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The Essential History of the Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen
A tangle of variants, offsprings, updates, powertrains, and updates to the classic Mercedes-Benz G-wagon has grown so large in the decades since its debut that we’ve decided to cut through it and focus on just a few key moments in its storied history. Interested in learning more? If you want to learn more about the G-year-by-year wagen’s changes between civilian and military models, check out the publications linked below, as well as several online forums and anorak registries.
The Birth of the G-Wagen
G-Class, Gelandewagen, or simply the “G” owes at least some of its impetus to the Shah of Iran, who believed Mercedes would do well for itself in the competitive field inhabited by Land Rover, Toyota Land Cruiser, and other Jeeps, as many enthusiasts may know.
Austrian engineering consortium Steyr-Daimler-Puch was contracted to manufacture the G-wagen in civilian, professional, and military versions. It was through this partnership that the Puch G badge was applied to G-Class vehicles sold in countries like Austria, Switzerland, and Eastern Europe. Although Mercedes-Benz and Steyr worked together on development of the vehicle, the Austrian company was in charge of final assembly and production details.
First-Generation It’s a Mercedes G-Class.
Gelandewagen’s W460-generation model debuted in 1979, and it was powered by three engines: A gas four-cylinder (2.3L), an oil-cooled four-cylinder (2.4L) as well as an engine that could provide up to 560 horsepower. A 150 horsepower inline-six from Mercedes was added to the lineup in 1980 with the 280GE.
Mercedes-Benz G-Class of the Second Generation
The W460-generation Mercedes must have been popular with Mercedes and its customers, because it stayed in production until 1991 without substantial changes. W461 generation G featured a wide range of door options, including 2-, 3-, and 5-door models in cabriolet, station wagon, and panel van configurations by the time it debuted.
To target the professional market, the W461 was essentially a reworked W460 with new powertrains and a reworked 4×4 drivetrain built into the body.
In a split, the G-Wagen Family
There were two unique G-wagon families in 1990: The W461 was Mercedes’ workhorse off-roader, while W463 was Mercedes’ first “status” luxury off-roader known today as the W464.
In most accounts, the W461 remained on the global market until 2014, when it was phased out completely, leaving the W463 branch as the only G-Class lineage still in existence.
W463 G-Wagen Evolution
As the W463 progressed, its engines became larger, its seats more comfortable, its trim more glistening, and its price tag more eye-watering. Until 2002, the G-wagen was not officially sold in the United States, but a ravenous market drove the G to great success as a prestige symbol.
It’s time to welcome the AMG G-Wagen!
Immediately following the G 55 AMG—the first mass production AMG-ified G—a 5.5-liter naturally aspirated engine was introduced, followed by a supercharged V-8 engine that could produce up to 469 horsepower. In 2007, the W463 received its first major upgrade, which included a major overhaul of the vehicle’s interior and exterior styling. Second-generation W463s arrived in 2012 with a new interior that brought the G in line with Mercedes-more Benz’s up-to-date saloon and SUV interiors.
When it comes to premium SUVs, the G-wagon has never been offered in the United States with fewer than eight cylinders. Mercedes-AMG G 55 and G 63 buyers often upgrade to the more powerful G 65, which boasts a 6.0-liter twin-turbo V-12 and a starting price of at least $220,000. The G 65 is a popular choice among Mercedes-AMG G owners.
Maybach G 650, G 550 4×42, and the G 63 AMG 6×6
The G 550 4×42, a four-wheeled cousin of the hyper-limited Mercedes-Benz G 63 AMG 6×6, which, despite plenty of interested parties waving open checkbooks, was not federalized for sale in the States. In the equally absurd Mercedes-Maybach G 650 Landaulet, a V-12 from the G 65 replaces the G 550 4×42’s wacky suspension and portal axles, while an interior from the Mercedes-Maybach S 650 replaces the G 650’s interior décor and the G 650’s price tag comes from the G 606.
With the W463 II, we have the G-Wagen of today.
This year, Mercedes-Benz unveiled the second version of its G-Class, the W463. As an improvement over its predecessors, both the W463 and the Gelandewagen, the modern G-Class retains the G’s ability to travel anywhere and do anything while also being more refined and well-rounded.
The current W463 G 550 and Mercedes-AMG G 63 are proof that you don’t have to radically alter the design of an icon to reinvent the experience. They merely have a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8. Land Rover Defender, you’ve got our attention.
For the Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen Highlights
The Mercedes-Benz G-Class, together with the Porsche 911, Chevrolet Corvette, BMW 3 Series, and Ford Mustang, is a stalwart of the automotive world. No other granny-geared 4×4 SUV has captivated the attention of so many people as the large boxy Benz has since its introduction.
Each and every G-wagen ever made is inherently appealing and moderately collectible. It doesn’t matter what year your G-wagen is, you’ll appear rich in one, even if it’s an early 2000s model with obsolete interiors and infotainment. G-wagens with locking differentials, 4x4s, and a chassis as tough as the iconic Schöckl are impossible to come by if dune-busting and rock-crushing are more important to you than looks.
Expect to see a lot more Euro-market cabriolets and G-wagens with diesels and six-cylinder engines on our roads in the near future, since many Gs that were not originally available in the US are now old enough to be imported. Decommissioned military Gs with olive or sand paint and back seats with go-seats for soldiers are much cooler.
A new G, on the other hand, will never go out of style if you’re only concerned with keeping up appearances. It’s impossible to find a country club or valet lot that won’t accept a chrome-plated G.
Tips for Buying a Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen
Again, because the G-wagen comes in so many flavors and configurations, we’ll stick to the highlights. If you’re looking for model-specific breakdowns in greater detail, check out forums or speak with an expert.
Older Gs from the W460 and W461 generations will be in high demand in 2020 as interest in classic 4x4s, vintage German automobiles, and overlanding continues to grow. Because of their agricultural nature, most W460 and W461s imported in good shape will cost little more than $30,000 if in good condition. The price of convertibles, diesels, and manual gearbox models will be higher.
G-Wagens from the overseas market are tough, but don’t expect them to be trouble-free or free. If something goes wrong, you’re lucky if your local Mercedes specialist or dealer can fix it without charging you an arm and a leg. Because certain models were never offered in the United States, your local shop may not be aware of any model-specific idiosyncrasies or common problems that may arise.
Always keep an eye out for rust, leaks, and a long list of previous owners. Consider your state’s registration requirements while dealing with a W460 or W461 if you’re dealing with an imported vehicle. Get a professional inspection before you buy anything.
For a variety of reasons, older W463-generation Gs can be problematic. As a result of finicky electronics and maintenance-intensive drivetrains, the G was more expensive to maintain than other Mercedes models of its era. An older G 55 or G 63 with an AMG V-8 will have the same issues as a newer AMG V-8. High-mileage examples of W463s purchased by “ballers on a tight budget” are likely to have years of delayed maintenance. To get the most value out of a W463, buy a new, low-mileage, and clean model as soon as possible.