Mercedes-Benz Gelandewagen

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Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen

1981 -
6 cyl. diesel
2996 cc
143 bhp
4 spd. man / 4 spd. auto
Top Speed:
124 mph / 195 km/h
Number Built:
75,000 (approx all models)
1 star
Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 1


The 300GD Gelandewagen four wheel drive model was Mercedes answer to the Range Rover. Nobody had anticipated the demand for a luxury four wheel drive, however the "Rangie" was to prove far more successful in the showroom. Why?, perhaps that the 300GD was such a good off-road performer but lacked a little of the on road finesse of the Range Rover says more about the type of people buying these cars than the cars themselves.

The Gelandewagen was designed in 1979 for Mercedes by Steyr-Daimler-Puch (SDP) and was available with a vast array of engine variations including a 2.4 litre 4 cylinder diesel, a 3 litre 5 cylinder diesel, a 2.3 litre 4 cylinder petrol and 2.8 litre 6 cylinder petrol. The design followed the successful and very rugged H series 4 wheel drives manufactured between 1972 and 1978 - which were a favoured military vehicle in Europe.

From its introduction it had been consistent in only one area - poor sales. In the UK, one of MB's favoured export markets, sales averaged around 400 per year, and worldwide sales were just as bad. In 1988, the G-wagen found only 5600 buyers - in comparison the Range-Rover found 6175 buyers in the UK alone.

Released in 1981, the 300GD was equipped with a 3 litre 6 cylinder diesel engine that produced a very healthy 143bhp, and featured a full four wheel drive system with selectable 2 or 4 wheel drive and selectable front and rear axle differential locks. About the only problem with the car was that it remained big, boxy and e slab-sided. To our eyes it looked wonderful, but obviously the editorial team here at Unique Cars and Parts were in the minority.

The Gelandewagen 463

A big makeover occured in 1990, where MB set about bringing the G-Wagen up to Range-Rover luxury. The interior was brought up to the standard of the saloon cars- including chintzy Zebrano wood trim. The cabin was now a comfortable upmarket place, but most of the engineering work went into the drivetrain. The 1990 update came with permanent four-wheel-drive and an ABS system where one or more of the three diff locks were disengaged. The ABS could also be deactivated using a dash mounted switch.

Both two-door short wheelbase ard four-door long wheelbase G-wagens had a choice of petrol or diesel powerplants - both displacing 3 litres. These engines were carried over from the road cars. As for transmission, you had a choice of either a four speed automatic or five speed manual. The diesel unit was naturally aspirated: no turbodiesel was offered. It was an omission that was obvious on the highway. Come across a hill, or a slower driver, in the 133bhp diesel model, and you would curse having lost your momentum. The engine was far too sluggish for such expensive a vehicle. The diesel motor was encapsulated within the engine bay and was very quiet, so high revs and frequent gear-changing were at least not aural torture. Not that this made the gutless nature of the unit any more palatable. The 170bhp petrol unit was far more acceptable, although it still lacked the verve of its nearest competitor, the Range Rover V8. Worse still, it was barely any more frugal than the British V8, and owners were soon to discover that consumption of around 15mpg was the order of the day.

But as with the earlier iterations, it was on poor surfaces that the G-wagen impressed. When you engaged low ratio, with the centre and rear differentials locked, it was almost without equal. The locks were operated by three rocker switches on the dashboard that could be selected only in one order: centre, rear and front. Short overhangs at each end of the vehicle allowed it to climb over high mounds without getting snagged - and in road comparisons at the time it was in the off road department, where the Range Rover would more often than not get stuck, that the G-wagen proved its worth. The slab sides that denied the G-wagen any style actually helped when negotiating a steep-sided gorge - off roaders have told us that it is much easier-to place a car accurately if its flanks are smooth - one reason the Land Rover Defender has enjoyed such a long production run. The pyramid-shaped turn lamps placed on top of the wings may have looked ugly, but they helped the driver position the vehicle accurately.

Always one of the world's most capable off-roaders, the G-wagen was better than ever in the mud and slush - helped by the fitment of permanent 4wd. On road, it was almost a match for the Range Rover, thanks to its road car-like interior, and the new quieter engines. On the debit side, its ride was still a little more agitated than that of the big Solihull vehicle and, be it in petrol or diesel form, it lacked the performance sparkle of its British rival. The 1990 G-wagen update was also very expensive. For the money it was a hard car to justify - unless of course your Gelandewagen would be spending most of its life off-road.
Mercedes-Benz Gelandewagen

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