The History of the Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen: How a Farm Implement Became a Status Symbol

The History of the Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen: How a Farm Implement Became a Status Symbol

From the August 2017 issue

The first design studies for the Mercedes-Benz Gelände­wagen were made in 1973, appropriately, out of wood. Clay was far too amorphous a material for the domineering angularity of this proto-SUV. Its styling suited the G-wagen’s intent when it was released globally (but not in the U.S.) in 1979. “It was meant to be an off-road vehicle for civilian and non-civilian use,” says Marcus Maurer, the model’s current technical director. “So the vehicle was developed very form-follows-function.”

This meant meeting military demands (one of the first large orders came from the Shah of Iran, though it was canceled when the Islamic Revolution deposed him). Features included a narrow track, locking differentials, and, on convertibles, a folding windshield for easy shipping. But the G’s actual use immediately went off the rails—or, rather, not off the rails. As with contemporary trucks such as the Range Rover, well-heeled urban and suburban consumers were drawn to the G-class’s rugged good looks, but the Benz had an added aura of security and menace.

Aware of these upscale buyers, Mercedes added a more luxurious iteration to the lineup in 1989. Known internally as the 463, it was available with wood trim, leather seats, and anti-lock brakes. It quickly became the best seller, accounting for more than 70 percent of orders.

Mercedes-Benz G400 CDI

Mercedes-Benz G400 CDI

Though the truck wasn’t officially available in America, casual importers sold them borderline legally on the gray market. When that practice was outlawed, one of these shops, Europa, began federally certifying and retailing G-wagens, their limited availability driving prices north of six figures and ensuring the truck’s desirability among customers who wanted what others couldn’t have. The truck’s status was already cemented when Mercedes began U.S. sales in 2002. As a conspicuous, contemporary, hand-built anachronism, it acquired the glaring trophy status awarded to McIntosh tube amps and Purdey shotguns.

The G has demonstrated remarkable staying power. Mercedes intended for the 2007 GL to replace it, but instead decided to keep it alive for its recognizable (and bankable) appearance. Remarkably, the truck has achieved record American sales each of the past four years. It is also the Mercedes most often sold in AMG trim, a highly profitable upsell for which more than half of U.S. G buyers opt. Benz has lately released increasingly capable and luxurious versions of the G-wagen: the 12-cylinder G65; the tri-axle G63 6×6; the hard-core, wide-body G500 4×42; and the extended-wheelbase, half-convertible, $500,000 Mercedes-Maybach G650 Landaulet.

For those with no hope of making shah, the vintage G-wagen market is heating up. “You can take a 2011 truck and put on a classic ’80s front clip, fender flares, and wheels so it looks old, not like a flashy Kardashian-Starbucks grocery-getting thing,” says Tim Golden, whose Mastodon Motor Company in Denver sells about 60 older Gs per year. Two-door 463 diesels are also in demand.

Golden attributes the G-wagen’s ongoing popularity to its iconic design. “It’s kind of like a Rolex. It doesn’t matter if you have an older style or if you just went to the jewelry store and bought the newest one. You still have a Rolex,” Golden says. “And that’s a G-class. It’s a timeless piece.”

The History of the Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen: How a Farm Implement Became a Status Symbol

Same as the Old Boss

An all-new G-wagen is anticipated in 2019. Though it will be more pliant and more luxurious, don’t expect anything radical. “We have to be very careful with the modernization,” Mercedes’ Maurer says. “The most important thing is that you can recognize a G-class as a G-class.” Spy shots indicate a doe-eyed, slab-sided near-clone.

from remotecar http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/caranddriver/blog/~3/B3yzRupZ7Uw/

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The History of the Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen: How a Farm Implement Became a Status Symbol

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