If you’re thinking of driving into a war zone, the Gelandewagen (rough terrain wagon) is just what you’re after. It owes its distinctly military appearance to its origins as an army car. Supposedly, the G Class emerged out of a proposal from the Shah of Iran, who wanted a military vehicle (maybe because he was having a dicey time as absolute ruler). Production facilities were set up in Graz in collaboration with the Austrian firm Steyr-Daimler-Puch and G-Wagens were (and still are) assembled largely by hand, produced to order for military-equipment purchasers. Over the past 30 years countless custom versions have been produced for high-profile clients. Even the ‘Popemobile’ has sometimes been a G-Wagen in disguise.
From 1979, Mercedes started to manufacture the G-Wagen as a sturdy SUV for off-road enthusiasts. The first version, the W460 was rear-wheel drive with a manual selector for switching to 4WD when the going got rough. It had either manual or automatic transmission and four engine variants, ranging from 72 to 156 hp. It came as a short wheelbase convertible or a short or long wheelbase (two-door or four-door) wagon and either petrol or diesel powered.
More than 50,000 were built in the first ten years and in 1983 a G-Wagen won the gruelling Paris to Dakar rally. However, its military aura ensured that the G-Wagen never succeeded in joining the ranks of luxury 4x4s. Although you feel pretty all-powerful at the wheel, in much the same way as you would if you were driving a tank, and it has an efficient German ruthlessness about it, the G-Wagen couldn’t be described as a car of character, and it lacks a certain oomph. Having said that, there’s nothing quite like it for transporting you across desert and mountain (or muscling your way along crowded roads) unhindered.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
1979 (until 1991) (First generation)
Petrol — 2,307 cc Straight Four or (from 1982) 2,299 cc Straight Four, 2,996 cc Straight Six Diesel — 2,399 cc Straight Four or (from 1987) 2,497 cc Straight Five, 2,998 cc Straight Five
Top speed of 85 mph (136 km/h) to 97 mph (155 km/h)
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
There have been three G-Wagen models for the general market: the W460 (1979-91); the W461 (1991-2001), almost identical to its predecessor but with fewer engine choices (and from 1997 only as a 290 turbo diesel automatic); the W463 (1990—) with a wide choice of engines and transmission, heavy duty suspension and full-time 4WD.