Is in an odd – even surreal – sight. A large and imposing new Unimog U5000 is parked at the Castle Rock campsite in Sabie. Sitting in its sizeable load area is another vehicle. This one is small and squat, and boasts curious proportions. Its wheels seem far too large for its body, which is almost like that of a toy truck.
It is a 411.110 Unimog – a direct ancestor of the U5000 carrying it. The little one was built in the 1950s, but looks brand new. It is clear that the baby truck has been lovingly restored.
Not far from it, another old Unimog sits on a trailer. It is a similar in size to the 110, though its load area is a bit longer. It is a 411.112.
It doesn’t look as new and shiny as the 411.110, but there’s a very good reason for that. It was built in 1958, and has not been restored. This is a six-decade-old Unimog that’s still in its original condition. Nothing has been changed. Sure, its paint is a little faded here and there, but it still runs beautifully.
The owner of the vehicle, Johan Oosthuizen from Hoedspruit, clearly loves it. He dotes on it like a parent would on an only child. He is constantly busy checking it and wiping it clean.
And he isn’t the only one. A large number of Unimogs are parked at Castle Rock, and all their owners behave the same way. Bonnets are constantly opened and engines inspected. Vehicles’ histories are discussed.
Advice on restoration is swapped.
Why have Johan and the other Unimog owners brought their much-loved old vehicles to a campsite in Sabie? Quite simply, because a special gathering for Unimog owners has been organised. And during the event an official Unimog club will be launched.
As luck would have it, though, the weather is not ideal for such a gathering. Constant rain forces everyone to huddle beneath the campsite’s lapa.
Ferdi de Beer, a truck specialist from Mercedes-Benz and avid Mog fan, is also in attendance, and he is undaunted by the rain.
“The rain is unfortunate,” he says. “But then again, this is real Unimog weather. The vehicle was made for this.”
Unimog owners have travelled from all over the country to take part in the event, and it is clear that they won’t allow a little rain to spoil it. They’re here to celebrate Merc’s legendary 4×4, and celebrate it they will.
Now what exactly, you may ask, has caused these people to be so enthusiastic about something that is essentially an agricultural and commercial vehicle – a work tool?
To find the answer, one needs to look at the history of the Unimog.
THE ULTIMATE 4×4
As mentioned earlier, the Mog has been around for a long time. In fact, the first prototype was produced in 1946, and it was a completely new sort of vehicle.
It could perform all the tasks of a traditional tractor, and had various mounting facilities for implements, but could also be driven at relatively high speeds on the open road and carry a decent load. Moreover, it sported dampened axles with coil springs, four-wheel drive and differential locks on the front and rear axles.
It was, in short, the ultimate all-round vehicle. There were very few jobs that it couldn’t tackle. It was a technological marvel.
This is why the Unimog was so popular, and also why it has garnered such an enthusiastic following.
To be sure, the vehicle has undergone quite a metamorphosis over the years. You won’t find too many similarities between the U5000 and an old 411 model. But the philosophy behind it remains the same.
The modern Unimog is still one of the most capable off-road vehicles available.
It boasts a flexible frame, portal axles that ensure excellent ground clearance, front and rear lockers, an approach angle of 44 degrees, departure angle of 51 degrees and a wading depth of 1,2m. It even has a tyre pressure control system that allows one to inflate and deflate the tyres from the cabin – while driving!
It is, to put it mildly, equipped for virtually any off-road situation.
BUSINESS AND LEISURE
Its size and off-road ability naturally make the Unimog an excellent leisure vehicle. Indeed, many of the owners in attendance use them for both work and play, and many have converted their vehicles into motorhomes.
Loot Schulz is a fairly recent convert to the Unimog lifestyle. He has always been into 4×4 driving and has owned a Land Rover for as long as he can remember, but about three years ago he purchased a Unimog.
“I love the Unimog. It is a great overland vehicle and gives you so much freedom. I don’t like driving at night, and the Unimog allows me to sleep wherever I want. Once it’s dark, I simply pull off the road.”
The events for the day are being announced. The Unimogs will travel in convoy through a scenic forestry area. Ordinarily, one wouldn’t be allowed to enter it, but special permission has been obtained.
Since it has been raining, the steep and winding track will undoubtedly be very muddy. Johan is not sure if he wants to join the convoy.
“I don’t like driving through mud and water in the Unimog,” he says. “I care about it too much to expose it to that sort of environment.”
In the end, though, he decides to join the convoy. Although it’s still cloudy overhead, the rain has stopped. All the vehicles line up and venture onto the trail.
Watching them tackle the track is an awesome sight – especially the older models. Johan’s Unimog, for example, is an original 1958 vehicle that hasn’t been restored. And it is negotiating an ugly, mud-splattered 4×4 track without hassles. How many 60-year-old vehicles would be able to do the same? Not many. And that is what makes the Unimog so special.
FRIENDS WITH UNIMOGS
Back at the campsite, it is time for the club to be launched officially. It is called Unimog Freunde (similar to the club in Germany) and is aimed at bringing Mog owners together.
The idea for a club was born in early 2010 when Carel Roux, a Unimog fundi based in Sabie, arranged a gathering. Only six vehicles showed up, but everyone enjoyed the event tremendously.
This year there are close to 20 Mogs. Considering the weather, it is a terrific turnout. Everyone is very enthusiastic about the new club and already making plans for next year’s event.
Mog owners, after all, love their vehicles. And now they have a place where they can meet others who share their passion.
Contact the Unimog Freunde secretary, Marna Roux. E-mail [email protected].