Find of the Week: 1980 Mercedes-Benz Unimog

1980 Mercedes-Benz Unimog

In the deepest and darkest parts of winter, when shoveling snow becomes a full-time job and the snowbanks reach to the sky like mountains, vehicles that seem strange in the summer start to make a lot more sense. Like a truck that has over half a meter of ground clearance and a power-take-off that can run a plow or even an industrial sized snowblower. I live in the suburbs, but in mid-February, a 2.7 m tall, 3,600 kg Tonka toy starts to make a strange amount of sense. Which leads to the Find of the Week for this week, a Mercedes-Benz Universal-Motor-Gerät. Better known as the Unimog.


In 1945, airplane engine designer Albert Friedrich set out to built a compact tractor. One that would be different from normal tractors, but more versatile. One that could plow fields but still drive to town. His idea would evolve over decades, becoming one of the most versatile and capable vehicles ever built. The original name translates to universal motor device, and that’s exactly what it was supposed to be. A vehicle that could do everything a farmer or outdoor worker needed to do.

The basic idea was shopped around for a few years, but post-war supply and production issues made for slow progress. In 1947, supply of a Daimler-Benz diesel engine was arranged, and a production facility was found soon after. Production started in late 1948 of the first Unimogs. Interest was high from not just farmers, but also government authorities needing heavy vehicles. Production, though, remained a challenge. Until 1950, when Daimler-Benz took over the entire project. Production increased and development soon followed.


Revised and larger Unimogs were developed throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Power increased, as did capability. Then in 1963, the Unimog 406 series was introduced. This was a bigger, longer truck with a six-cylinder diesel giving 65 hp. It would work as a tractor in the field, pushing plows or harrows, but would also drive to market on the highway. There are even basket cranes and excavators available to install. It could really do everything.


The Unimog was sold in Canada on and off since the 1950’s. Until the early 1970’s, it was sold at Mercedes dealers. Imagine this vehicle sitting next to a 450 SEL 6.9 sedan and you can see the dilemma faced by dealers. Sales were changed to Case tractor dealers, then later to Freightliner, before imports eventually stopped.

Our Find of the Week for this week is a 1980 406 series Unimog. The 406 means it’s the medium size one. That’s right, they made bigger ones. It’s one of the most capable off-road vehicles in the world, but what makes it so good? It starts with the basic frame. Unlike most trucks, the frame is designed to flex. A lot. That flex lets the wheels move more and helps to act as even more suspension travel. That lets it climb over ruts and rocks.


The engine is a 5.7L inline six-cylinder diesel that produces 85 hp and over 200 lb-ft of torque. The transmission has six forward gears and two in reverse. this allows for a top speed of about 80 km/h, although taller tires will raise that. Low range gearboxes were available that could give up to a 4,000:1 crawl ratio. That means that engine torque is multiplied up to 4,000 times when it reaches the ground. Compare that to the 73.1:1 ratio that Jeep is advertising on the new Wrangler Rubicon Recon and you get an idea of just what this monster can do.

The axles are portal axles. That means that instead of the axle running straight through to the center of the wheel there are actually gearboxes at the wheel. This lets the axle sit much higher than the centerline of the wheel and makes for better ground clearance. A Unimog can drive up a 60 degree slope, ford over a meter of water, and can drive on a 38 degree side slope.


Now you might think that with all of that capability, the interior might be a little spartan…and you would be right. There are two seats, some gauges, and that’s about it. There is a heater, although it’s said that they don’t work all that well. Fortunately, the engine is right there, and that should give you all the warmth you’ll need.

So if you’re looking for a vehicle that will take you almost anywhere in the world, then can plow you a field, mill some lumber, or drag down a tree when you get there? Plus it can still do 80 km/h on the highway? The Unimog is worth a look. This 1980 model, our find of the week, is the only one we have listed, and it’s available at Mercedes-Benz Edmonton West. It even already has a winch, a crane, and what looks like some of the gear to operate a snow plow.

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Evan Williams

Evan Williams

Evan is based in Halifax, and has been a car nut for as long as anyone can remember. He autocrosses, does lapping days and TSD rallies, breaks cars and then fixes them again.