The Mercedes-Benz UNIMOG... "MAN'S BEST FRIEND"
By Jim Ince ©1990-1997
The 51-year-old conception of the "Universal-Motor-Geraet" (the German translates to: universal motor-implement), or "UNIMOG" for short, is still dynamic and even more applicable today than at its inception. Over 300,000 units have been built to date and are still rolling off the Gaggenau, West Germany assembly lines today at a rate of circa 40 units per day.
The history of the UNIMOG begins in 1945. Germany was in rubble, and out of the ruins, according to the Morganthau Plan, an agrarian state was to be constructed. The future of industry seemed gloomy, due to manufacturing restrictions imposed upon defeated Germany, except where industry could serve agriculture. An idea of Albert Friedrich, director of aviation motor development of Daimler-Benz AG, was the starting point. One would need to construct an implement carrier, he thought to himself, that is in all respects superior to traditional tractors and prime movers, and which could push open the door to a consequent simplification of farm work. What happened then can best be estimated by someone who remembers the first years after the war, with the problems of cultivation and paralized supply channels.
In November of 1947, in the offices of the firm of Erhard & Sons, a gold and silverware factory of Schwaebisch Gmuend, in the newly-formed Western Germany, the first construction drawings were made. Only 11 months later, the first UNIMOG was standing on it's wheels ready to be tested. What it was already demonstrating in its initial stage was so infinitely superior to the then customary farm "Bull-Dogs" that there was no further question: the UNIMOG was to go directly to series production.
But where? Daimler-Benz, the company that was to deliver the motor, was not allowed - according to the provisions of the occupational forces - to build 4-wheel-drive vehicles. But there was on the list of non-agrarian factories to be dismantled, the Swabian tool machine manufacturer, Boehringer Bros., which was desperately looking for a product to manufacture that would be essential to peace, and thus permissible. The company took advantage of the chance. The UNIMOG team moved to Goeppingen and, in August of 1948, the revolutionary tractor-cum-implement carrier was presented to the public for the first time at the Deutsche Landwirtschaftliche Gesellschaft exhibition in Frankfurt (German Agricultural Association). 1949 saw the first production deliveries. As Boehringer - after 600 UNIMOGs - was permitted to return to it's former occupation, Daimler-Benz entered the scene. In 1950, the engineering and manufacturing firm that "put Stuttgart on the map" took over the whole UNIMOG complex and settled it in it's Heavy Truck Works, then based in Gaggenau, now an hour's drive southwest of Stuttgart. And there, in the idyllic Murg Valley, on the Rhine-facing edge of the Black Forest, and close to the beautiful wine region town of Baden-Baden, it stands to this day.
What was it that made the UNIMOG, at the end of the 1940s, so uncommon and futuristic? In those times, agricultural prime movers were, above all, needed to replace the draft animal. But the fathers of the UNIMOG thought still further. In addition to the extreme off-road "goes-where-a-horse-goes" abilities, there had to be the possibility for an enhancement of actual agricultural procedures, such as the attachment and powering of multiple implements. A particular challenge was the turnip harvest - since time immemorial the nastiest of toil that farm living could dish up. Here the UNIMOG, powering a specially-developed machine for the complete turnip harvest, could permanently do away with the customary crowds of bent backs in the fields. The fact that the root crop harvest could be handled by just a few persons was incomprehensible in those days. But in the UNIMOG concept, one-man operation was only one of many satisfied demands. True tractor (locking) 4-wheel-drive, a real cab with proper seats and the capacity for road speeds also belong to the many inherent engineering wonders and advantages that still characterize the UNIMOG today. The fact that implements can be attached at the front, rear, center, side, top and bottom, and the fact that with a single UNIMOG, seed-corn, fertilizer, or crop spray can be first transported to, and immediately applied at sites, makes the UNIMOG especially flexible, and therefore a boon to agricultural operations. Farmers indeed usually had to double as produce forwarders.
But of course had the UNIMOG only been a concept for agriculture, the over-300,000 units would hardly have been built to date. Early in the post-war era, its career in other areas started. When it proved itself in dam construction in Switzerland under the toughest of conditions, the first leap into international markets was taken. At about the same time, the military career of the Gaggenau horse-of-all-trades began. In 1950-51 the French army ordered 400 UNIMOGs of the (then) only version, the "2010" with 25 hp(DIN). In 1955 followed the longer UNIMOG-S 404, a 60-mile-per-hour 1.5-ton transporter mainly in troop carrier, radio communications, ambulance, pioneer, fire fighting, and snow removal configurations with an 82 hp (DIN) gasoline motor. It was aquired by many armies around the world for off-road/on-road use, which alone brought production up to 60,000 UNIMOG vehicles overall. Its versatility, its indispensibility in many applications, and the fact that it is being exported to over 160 countries worldwide, have in the meantime firmly established the UNIMOG as a commercial product, the marketability of which is dependable, even in adverse market conditions. To be sure, the only damper on sales abroad has been the relative strength of the German Mark on currency exchange rates, an ironic effect of the German "economic miracle".
Currently, the choice of UNIMOGs has proliferated to some 25 sales types with dozens of variations ranging from 52 to 214 hp (DIN). In 1971, to better serve the highly-specialized needs of agriculture and forestry, the UNIMOG got a slow-moving, but adaptable and powerful, brother: the MB-Trac, designed with centrally-positioned cab. In the meantime, there are larger and more powerful versions of the Trac available, with a cab that can be rotated - including the steering wheel and controls - for working in reverse gears. Presently, Trac technology and production goes under the banner of "IN-Trac", a joint venture between Mercedes-Benz and Deutz, at the Gaggenau Plant. It is indeed regrettable that so few of these state-of-the-art Mercedes tractors have crossed the big water to the farms and forests of America. Our consequent losses include lower production capacities as well as more harmful impacts to fragile farm and forest environments.
The fact that the UNIMOG is so versatile is thanks mainly to a vigorous implement industry. This sector realized its chance early, and in close cooperation with Daimler-Benz AG developed dozens of attachments for the UNIMOG, the first implement carrier in automotive history. The best representative example is Alfred Schmidt GmbH in St. Blasien in the Black Forest, which quickly became the world's largest manufacturer of snow cutters. Every second snow cutter in the world is based on an UNIMOG! For example, in Japan alone there are over 200 units, and 60 in Morroco, where they are used to clear the passes in the Atlas Mountains. In German wheat fields and sugar beet beds, the work horse from Gaggenau can be found in all cultivation and harvest phases just as readily as in the cotton, sugar cane, and bamboo harvests on distant continents. In heavy and dangerous forestry work in Europe, it (and now the MB-Trac), has become almost synonymous with cost-effective harvesting and moving logs. It can just as comfortably crawl at 50 meters per hour at full working rpm and pulling power (so slow that its movement is barely perceptible), or pull a loaded trailer at 50 mph (some types have a maximum speed of 66 mph). With front-end loader and back-hoe, it can work in tight construction sites and when finished it can - on its own power - quickly drive to the next job site. With auxillary compressor it can power pneumatic tools. With hydraulics, the list is nearly edless. With a trencher it digs to a depth of 6 and a half feet and refills the trench with a front power-take-off-driven back-filling auger, completely operated by one person. In road construction, for example, it can carry one compacter each at the front and rear, plus plenty of the necessary water on-board. At factories, it serves as the prime mover, fire pumper truck, crane, forklift, sweeper, and snow removal tool. Communities (over 12,500 municipalities in Europe alone) buy it for winter service, fire protection, search and rescue, disaster relief, road construction, underground cable-laying by both trench and plough-in methods, lawn and field mowing, waste removal, sewer and street cleaning, tree transplanting, utilities boom truck and mast erection, even grave digging, and more. And thanks to 2-way street-to-rail adaptation systems, thousands of UNIMOGS can even crawl onto the tracks and hydraulicly lower chassis-mounted guide mechanisms for the purpose of shunting rail cars or for simply getting to the scene of railroad or other emergencies by the most direct rail route. With it's steel-gripping rubber tires, all-wheel-drive, and ample power through gearing options, it has the ability to pull up to 600 tons, as much as a locomotive that is 4 times as heavy and twice as expensive!
In dozens of applications, this best friend of man has taken on more heavy work (and displaced more disagreeable manual labor) than any other piece of equipment to come along before or after it's star (no pun intended) rose on the horizon! With all of this, one almost forgets that The UNIMOG is also an outstanding cross-country vehicle - and one that can even compete with tracked vehicles, effortlessly climbing and descending 100% (45 degree) inclines - straddled with a payload of tons! Owing to differential locks on both axles, trenches, curbs, steps, ditches, slopes strewn with boulders, rivers nearly as deep as the driver's nose and flowing at over 3 feet per second, discourage the "Mighty MOG" just as little as muddy hillsides or high embankments over which it deftly claws and climbs with a wide variety of tire options. With the UNIMOG equally at home in snow, in the desert, on the tundra, and in rivers and mountains, who wonders that it is also a highly-regarded expedition vehicle the world over. For example, the first Sahara crossing in the grueling West-East direction belongs to the long list of UNIMOG successes. The First-Place Prize in the reknowned Paris-To-Dakar (Africa) overland race is in that list as well! Probably no day goes by in which adventurers somewhere are not scouting Germany, or North America (or Tanzania!) for an UNIMOG to outfit for some overland odyssey.
Indeed, worldwide UNIMOG sales are steadily rising and one will no doubt encounter them more and more often, and in more and more demanding applications. What we see with the evolution of the UNIMOG Technical Concept is quite simply an example of excellence in engineering and a model for standards of consistency in superior on-road/off-road technologies.
In the United States and Canada, the UNIMOG has been used in multiple applications since the early '50s. These include UNIMOGs outfitted for mining in Alaska where some 200 UNIMOG S-404s were put into service in the early 50s. In Canada, hundreds of 2010/401s were imported in the 50s, and today the military, the Canadian National Railway and other service entities, as well as rail companies in the U.S., such as Union Pacific and others, operate the UNIMOG in their rail yards. The Lake Placid (New York) Winter Olympic organizers were prepared for the worst with a fleet of Alfred Schmidt-outfitted snow-removal UNIMOGs, and many state highway departments, counties, municipalities, federal and state land management agencies, logging companies, fire departments, construction firms, geo-physical research, oil exploration and mining companies, to name but a few, employ the ultimately-capable "Gaggenauer" to handle both day-to-day jobs as well as worst-case scenarios.
Initially, Mercedes-Benz of North America handled the UNIMOG in the U.S., and then in 1976 negotiated with the J.I. Case Co. of Racine, Wisconsin to handle distribution and marketing of the U-900. Case outfitted these specially-imported UNIMOGs with their own implements, such as back-hoes, trenchers, cable plows, forklifts and 3-point hitches, and designed a custom bed/subframe with optional Roll-Over-Protection-System as well as putting together packages utilizing such implements as U.S.-made cable winches made especially for the UNIMOG, wildfire pumpers, front-end loaders, back-fill blades, snow plows and cutters manufactured by Alfred Schmidt GmbH (U.S. division known as Schmidt Engineering and Equipment Co., Inc., based in New Berlin, Wisconsin). Then, in 1981, Mercedes-Benz of North America again took over all aspects of the UNIMOG equation, attempting to accomodate UNIMOG sales and service in their Commercial Vehicle Division. Probably wishing to focus on the more voluminous and thus vastly more profitable passenger car market, and realizing technical difficulties in the accomodation efforts, MBNA in March of 1985 passed the baton to Schmidt Engineering and Equipment Company, which, together with it's dealer network, has been the only authorized distributor and service entity in both Canada and the U.S. up until the 1st of January, 1991, when MBNA again took over the UNIMOG's North American stellar navigation with it's Industrial Engines Division at the helm. As of 1995, plans are in the works to shift responsibility for UNIMOG sales, service and parts, to UNIWOLF Specialized Vehicles. UNIWOLF is developing automatic transmission and Cummins diesel engine versions of the UNIMOG. On the horizon are hopes for marketing the new "FUNMOG" and off-road motorhome configurations.
The UNIMOG is a very welcome addition to the American work scene. Let's hope that it will take it's rightful place in an array of industrial, commercial, and recreational applications, for the sake of the shortest distance between two points, for the sake of easier and simplified tasks, and for the sake of innovative engineering for both work and play!
This article is in part authored by Jim Ince, in part drawn from Mercedes-Benz archival documents and in part from an article, "UNIMOG, Des Menschen Bester Freund", appearing in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (Newspaper), 05 March 1975, and translated, updated, and edited by Jim Ince firstname.lastname@example.org ©1990-1998, All Rights Reserved. Revised March 1995.