Unimog turns 70
Sunday October 9 was a very significant date for Mercedes-Benz – it was the 70th anniversary of the Unimog. On October 9, 1946, the Unimog Prototype 1 completed its first test drive with chief designer Heinrich Rößler at the wheel.
The prototype, which had no bonnet and was fully laden with wood, was tested on rough forest roads.
It was conceived by Albert Friedrich in the tough post-war era, when Germany was suffering supply shortages and a dire lack of food. Friedrich’s idea was for an agricultural motorised vehicle, which should help to increase agricultural productivity.
The Unimog was designed with the engine and gearbox positioned directly to the right of the middle line of the vehicle. This meant that the torque tubes – which protect the drive shafts – could be at right angles to the axles. As a result, only four drive joints were needed for the chassis. This design is still used for the Unimog of the highly mobile U 4023/U 5023 series.
Furthermore, the vehicle was designed to have a two-seater cab with a closed cover and upholstered seats; an auxiliary load area over the rear axle with 1,0-t load-bearing capacity; static weight distribution of 2/3 on the front axle and 1/3 on the rear axle; the facility to attach implements on the front, middle, sides and rear; and power take-off shafts at the front, middle and rear.
All-wheel drive and differential locks at the front and rear were also necessary, and the top speed was just 50 km/h (although a tractor of the time was only half as fast).
The name Unimog has its origins in March of 1946, when Hans Zabel from Gaggenau, who had been part of the project from the beginning, coined the term. It stood for Universal-Motor-Gerät (or universally applicable motorised machine).
By 1954, the “universally applicable motorised machine for agriculture” had become a vehicle that could be equipped with 66 different agricultural appliances.
To date, there have been 30 different model series and almost 400 000 vehicles sold. No other commercial vehicle in the world can function as a tractor, towing vehicle, truck, firefighting and exploration vehicle, bus and working machine.