The history of the G-model began in the summer of 1969. At the time, Daimler-Benz AG and Austrian Steyr-Daimler-Puch AG entered into talks about a possible cooperation. Both manufacturers offered vehicles with excellent off-road capabilities as part of their product ranges: the Mercedes-Benz Unimog as well as the Puch Haflinger and the Puch Pinzgauer. In 1971, the idea of jointly building an off-road vehicle was fleshed out for the first time.
It was to combine extreme off-road capabilities with good handling on the road. Probably as early as in the autumn of 1972, CEOs Dr Joachim Zahn (Daimler-Benz AG) and Dr Karl Rabus (Steyr-Daimler-Puch AG) then came to a basic understanding on jointly developing the light-duty off-road vehicle. The construction team was headed by Erich Ledwinka, Chief Engineer of Steyr-Daimler-Puch.
The development then progressed with force. The first wooden model was created by April 1973. The first roadworthy prototype was already being tested in 1974. Photos in the technical description published internally in 1975 showed how quickly the designers and engineers arrived at a design that already came very close to the eventual G.
The final styling with the clear profile was defined by Mercedes-Benz Design headed by Bruno Sacco. The stylists masterfully combined the large, smooth surfaces of the vehicle body with the technically defined characteristics such as large approach and departure angles as well as a relatively large vehicle height with a rather small overall width.
The G-model has been built at the Puch plant in Graz-Thondorf from the outset. This plant is also where the new 463 model series G-Class has been assembled since May 2018. Mercedes-Benz has been supplying components including engines, axles, steering systems and large stamped parts from various sites in Germany to Graz since 1979. Series production started in February 1979 shortly after the vehicle’s world première, and Geländefahrzeug Gesellschaft (GfG), founded by the two companies in 1977, was in charge of this process.
The G was initially launched on the market as the 460 model series: a universal off-road vehicle with a comparatively plain interior but a great deal of attention paid to the drivetrain. The selectable standard-fit all-wheel drive with its one hundred per cent interaxle differential lock and optional differential locks on the front and rear axles, which have been standard equipment since 1985, ensure optimum off-road handling characteristics. The frame design and rigid axles with coil springs were aimed at versatility and robustness off the road.
The 240 GD and 300 GD models with a diesel engine as well as the 230 G and 280 GE with a petrol engine were available at the production launch. There were two different wheelbases (2,400 and 2,850 millimetres) as well as different body styles (open vehicle, closed station wagon and panel van with closed side walls). In addition to the 460 model series with a 12 V on-board electrical system, Mercedes-Benz offered the 461 model series with a 24 V on-board electrical system for military customers. Its CKD (completely knocked down) version was designated as model series 462.
The tradition of exclusive equipment in the history of the G-Class started with refined details such as individual Recaro seats for driver and front passenger, which were available as special equipment from as early as 1981. The interior was enhanced as standard in 1982. In 1990, model series 463 brought fine-wood applications into the off-road classic that was just eleven years young at the time. This constant change allowed the G-Class to acquire new, private customers. They particularly appreciated the exclusive and powerful variants of the G.
A first highlight in this regard was the Mercedes-Benz 500 GE V8, built in small-series production starting in 1993. From 1998, the G 500 then became the standard top-of-the-range model of the Mercedes-Benz G-Class, as the family of off-road vehicles has been known since 1993. The nomenclature of the G thus follows the system established for the other Mercedes-Benz passenger car model series, whereby a letter preceding the three-digit number or a combination of letters designates the class to which the vehicle belongs.
A particularly successful chapter in the history of the G began in 1999: in that year the G 55 AMG became the new top-of-the-range model of model series 463. It formed the basis for the lasting success of the G-Class high-performance vehicles by Mercedes-AMG. Further standards in this regard were set by the G 55 AMG Compressor (2004), the G 63 AMG, the G 65 AMG (both 2012), the G 63 AMG 6×6 (2013) and finally the Mercedes-AMG G 63 of the new G-Class presented in February 2018