CLASSIC CAR REVIEWS - MERCEDES-BENZ G-CLASS

The Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen was rattling the Soviet bear just prior to the end of the Cold War. And perhaps in its own small way it contributed to those astonishing scenes we saw in Germany in 1989 and in the USSR in 1991. Which makes the G a real piece of history, present when monumental events unfolded.
Development of the G occurred throughout the 1970s, in the wake of the German Army’s decision to use the lightweight VW Iltis as a stop-gap 4x4. Daimler-Benz teamed up with Steyr-Daimler-Puch, who made the Haflinger and Pinzgauer off-roaders, to develop the concept. From 1981, Geländewagen- Fahrzeug-Gesellschaft was bought out by Steyr, which built G-Wagens for Mercedes under license. Confused? Steyr was allowed to badge the trucks under its own maker’s name to sell them in Austria, Switzerland and the former Yugoslavia. Then Peugeot motored and badged versions were built for the French army after military trials showed they were the most suitable 4x4 available. But the French government refused to buy foreign vehicles, so the Peugeot hybrid project G was responsible for 12,000 ‘Peugeot P4’ models assembled by Panhard in France. The G-Wagen was a slow seller on the commercial market – too slow, utilitarian and expensive to compete with luxury high-end Range Rovers and trinket-laden Japanese 4x4s such as the Isuzu Trooper and Nissan Patrol. It was perceived to be worthy but lacking in charisma for the private buyer.
You may not think the point of a 'G' is to consider its road-driving habits. But the G-Wagen manages the tricky task of being a genuinely easy road-driving estate car, a formidable off-road go-anywhere 4x4, and often a true military collectors vehicle. So what greets the driver unfamiliar with G-lore? First off, check the polyurethance wheelarches, signifying a post-1985 facelift. Climb up into the seat of a 460 series G and, after sporty classics, it seems high off the deck. Settle into the generic 1980s Mercedes-Benz fabric seat. It’s spartan but comfy. Below the dashboard are two pedals and a footrest, while to the right are three levers handbrake, auto-shifter and behind the transfer box lock-up, this being the G-Wagen’s secret weapon in military use over other homegrown potential army vehicles.
The fuel-injected straight-six fires from a key start, and once you’ve snicked the gear lever back into D, the G heads off with a muted woofle from the tailpipe and a flick of torque from the twin-cam six. The ride is sharper than a monocoque car, damped by the extra weight a military-spec G carries in its sump guards and cupola. With three up – driver, navigator and the officer in the centrally mounted, higher positioned rear seat– all three serving soldiers strap in with multi-point harnesses. Then you can head off-road and the fun begins. With low-range engaged and diffs locked, you can power between trees on steep slopes. With low engaged, capable is an understatement! But it’s when the formidable powers of the G fail, and the 4x4 gets stuck, that the military version shows how adaptable it is. With the winch, you can tether the cable and power away from the steepest and slipperiest conditions, until all four wheels can grab some grip and pull through. It’s not the fastest thing on four wheels, nor does it deploy the sharpest handling or best brakes. But for a point-to-point crossing of any terrain, a G will give you almost as much capacity as a military vehicle fitted with tracks.

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