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Backward Glances: Six Wheels Turning, 1977 Steyr-Puch Pinzgauer 712

Posted in Features on May 7, 2018
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Every military entity has its own unique battlefield to fight upon. The core task is to protect the homeland. Countries in Europe have very homeland-oriented battle plans, and their vehicles are designed and built with that mission in mind. In a country like Austria, which is dominated by the Alps mountain range, a major portion of the battle plan involves mountain fighting and results in equipment many find unique.

The Alps run roughly 750 miles west to east across eight countries: Germany, France, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Slovenia, Monaco, and Liechtenstein. The highest peak is 15,781 feet, so this range of mountains gives the Rockies a good run for their money! The Alps are steep, rocky, and jagged, making roadbuilding a chore. Many roads are narrow, tight, and densely forested, so from the military standpoint, the vehicle needs to match the terrain. Enter Steyr-Daimler-Puch.

When Europe had recovered from World War II enough that it could begin to take over its own defense, and share the defense of Europe in the NATO organization, each country began developing their own military technology. Austria, long a high-tech country, had a homegrown automaker in Graz—Steyr-Daimler-Puch. The company began in 1934 with the merger of Steyr-Werke and Austro-Daimler-Puch, and from then built everything from motorcycles to heavy trucks, and a lot in between. In 1987, the company began breaking itself up into smaller, more specialized companies.

Ken Kline’s ’77 712K was built as a command and radio vehicle for the Austrian Army. It’s only been out of military service for four years and he’s owned it for the last two. It’s a five-door, with a full metal body.

In 1959, Steyr-Daimler-Puch debuted the tiny 700 Series Haflinger, which was smaller even than a Jeep. The Haflinger, named after a compact mountain horse, was a fine machine in its own right, but perhaps a bit too small. It was popular and sold in both military and civilian variants in many places around the world. Almost immediately, the company realized a need for a larger unit. In 1965, Steyr-Daimler-Puch began developing a larger vehicle along the same general lines—a compact forward control with high mobility.

In 1971, the 710 series Pinzgauer debuted. Pinzgauer is another Alps mountain horse. It’s also a breed of mountain cows, but Pinzgauer owners would rather not have you know that! The “Pinzie” was everything the Haflinger was, just a little more “Three-Bears” the right size. The model 710 4x4 and the 712 6x6 were the first-generation Pinzgauers and came in a variety of configurations. The 710 was rated as a 1-ton and the 712 as a 1.5-ton. The two basic divisions in each line are the “M” (e.g., 712M), which is a soft top unit, or the “K,” which is a fully enclosed five-door station wagon. The DK four-door crew cab, AMB ambulance, W workshop, and FW fire truck were also built on the 712 chassis.

The 712 uses a central tube chassis into which much of the powertrain is contained. The 2.5L air-cooled four mounts up front and is offset to the driver side of the central tube with a five-speed ZF transmission behind it. The driveshafts are enclosed within the central tube, to which the individual differential housings are attached. The suspension is independent, using a swing-axle arrangement with portal axles on the end. All three axles have hydraulic lockers. The 710 4x4 Pinzie has coil springs all around, but the 6x6 uses a leaf spring setup in back.

At 5,200 pounds gross, the 712K delivers a surprisingly low 12.5 mpg but a rated top speed of 62 mph. It’s rated to tow 11,000 pounds on-road and 3,300 pounds off-road. It’s narrow to fit on narrow European roads and with the skinny tires; they tend towards the tippy, but are not nearly as tippy as they look.

The first-generation 710 series were built up to 1985, when a series of upgrades were made, including the addition of diesel engines. Approximately 18,350 first-gen units were built, most of them sold to military customers around the world. The second-generation Pinzgauer 716 (4x4) and 718 (6x6) were enlarged and updated in many ways. In 2000, Steyr-Daimler-Puch was sold to Automotive Technik in the UK and was eventually absorbed into BAE Systems. By 2008, demand had about dried up and Pinzgauers went out of production. A Pinzgauer II has been developed by BAE, but only as a much larger 6x6, and it hasn’t made much headway in a market dominated by mine- and IED-protected vehicles.

The late 1990s marked the beginning of an influx of European surplus Pinzgauers to the United States. To import stuff like this and be DOT legal for road use, they must be 25 years old or older. Most Pinzies come to the U.S. in great condition, well maintained and with low miles.

The 712K has storage out the wazoo, including this fuel can storage area that holds three 5-gallon cans. There are two more can racks on the back, offering one complete fuel tank refill.
The dash is busy and the Pinzie requires a lot of driver input. It’s comfortable, as military vehicles go, but has a minimal heater. A gas heater can be fitted. The lockers (yellow levers) are hydraulically actuated. The green lever engages the front axle, with the lever just to the right of the gearshift engaging low range. One yellow lever engages the front locker and the other both the rear simultaneously.
Independent suspension all around was a Euro trademark. The axlehousings are all mounted to a center tube that houses the driveshaft and provides a backbone. At the back, it’s attached to the main towing pintle. A type of swing axle is used, with portals on the end. The diffs have a 2.85:1 ratio while the ports are 2.27:1 for 6.47:1. T-case low range is 1.69:1 and the transmission has a 5.33:1 First gear ratio. Crawl ratio is almost 60:1. Hydraulically actuated mechanical lockers provide true six-wheel traction. Note how the front towing point is attached to the central tube and forms a very heavy skid/protector for the steering.
The Puch engine is a sweetheart! It uses dual Solex 36-NDIX two-barrel carbs. These carbs were often found on some of the earliest VW air-cooled two-barrel conversions back in the ’70s. It’s a five-bolt-main aluminum unit that cranks out 87 hp with peak torque at 2,000 rpm. You need to rev it to get the full suds out of it, but it doesn’t feel too “peaky.” For its displacement, it has a broad torque band. Toward the end of first-gen production, a larger 2.7L fuel-injected engine was introduced making 102 hp.
The 712K seats up to seven, two up front and five in back. Two in the back are in some pretty grim jump seats. There is more space for storage behind the seats.
A cool feature of the K models is the hatch on the passenger-side front. While a soldier could probably fire his personal weapon from there, it doesn’t look as if there were weapons mounts up there. More than likely, it’s just an observation point.

The Details

Vehicle: ’77 Steyr-Daimler-Puch Pinzgauer 712K
Owner: Ken Kline
Estimated value: $35,000
Engine: 2.5L four-cyl, air-cooled
Power (hp @ rpm): 87 @ 4,000
Torque (lb-ft @ rpm): 133 @ 2,000
Bore & stroke (in): 3.62 x 3.70
Comp. ratio: 8.0:1 (7.5:1 optional @ 87 hp)
Transmission: ZF five-spd
Transfer case: Two-spd w/1.69:1 low range
Front axle: Swing, portal type
Rear axle: Swing, portal type
Axle ratios: 2.85:1 (diff), 2.27:1 (hub), 6.43:1 (overall)
Tires: 245-16C
L x W x H (in): 192x68x81
Wheelbase (in): 79
GVW (lb): 8,500
Curb weight (lb): 5,200
Fuel capacity (gal): 20
Min. grd. clearance (in): 14.6
Approach angle (deg): 45
Departure angle (deg): 45
Ramp breakover (deg): 152

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