07 March 2011
Eric Bryan presents an in-depth report on a personal favourite: the Unimog. ...
What is it?
The big question: what does ‘Unimog’ mean? I thought ‘Uni’ must infer something about it being an all-terrain vehicle – universal terrain, go anywhere.
It turns out the name is an acronym for ‘Universalmotorgerät’, which translates as ‘universally applicable motorised implement’.
They were first designed by Albert Friedrich, the former Daimler-Benz head of aeroengine design, as multi-purpose agricultural vehicles or self-propelled carts which farmers could use both in the fields and on the roads, the latter activity facilitated by the Unimog having four equal-sized wheels.
Unimog development was fuelled by the Morgenthau Plan, a project which aimed to convert the former German Reich into an agricultural country.
Like a tractor, the Unimog was designed with a rear hitch and front mounting bracket. It also had power take-offs, front and back, to run threshers or saws, etc. With all-wheel drive with differential locks front and rear, the vehicle had very high ground-clearance and a frame which, through its flexibility, was an extension of the vehicle’s suspension system.
The Unimog through the years
The prototype was produced by Erhard und Söhne with a gasoline engine and a precise 1,270mm track width, designed specifically to fit two standard potato rows – I’m remembering the Citroen 2CV, which was designed to carry two peasants and 100kg of potatoes through fields and over muddy, rough roads to market!
Boehringer built the first production Unimogs with OM636 25hp Daimler-Benz diesel engines in 1947. In the autumn of 1950, Daimler-Benz took over the Unimog project, with production starting in 1951. In 1953, the Mercedes star symbol supplanted the original U-shaped ox horns logo on the bonnet on the new 401 series. In 1955 the 404 series started manufacture. This model was designed to be a cross-country lorry, rather than a farm implement, with many made for the West German Army.
In the 1960s came the 406 and 416 series, familiar to diecast collectors through the Corgi and Matchbox models. These had six-cylinder 65hp OM312 diesel engines, with later models fitted with 80 to 110hp OM352 engines. There also appeared a line of lighter Unimogs, the 421 and 403, and later, the 413 series. These had lower horsepower engines from the Mercedes cars and Benz trucks.