader bearing the Mercedes star was the last thing customers expected. The new model series was initially available as the 230 G, 280 GE, 240 GD and 300 GD. The in-house model designation was the 460 series.
The rustic charm of the early years.
The G-model is produced by Steyr-Daimler-Puch (now Magna Steyr) in Graz, Austria. In some countries, for example Switzerland and Austria, it is also marketed under the name Puch. Anybody seeking luxury will look in vain in an early G-model. The emphasis is on utility value, and the interior is correspondingly square and purpose-oriented. The driver is able to activate the front-wheel drive with an additional lever located behind the gearshift lever.
Great off-road performance.
Apart from all-wheel drive for the road, the additional lever of the transfer case can be used to select a gear specially intended for off-road driving. Once engaged, this reduction gear gets to work and the G-model is ready for the rough and tumble. And the driver who knows how to handle the two draw buttons on the propeller shaft tunnel skilfully will fear hardly any obstacle. They are used to activate the 100% differential locks at the front and rear axles.
Four versions of the four-square body.
The ladder-type frame of three-millimetres thick sheet steel onto which the body is bolted forms a robust backbone when driving off the beaten track. A four-door version with a long wheelbase (2850 millimetres) and a two-door version with a short wheelbase (2400 millimetres) are available. The short version is also to be had as a convertible with a folding soft top. From 1980 to 1985 the model range also included a long-wheelbase panel van.
Victory in the 1983 Paris-Dakar Rally.
With their rigid front and rear axles plus sophisticated all-wheel drive technology, these two-tonners immediately set the standard in the offroader class. With a climbing ability of up to 80 percent, the G-model overcomes steep gradients almost as easily as a chamois, and thanks to a fording depth of 60 centimetres, many rivers also fail to deter it.
The G-model was also successful in motorsport: in 1983 Jacky Ickx and his co-driver, the actor Claude Brasseur, won the Paris-Dakar Rally in a 280 GE.
A G-Class as the Popemobile.
When Pope John Paul II used a 230 G as a Popemobile during his visit to Germany in 1980, the off-roader immediately became known to a wider public. In subsequent years, what had started life purely as a workhorse became an extremely well-mannered offroader. The Spartan interior gave way to a more luxurious ambience, and Mercedes-Benz continuously extended the range of optional equipment.
Arrival of the 463 series in 1989.
A new chapter in the history of the G-model began in September 1989. On launching the 463 series, Mercedes-Benz also positioned its offroader in the luxury segment. The 463 models featured permanent all-wheel drive so that a deselectable ABS system could be used.
The 460 series remained in the model range for all those who continued to want a robust workhorse. In 1992 the series was renamed the 461 series following a facelift. Up to that time this model designation had been reserved for special non-civilian variants.
Hand-assembly still the norm.
More than a quarter of a million examples of the G-Class have meanwhile left the plant in Graz, Austria. This is where the vehicles are substantially hand-assembled on just one production line. Depending on the model, experienced mechanics select around 3000 suitable parts from the more than 10,000 separate parts that are available.
Taking that much care takes time: it takes over 100 man hours to complete a G-Class – almost three times as long as cars produced on an assembly line.