During the launch of 2018 Mercedes-Benz G-Class, in a corner of the prestigious Cobo Hall, sat a mammoth 44.4-tonne art installation. The world's biggest installation of synthetic resin, bright amber in colour, encapsulated an original 1979 Mercedes-Benz G-Class, symbolising the timelessness of the off-road legend and making a conscious reference to the natural phenomenon of how insects have been preserved by nature for millennia.
Note that when the G-Class was introduced, there were no computers and smartphones, the internet was not even yet a catchphrase and the number one song on the Billboard Top 100 in February 1979 was Da Ya Think I'm Sexy by Rod Stewart. Yet, when we think of all the progress both technologically and culturally which has taken place since 1979, it boggles the mind that the G-Class has more or less stayed the same. As if undisturbed by time, or simply perfect from the very start!
A handful of vehicles the – Volkswagen Beetle, Land Rover Defender, and Toyota FJ Cruiser – can also lay claim to having had extremely long production lifespans, but none have so adamantly remained the same this far into the 21st century, and embraced evolution and technology in such measured amounts, that it remains relevant, cool, and formidable in a sea of newer machines.
Forty years on, the 2018 G-Class’ exterior still sports the original car’s boxy proportions and the distinctive door handle still makes the same characteristic closing sound. Forty years on, a robust exterior protective strip still adorns the flanks of the vehicle. Forty years on, an exposed spare wheel is still affixed to the rear door; the indicator lights are still mounted atop the front fenders.
Initially simply called the G-model or G-Wagen (for the suffix that would follow the model variant); it was introduced in Toulon, France – selected for its demanding off-road course near the Paul Ricard Circuit. Mercedes-Benz's "universal off-road vehicle", with its distinctive profile left an equally deep impression on the guests as did its outstanding off-road capabilities.
Mass production of the off-road vehicle started in February 1979 at the Graz-Thondorf plant. Production was in the hands of Geländefahrzeug Gesellschaft (GfG), in which then Daimler-Benz AG and Steyr-Daimler-Puch AG each held 50 percent of the shares.
Initial G-models were sold under the Puch brand name. The reason behind this was Puch’s reputation with all-terrain vehicles such as the Haflinger and Pinzgauer.
The first generation mainly featured two models: the 460 and 461 across different body styles, and with both diesel and petrol engines. Private customers could order the G-model of the 460 model series with a 12-volt electrical system and in two different wheelbases – 2400 mm and 2850 mm.
In July 1981: the joint enterprise GfG established in 1977 was transferred entirely to Steyr-Daimler-Puch. Since then, the Austrian company has been producing the G-Class as a contract manufacturer for Mercedes-Benz.
Throughout the mid to late 80s, the G-model slowly evolved from an austere, utilitarian vehicle into an upmarket leisure vehicle with a taste for adventure. Along the way it gained creature comforts: improved interior appointments, standard-fit differential locks on both axles (1985), electrical central locking system (1985), front power windows (1987), heated windscreen washer nozzles (1987) and newer, more efficient diesel engines.
The G-model also achieved success in the motorsports arena – when in January 1983, a Mercedes-Benz 280GE piloted by Jacky Ickx/Claude Brasseur won overall victory at the legendary Paris–Dakar Rally. The winners in 1983 were joined by eight more 280GE models that occupied 5th, 8th, 12th, 13th, 15th, 17th, and 19th place.
The upmarket move for passenger G-models led the first major facelift of the first generation (dubbed the 463 model) in 1990, which featured a revised and refined interior plus permanent all-wheel drive instead of the on-demand all-wheel drive used up until then. The facelifted first generation model, with a plethora of drivetrains and subtle cosmetic updates, stayed in production for the better part of 28-years. The 100,000th G-model was produced in June 1992.
In September 1993, after having been in production for 14 years, the model designation of the G-Wagen was changed – from this point on, the G suffix would come before the model number indicating the displacement and variant, and the family of vehicles was now called the G-Class. 1993 also saw the introduction of the G-Class’ first V8 powerplant, powered by the M117 5.0-litre V8 engine that produced 241 hp.
In 1998, Canadian corporation Magna International Inc. acquired Steyr-Daimler-Puch AG. Three years later, this would result in the establishment of today’s Magna Steyr AG & Co. KG. Two years later, on its 20th anniversary, with the initial acquisition of AMG, the G-Class got its first AMG powerplant in the G55 model, that delivered 354 hp from a 5.5-litre V8.
The G-Class (still of the 463 model series) was further enhanced and strengthened for the future with a major facelift at the beginning of December 2000. Among other things, the G-Class received a multifunction steering wheel, a central display, revised front seats, and as optional extras the Comand control system. The exterior of the facelift model was identifiable by the clear indicator lenses, bi-colour tail lamps, and decorative stripes on the side protective strips.
The final sign-off of the original first-generation G-Class was highlighted by the limited edition G350 d Professional and G500 models.
Throughout its forty year history, the G-Class has etched its name in history with tire marks over mountainous terrains and muddy riverbanks. just as much as it has on the glamorous highstreets of the world’s cities.
The latest generation of the “longest serving” Mercedes-Benz model now raises the bar a little higher in all relevant areas without sacrificing the principles and engineering DNA that it is lauded for the world over: steadfast reliability, a military grade off-road drivetrain and an iconic design that has stood the test of time; perhaps perfection needs no revolution.
The launch of the 2018 G-Class was illustrated by the comprehensive production titled “Stronger Than Time” and with it, the resin art installation to underscore the great extent to which the DNA of the original vehicle is reflected and still relevant in the G-Class to this very day.
A true tale of timeless heritage and boundless adventure, Happy Birthday G-Class!