With models such as Geländewagen going back over three decades to 1979, and the Unimog (acronym for Universal-Motor-Gerät, with gerät meaning machine) going back to distant 1951, Stuttgart’s Mercedes-Benz can safely claim to have an illustrious and rich four-wheel drive history.
Especially because this tradition in off-roading is still going strong today, as both the Geländewagen, or G-Class, and the Unimog are amazingly still in production, with much of their basic designs largely unchanged.
But four-wheel drive and Mercedes-Benz is hardly a 60-year old story. Not even close. This year actually marks the 105th anniversary of the very first commercially available four-wheel drive car, built in 1907 by Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft (Daimler Motors Corporation was founded by Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach, and became Daimler-Benz in 1926).
Known as the ‘Dernburg-Wagen’, the all-wheel driven vehicle even featured four-wheel steering to aid maneuverability. This was useful stuff in the days of muddy roads before the advent of tarmacadam made it to every corner of the globe.
The Dernburg-Wagen had a ground clearance of 32cm, which is more than a lifted Jeep Wrangler — a stock Wrangler can only boast of 26.7cm of ground clearance. Speaking of Wranglers, a swapped 6.4-litre Hemi is a nice mod for the serious off-roader today, but the Dernburg-Wagen powered along with a 6.8-litre goliath under its bonnet, albeit a four-cylinder one developing 35bhp at the heady heights of 800rpm… Capable of ferrying five passengers over the Alps, the solid steel wheels were wrapped in pneumatic tyres for relative comfort over ploughed fields.
Mercedes-Benz’s first ever four-wheel drive car paved the way for a line-up of four SUVs today, meaning the GLK, GL, G-Class and new ML all have a lot to thank to their grandfather, the Dernburg-Wagen.