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Unimog History

Unimog S 404 History

Much has been written on the origin of the Unimog.  Founded in the throes of WWII, the concept was intended for the towing of artillery in Russia by the Wehrmacht.  We will not go into that, yet, owing to the intrinsic interest in the military applications of off-road vehicles, the S404 was nonetheless founded initially with a purely military application.  The Unimog S404 is a direct, up-scaled development of the earlier 70200/2010 series – the latter being first marketed as an agricultural tractor in postwar Germany, and a down-scaled version of its concept artillery prime mover. 

As the Gaggenau plant, former home to Unimog production, and the well-known “Sauberg” (literally,  “Pig hill”) were under constant observation by the then occupying French army, their enthusiasm for the capabilities of the little 70200 (later, the 2010 and 411 model) prompted them to approach Mercedes and inquire about an up-scaled version to replace the large number of wartime Dodge WC51’s then in use as provided by the US.  Oddly enough, and in direct relationship to the Dodge, the specifications for the S404 included the same wheelbase of 2650mm, basic motor configuration (six cylinder low compression gasoline), and troop seating capacity as found on the Dodge vehicle.  The result made use of the same transmission of the 2010, redesigned axles, enlarged drivers cab, and an “off-the-shelf” motor of similar capacity, the M180 then in use in the 219 and 220 passenger sedans.  The French and British occupational forces were the initial customers for this new “S” version unimog.

With the establishment of the new German federal army in 1956, the Bundeswehr, competitive trials for a light, all wheel drive utility truck were initiated.  Mercedes and Borgward were major competitors in this payload range of 1-1/2 tons.  Mercedes needed to up-grade the 404 for the german army’s needs in terms of payload, compatibility with other NATO forces (then a gasoline-powered force, as strongly influenced by the USA), and thus the basic model as we know it today was developed.  The main differences between these and the pre-series 404 include:  elongated wheelbase to 2900mm, repositioning of the clearance lighting, redesign of the windshield, cargo bed, transmission (inclusive of a synchronized design), and adoption of a rudimentary shielded electrical system.  1957 saw the first substantial orders for the german army, and by this time the federal disaster and assistance agencies, the  KS  (Katastrophenschutz, or catastrophy protection)  and the THW (Technisches Hilfs-Werke or technical assistance agency)  respectively began to show interest in this new, off-road capable utility vehicle.  The French sent some of theirs to Algeria in the late 1950’s and from there, their appearance and performance in Africa influenced several other nations to adopt the vehicle.

By 1960, with the cold war in full swing, Mercedes was in full production for both the german army, the French, Swiss, Belgian militaries, as well as Indonesia and others.  More than 65,000 units of all models were produced between 1956 and 1980, making it the most-prolific unimog model ever produced.