1980 Mercedes Unimog

A Platform Robust Beyond Belief? You Decide

Ben StewartPhotographerJohn StewartWriter

After his software company went public, leaving him with the time and means to four-wheel extensively, Bill Caid went Mog wild.

Bill's Unimog, a long-wheelbase cross-country hauler, is your basic all-terrain military/industrial utility vehicle. As such, it is ideal for larger European municipalities, organizations such as NATO, and software entrepreneurs who like to take on the most challenging trails the Southwest has to offer.

You may have heard about older Unimogs, 50s vintage units available for $5,000 or so in recent years. This is not one of those. Bill's model U 1300L Unimog was made in 1980 and acquired from a source on the World Wide Web at a cost many times higher than the above figure. Bill has spent about two years and a fair amount of cash maintaining and upgrading the beast.

I've done everything that can be done on this truck, Bill says, citing replacement or repair to the onboard air pump, portal axle gears, and brakes.We think the thing was submerged and left to sit, he explains. Parts are readily available, but they have to come from Germany, which can take some patience.

It is a testament to Mercedes engineering that a sunken Unimog retains considerable value. The reason is that the Unimog platform is robust beyond belief, weighing in at 8,598 pounds wet. The tires are the only Load Range L Michelins we've ever seen. The battery is rated at 1,000 amps. The transmission offers eight gears forward and eight in reverse, but there is an available auxiliary transmission that includes working gears that change the eight-speed box into a 16-speed box. With these working gears installed, which Bill is doing now, First gear will top out at about 31 mph with the engine raging at its 2,800-rpm redline. As it is, most of the time, Bill starts out in Fifth gear if his Mog is empty, Fourth if it is fully laden.

The brakes are air/hydraulic and, like everything on this truck, part of a heavy-duty system. With twin calipers on the front discs on two separate circuits, plus single calipers on the rear discs, you have 13 hydraulic cylinders to rebuild when a brake job comes due. That's one master cylinder and 12 slave cylinders. Like everything else on the Mog, when something needs to be repaired, you don't spend much time looking for a way to upgrade the system. You just restore it to stock, cause thats the best it will ever be. Once Mercedes has sweated the details, you dont have to.

Bill has added a few touches, including Rhino Lining the bed and upgrading the interior. The cabin retains the standard air-ride captain’s chair. Bill communicates via a ham FM radio (Kenwood), that reaches hundreds of miles in the Southwest, where there are lots of repeaters. Other electronics include a Garmin 45XL GPS unit and an aircraft headset intercom system. The rearend now sports a 12,000-pound Warn winch—custom-mounted by friend and Unimog aficionado Kai Serrano which Bill has found useful for freeing motorhomes stuck in sand. The front winch is soon to be upgraded to a 30,000-pound industrial unit that should drag even the mammoth Mog out of trouble, if need be.

While it is true that everything on wheels will get stuck eventually if you four-wheel enough, Unimogs have so much going for them as off-road machines that the envelope gets hard to push. Twenty inches of ground clearance on a long-wheelbase vehicle means you can straddle obstacles most 4x4s will fall into. Angles of approach and departure are phenomenal at 46/51 degrees, respectively. The axles travel 40 degrees side to side, and 20 degrees of frame flex are built in as well.

As with all Unimogs, all the major components are secured via separate mountings, so as not to intersect the body during extreme flexing. With all this flex, an experienced driver, if he has the nerve, can sidehill 40-degree slopes. When the terrain gets really strange, three-position air-actuated lockers front, rear, and middle supply max traction. The engine is a turbocharged Mercedes direct-injection diesel, a straight-six displacing 346 ci rated to produce 383 lb-ft of torque at 1,800 rpm. Air intake is via a snorkel vented 9 feet in the air. While this model does not sport the Mercedes deep-water kit, which uses lightly compressed air vented into crucial components to keep out water, Bill has slogged through standing water about four feet deep. Hed like to keep the starter out of deep water, but other than that, this Mog can bog.

Tires are 14.50R20 Michelins that handle up to 80 psi. Bill usually runs them at about 35 psi but has gone down to as little as 10 psi for trail work. The sidewalls are, as you might imagine, a little stiff, so busting a tire off the bead is a major deal. Fortunately, the compressed-air system supplies air at very high pressure enough to run heavy air tools. You need the baddest 1/2-inch impact they make to crack the wheel lugs, Bill says. Bill has had a lot of fun with his Mog at Moab, Lake Powell, the Rubicon, Hole In The Rock, and so on. Its the kind of vehicle you can take on extended camping trips to places where you may not see another person all day long. Its very stable, he says. Good, accelerates acceptably. Highway ride is better than my F-250.