Classic shrine: Unimog Museum

| 7 Mar 2024
Classic & Sports Car – Classic shrine: Unimog Museum

One of the first exhibits you encounter as you enter the Unimog Museum’s main atrium is not a Unimog at all but a small grey tractor, and a Ferguson at that.

Alongside it – and rather more robustly roped-off – sits the sixth Unimog prototype ever built.

They’re displayed together so a comparison can be made.

Classic & Sports Car – Classic shrine: Unimog Museum

The U6 prototype was the sixth Unimog produced

Until 1946, a tractor such as the Ferguson was a farmer’s lot.

A single – and uncomfortable – seat was located over the back axle, leaving the poor driver exposed to the elements.

Its rear axle was the only one driven, and there was nowhere to store anything on board, so if any products or livestock needed transporting anywhere, they had to follow in a trailer, which could upset the balance of the already lightly loaded and vague front end.

Moreover, tractors were slow.

Classic & Sports Car – Classic shrine: Unimog Museum

Classic & Sports Car – Classic shrine: Unimog Museum
Classic & Sports Car – Classic shrine: Unimog Museum

Clockwise from top: Mercedes-Benz Unimog U411 with a front-mounted pump; metal cages on early Unimogs prevented the narrow tyres from sinking into heavy mud; fire-department Unimog 435 with a front loader

Cast your eyes left to the original Unimog: two people could sit side by side, protected by a windscreen and a canvas hood; they sat behind and above a 25bhp engine that drove not only the rear wheels but also the fronts.

Behind the cab was a load bay.

The Unimog could tow and there were power take-offs on the chassis for implements.

Its axle width was designed to be the same as two rows of potatoes, so it could go into fields.

Classic & Sports Car – Classic shrine: Unimog Museum

This Unimog cutaway reveals its portal axles and four-wheel drive

But, because paddle-like tractor tyre treads weren’t available in such a small size, the Unimog’s tyres could be fitted with chains, or the wheels with metal hooped contraptions, to more evenly spread the load.

And it could also drive at 31mph on the road.

The Unimog was a revelation.

Albert Friedrich’s Unimog 70200 design set a template you’ll find all around the Unimog Museum.

Classic & Sports Car – Classic shrine: Unimog Museum

A Unimog 406 used by a Berlin water-utility company

Even the latest models, giving passenger rides every day around a small but technically challenging course outside the door (and available for one-to-one driver training), feature the same basic premise as his original ’Mog: four-wheel drive, live axles (with portal hubs to lift the axles high above the wheel centres) and low crawler gears coupled with contemporary roadgoing ability.

The original Unimog looks so much more sophisticated than the alternatives of the time that it’s no wonder, nearly 80 years after its inception, the product is still a success, trading on the themes started by the first one.

It is also no surprise that there is a thriving, if compact, museum featuring a couple of dozen Unimogs of all vintages, and some of rare importance (plus some tractors), here next to a dual carriageway in Gaggenau, not far into Germany, near the Rhine River that borders France.

Classic & Sports Car – Classic shrine: Unimog Museum

This 1965 Unimog U416A is now used as a museum tour bus

The Unimog factory was here before it moved to the home of Mercedes trucks in Stuttgart, the conglomerate to which Unimog the brand has belonged for most of its life.

Whether the museum alone is worth the journey to Gaggenau will depend on how much of a ’Mog fan you are.

It’s around six hours from Calais and not necessarily on a major tourist route – it’s not a natural call-in on the way to, say, the south of France, Switzerland or Italy.

Classic & Sports Car – Classic shrine: Unimog Museum

A fire department Unimog 402 from the Swiss Alps

But if you’re heading further east it wouldn’t require a huge detour and is only an hour from Stuttgart, home of the Motorworld exhibition, plus museums for Porsche and Mercedes-Benz, so it’s not a million miles from some of the biggest and grandest collections in the business.

There’s also a café and play area on-site, and probably a few Unimogs or other Mercedes-Benz off-road trucks in attendance undergoing restoration or event prep.

And it is, I think, rather more immersive and charming than some of the area’s other museums.

Classic & Sports Car – Classic shrine: Unimog Museum

Track-rollers and bright-yellow paint for this railway-maintenance Unimog U1650

Because the exhibition is based around one model line, it’s also easy to steep yourself in the varied history of said model.

I dare say that a Porsche 911 has sprouted sufficient varieties that you could fill a museum with those, too, but it wouldn’t, I don’t think, have the diversity and interest of a shrine devoted to the Unimog.

This machine has just done so many things: from lawnmower to snow plough; from roadworker to ski-lift; and from agricultural harvest-collector to railway-line maintenance vehicle.

Classic & Sports Car – Classic shrine: Unimog Museum

Classic & Sports Car – Classic shrine: Unimog Museum
Classic & Sports Car – Classic shrine: Unimog Museum

Clockwise from top: the French army was a big adopter of the Unimog 404; the altitude-record Mercedes Unimog UHE; one of five 2007 Brabus Black Edition Unimog U500s

The Unimog has done the lot.

As a fire engine it’ll operate in dense smoke, and with balloon tyres that it can deflate to cope with a thinning atmosphere.

The Unimog has also been driven to a higher altitude – 6694m – than any other wheeled vehicle.

I don’t think you’ll come away from the museum unappreciative of the Unimog’s mechanical make-up, either.

There are several cutaway displays, sectioned vehicles and components, showing how the portal axles, driveshafts and differentials, usually situated in protective housings, work.

Classic & Sports Car – Classic shrine: Unimog Museum

A fire-truck comparison between a traditional Mercedes L3500 (left) and the Unimog 435

And there’s a bare chassis showing not only the axle articulation but also how the two chassis rails, connected by torque tubes, are allowed to twist to give even more wheel travel.

It’s a unique feature of the model that survives today on the most extreme off-road version.

Currently there are two different Unimog variants.

The UGE ‘implement carrier’ has a composite cab with a huge glass area and is designed as a utility tool – for agricultural and construction use – in the vein of the very first Unimogs.

Classic & Sports Car – Classic shrine: Unimog Museum

This Unimog 2010 belonged to the Swiss army

With solid chassis rails and myriad power take-off options – electrical, mechanical, pneumatic, hydraulic – the UGE is the Unimog most commonly seen, and it makes up the majority of the 2000 vehicles Unimog produces every year.

It’s capable of towing 30-tonne-plus trailers and is rated for 55mph on the road.

That speed is one of the advantages it has over even the quickest tractors, such as the MB-Trac units on display that Mercedes itself produced from 1973-’91, but which couldn’t quite replicate the Unimog’s enduring success.

Classic & Sports Car – Classic shrine: Unimog Museum

Mini ’Mogs for little visitors to the Unimog Museum in Germany

Today there’s also the Unimog UHE, with a cab designed in the 1990s but still used now despite enhancements under the skin, because producing the tools to mould a new steel cabin is so expensive.

Unimog classes it as the ‘ultimate off-roader’ and it’s a UHE that does the demonstration rounds of the off-road course just outside the door.

Whether you climb up into that cabin or not (and we recommend you do: see below), the Unimog Museum really is worth the diversion.

Images: Jack Harrison

Unimog Museum: the ultimate off-road experience?

Classic & Sports Car – Classic shrine: Unimog Museum

The museum’s demonstration route shows off the Unimog’s impressive capabilities

When the light is just right, shadows play across the museum floor cast by a vast machine scaling a seemingly impossible slope outside the window.

Walk through a door and, through a tunnel beneath that hill, you come to a kind of bus stop on a short but technically challenging circular route designed for demonstrating just what a Unimog UHE can do.

Seeing is believing.

The Unimog can climb a 1-in-1 gradient, stop at any point on it, and go up or down, forwards or in reverse, entirely at will.

The view through the windscreen is frequently all ground or all sky.

It’ll take 38° of lateral slope before it thinks of toppling.

Classic & Sports Car – Classic shrine: Unimog Museum
Classic & Sports Car – Classic shrine: Unimog Museum

This shrine, dedicated to the ‘ultimate off-roader’, is, we think, well worth a visit

And while angled logs that demonstrate its torsional flexibility and wheel travel don’t feel that dramatic from inside, when you see outside it adds another dimension to your appreciation of one of the world’s most capable off-road vehicles.

Little else with wheels will get farther.

Passenger rides with a driver who speaks good English will more than double the entrance fee, but they’re worth it.

If you’d like to drive the biggest, baddest ’Mog yourself, tuition is priced from €189-489 depending on the number of drivers you share with, and the off-roading severity.

Bookings must be made in advance.

The knowledge

  • Name Unimog Museum
  • Address 76571 Gaggenau, Germany
  • Where? On the B462, at the Schloss Rotenfels exit
  • How much? Adults €7.50, concessions €6.50; off-road course rides €8.50 (in addition to entrance fee), concessions €7.50
  • Opening hours Tuesday-Sunday, 10am-5pm
  • Tel 0049 07225 98131 0
  • Web

Enjoy more of the world’s best classic car content every month when you subscribe to C&SC – get our latest deals here


Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen: Paris-Dakar winner recreated

The Lamborghini LM002: absurd yet enchanting

Classic shrine: The National Bubble and Microcar Museum

Classic shrine: Lions Drag Strip Museum