Why you’d want a Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen
Designed by Austrian Erich Ledwinka, son of Hans of Tatra/Steyr fame, the G-Wagen was built in Austria by Steyr-Daimler-Puch, incorporating engines, transmissions, axles and steering from Mercedesʼ Stuttgart factories. Some were also badged Puch right up to 2000.
It was originally conceived for military use and is more popular in that role now than it was 40 years ago, with even the British Army considering it for use as a General Service Utility Platform (GSUP).
Its timeline is immensely complex, with a huge range of engines.
Aside from the military versions, which are much more basic, the original W460 G-Wagen ran from 1979 to 1991, by which time the more luxurious W463 had been launched alongside.
The W461 followed the W460 until 2009, but the W463 continues to this day after a major redesign for 2018.
The G-Wagen hit British lanes in 1982. The UK spec included diff locks front and rear, high and low ratios, and selectable two-wheel drive.
The Mercedes was 500lb heavier (as a five-door), but with a 25bhp power advantage over the Range Rover and a four-speed automatic ʼbox against the Britʼs three-speed.
Road testers reported that the G-Wagen felt livelier, though the Rangie was better for low-speed pulling power and economy.
A large front anti-roll bar kept the heavy, narrow body of the Benz from rolling too much, but gave a hard ride and restricted wheel travel off-road.
The Benz was spacious in five-door form, seating nine via optional folding seats.
Cloth or perforated vinyl were the hard-wearing trim choices at first, with options including a winch, auxiliary heater, rear bench seats and air-con.
Superb build brought strong praise, but a high price for the performance kept sales low and it has always been an exclusive vehicle.
With a huge range of specifications, no two are alike and parts can be a challenge: the factory has a build card for each car listing every component.
Today, rust (especially on pre-ʼ91 examples), neglect and (on later models) complexity are the primary concerns, but a well-kept G-Wagen is a delight and immensely durable.
Images: James Mann
Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen: what to look for
Please see above for what to look for before you check out any classic Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen for sale.
The Mercedes G-Wagen’s engine bay has housed a huge range of units, from the 230 single-cam four-cylinder (as here) via in-line five/six-cylinder engines to V6s, V8s and V12s.
All are immensely durable if well maintained, but overheating and cylinder-head warping are common and coolant/oil/fuel leaks, if neglected, can wreck an engine.
Look at springs for breaks, dampers for wear/leaks, steering box for leaks, and all for signs of off-road abuse.
Watch for brake-disc corrosion and tyre damage.
The five-speed manual is much more motorway-friendly than the four-speeds.
Check it, the transfer box and the diff locks are in working order with no noises.
Rust takes hold in the rear corners of the body, including the inner wings and the bottom of the rear door – and the damper top mounts (visible in the wheelarch).
Early check cloth is hard-wearing, but a good full set is a bonus.
Watch for stains, wear and signs of leaks from the wiper spindles, sunroof and heater plenum.
Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen: before you buy
Mercedes-Benz engines are extremely durable given regular servicing, but many G-Wagens have clocked high mileages – and endured neglect – so check the service history if itʼs available.
Also check the MoT history for signs of rust and other issues: itʼs a useful indication of how hard the car has been driven and how well itʼs been maintained.
Listen for timing-chain rattle, bearing rumble and knocks. Poor starting/running is often just vacuum leaks.
Overheating and head-gasket failure can affect most of the engines, so check carefully for signs and budget to replace the radiator if itʼs old, because it will be getting clogged – especially on iron-block/alloy-head units.
Watch for coolant, oil and fuel leaks.
On a turbocharged engine, check it boosts as it should and isnʼt noisy or leaking.
Remember that Mercedes parts are durable but can be very expensive: quality doesnʼt come cheap.
As the 1990s progressed, G-Wagens became increasingly complex and electronic issues begin to be a key checkpoint.
The later the car, the more important it is to make sure absolutely everything works as it should, and to have a bigger budget for repairs.
Question the vendor on oil (engine, transmission, transfer box and diffs), coolant and brake-fluid changes.
Check manual ʼboxes for noise and clonks indicating wear, and autos for smooth shifting. Four-speeds are under-geared; five-speed manuals and autos are strong; seven-speed autos can suffer from electronic issues.
Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen price guide
- Pre-’90 hardtop: £5000/14,000/27,000+
- Pre-’90 soft-top: £12,000/30,000/75,000+
- Post-’90 hardtop: £7000/16,000/30,000+
- Post-’90 soft-top: £20,000/50,000/100,000+
Prices for standard cars; special editions worth more
*Prices correct at date of original publication
Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen history
1979 460 series: 230G, 280GE, 240GD; SWB cabrio/van/estate, LWB van/estate
1982 On sale in UK; 230GE replaces 230G
1986 200GE added; AMG offers 5.6 V8
1989 463 series: better cabin, wide arches; 200GE, 230GE, 300GE, 250GD & 300GD
1992 461 replaces 460: 230GE, 290GD, 290GD T; 463 250GD replaced by 350GDT
1993 463s renamed; G320 added; std ABS
1999 G55 AMG launched; UK sales end
2000 463 facelift; 400 CDI replaces 300T
2001 G270 CDI added Dec 461 dropped
2004 G55 AMG Kompressor
2008 Facelift: 3-bar grille; new V8 for 500
2011 SWB three-door dropped
2012 Facelift; G63 AMG replaces G55; G65 AMG added; UK sales resume
2013 Final edition Cabriolet; G63 AMG 6x6
2018 New-generation 463 launched
The owner’s view
Yasmin Dring has been using her father John’s 230GE since the age of 18.
“I absolutely love driving it,” she enthuses. “It’s just great fun. A lot of people get excited when I pull up in this – it’s not common for someone of my age to be driving one!
“I first went in it as a baby and I learnt to drive in our auto G230, which is like driving a sofa.”
John picks up the story: “I bought it in 1991, when it was four years old. It’s been incredibly reliable: it’s done around 150,000 miles and it didn’t fail an MoT for decades.
“I’ve not gone off-road much, but it really does go anywhere – instant four-wheel drive and diff locks make the G-Wagen.
“I need to get a bit of bodywork done where it was damaged years ago and poorly repaired; finding mechanics who know G-Wagens is always a challenge.
“I still have our auto 230GE awaiting restoration, and my daily is a 300bhp 2012 G350 CDI V6.”
Military-derived, mid-engined, 7ft-wide beast with all-independent suspension; 6.2 diesel, 5.7 petrol or 6.6 turbodiesel V8s; soft-top, wagon, pick-up and ‘slantback’ aluminium bodies.
Sold 1982-2006 • No. built 11,818 • Price now £20-150,000*
Pioneering luxury off-roader that led the market for decades, with an aluminium skin, 3dr first then 5dr, V8 first then diesel, progressively upgraded. Complex, but used spares are plentiful.
Sold 1969-’95 • No. built 325,490 • Price now £10-80,000*
Prices correct at date of original publication
Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen: the Classic & Sports Car verdict
With such a vast range of models produced over so many years, there should be plenty of choice for buyers – but in reality there aren’t that many examples around in the UK, so finding your ideal G-Wagen will take time and searching far and wide.
Be prepared to keep on top of the rust on early cars, beware of the complexity of later models – and remember that all are thirsty and most are slow (with some significant exceptions).
As ever, buy the best example you can.
- Hugely robust
- Rising in value
- G-Wagens have a keen support network and strong manufacturer backing
- Earlier cars are immensely capable off-road, later ones are more road-orientated but still great off it
- Parts can be expensive and specialists hard to find
- Steel body and chassis means more rot problems than aluminium-bodied off-roaders
Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen specifications
- Sold/no built 1979-2018/c400,000
- Construction steel ladder chassis and body
- Engine petrol: 1997/2299/2307cc ‘four’, 2746/2960/3199cc ‘six’, 4966/4973/5439/ 5461cc V8, 6258cc V12 or twin-turbo 5980cc V12. Diesel: 2399/2874/2497/2585/ 2998cc ‘five’, turbo 2996/3449cc ‘six’, 2987cc V6 or 3996cc V8; 113bhp @ 4600rpm to 612bhp @ 4300rpm; 141lb ft @ 2900rpm to 738lb ft @ 2300rpm
- Transmission 4/5-speed manual or 4/5/7speed auto, 4WD, high/low ratios, diff locks
- Suspension: front leading arms, anti-roll bar rear trailing arms (anti-roll bar in UK, optional self-levelling on LWB); live axle, coil springs, telescopic dampers, Panhard rod f/r
- Steering power-assisted recirculating ball
- Brakes discs front,drums rear, with servo (ABS on 463; later vented discs)
- Length 13ft-14ft 5in (3955-4400mm)
- Width 5ft 7-9¼in (1700-1760mm)
- Height 6ft 6in (1975mm)
- Wheelbase 7ft 10½in-9ft 4¼in (2400-2850mm)
- Weight 4026-5401lb (1830-2450kg)
- 0-60mph 25.4-5.3 secs
- Top speed 84-143mph
- Mpg 12-30
- Price new £39-42,500 (G300,1997)