Custom Unimog 404 Off Road Rig on the US Streets

Unimog 404 specs, prices in USA, history and detailed review
Unimog with a boot for overland expeditions
Unimog U500 black off-road
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This rugged, customized off-road machine seen in the photos is a Unimog 404S military truck. The vehicle’s owner has souped it up to turn heads and draw attention on the streets of American cities.

When people talk about Mercedes 4×4 trucks, they usually mention the G-Wagon, but not everyone knows about the Unimog truck. It is proudly called the most capable 4×4 vehicle on the planet and is recognized by the Guinness World Records book as the world’s best off-road vehicle.

⚙️ Technical Details

Model: Unimog 404


Production years: 1955-1980


Approximate prices on the market (Used): $8,000-$15,000


Engine: 2.2L 80HP


Drivetrain: Four-Wheel-Drive


Construction: Body On Frame


Traction Enhancement Devices: Front & Rear Locking Differentials, Portal Axles


Low Range: Yes


Stock wheel size: 37″


Offroad Wheel Size: Up to 40″


Build Level: Pro


Budget: $$


Off-road Capability Score: 70/70

How did we get this score?

 

unimog truck in USA

Unimog 404 Off Road Capabilities

The Mercedes-Benz Unimog 404, produced from 1955 to 1980, stands out for its legendary off-road capabilities thanks to an innovative engineering design. Despite a modest 80 horsepower engine, its signature features allow it to conquer the most challenging terrain.

A key element is the Unimog’s flexible frame, allowing up to 30 cm of vertical wheel articulation and 15 degrees of frame twisting. This allows the wheels to maintain traction over uneven ground and ensure the vehicle itself remains stable at extreme angles while off-camber or flexing across obstacles. Clearances also impress – ground clearance stands at an exceptional 16 inches while approach and departure angles enable climbing smooth near-vertical faces.

Unimog’s ingenious portal axles also provide an engineering advantage. They allow the differential and drivetrain to be mounted higher, thus improving ground clearance. The 404’s center of gravity is also lower than a traditional truck. Combined with tire sizes up to 40 inches, this outperforms all contemporary 4×4 rigs for technical rock crawling or desert slogging while hauling 2,000 kg loads.

Unimog History

The Unimog combines elements of both a truck and a tractor. It was developed in the mid-20th century by German engineer Albert Friedrich in a small factory. The Unimog is often used in remote areas for various purposes, helping people get from point A to point B regardless of the difficult terrain in between. This impressive vehicle has stayed in production for almost 70 years.

Germany was recovering after World War II and the agricultural sector needed a reliable, multi-purpose workhorse, since most farmers could not afford both a tractor and truck. Unlike tractors, the Unimog was equipped with larger wheels in both front and rear for higher speeds to drive on roads.

The name Unimog is an acronym for “UNIversal MOtor Gerät” translating to “Universal Motor Machine”. Production began in 1949 and continues today. Unimogs have been widely used in agriculture, military, public services, and emergency areas. They are also popular among hunters and travelers globally due to affordable pricing and reliable parts.

The early success quickly drew investors and Mercedes-Benz purchased the company just two years later in 1951, producing the trucks under its brand. Owners will attest to a Unimog’s durability – once purchased, it’s almost impossible not to become a lifelong fan.

Its rugged design may not attract typical drivers but serves specific functions. While polarizing aesthetically, its technical specs and off-road capabilities impress. Unimogs boast roughly 3 foot ground clearance, 46° approach angle, 51° departure angle, and a 45° climbing capacity. However, a signature flexible frame allows twist improving trail maneuverability, although reducing hauling capacity compared to rigid frame trucks. The forward cabin enhances visibility. Portal gear axles lift the drivetrain for greater clearance versus typical differentials.

Modern Unimog truck with a crew cab


Another cool feature of the late model Unimogs is the ability to switch from left-hand drive to right-hand drive in order to let the driver operate it from the most convenient position for maneuvering.
Thanks to all of the benefits listed above, Unimog can be often met in the mountains, deserts, and jungles. It’s got an impressive career in armed forces.
Interesting fact: During a military campaign a bulletproof Unimog Dingo exploded on a mine, however it’s chassis and the frame has successfully protected the crew in the cabin.
In Europe, they are mostly used in snow cleaning, public services, construction, and agriculture.

See Also
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Overland Expeditions

Unimogs are popular expedition vehicles for overlanding enthusiasts, thanks to their short base and unparalleled 4×4 capabilities. They are a favorite camper for well-funded hunters and adventurers. Unimog pricing varies depending on year, model, and condition – unrestored older models may cost around $15,000 while brand new units can top $200,000 USD. There are many units for sale across Europe, but they remain rare in the United States.

An interesting note – the most popular historic model was the Unimog 404. As large displacement engines were uncommon in post-war Europe due to high gas prices, it was equipped with a modest 2.2L 80 horsepower gasoline motor. This allowed versatile off-road performance despite modest power output.

Unimog Truck In The USA

Despite the Unimog’s versatile talents, it has never been a major player in the massive US truck market due to intense competition from domestic manufacturers like John Deere and GM. In the mid-1970s, small numbers of Unimogs were briefly sold through tractor dealerships, but this was short-lived. Considering the Unimog’s global sales, DaimlerChrysler attempted relaunching the North American market in the early 2000s with the modern U500 model. Marketed under the Freightliner brand and produced in Canada, sales remained extremely small – only about 140 units over 4 years before exiting the market once again.

Unimog U500 black off-road
Unimog U500 truck
How much does a Unimog truck cost in USA?

Vintage Unimog 404 truck that you see above belongs to ButtonBuilt and constantly gets driven through the streets of Boston, MA.

Many will recall photos of Arnold Schwarzenegger driving a uniquely rugged-looking Mercedes Unimog, causing a splash in automotive news. Similarly, when Hummers first became available to the public, GM notably signed Schwarzenegger to promote them. We can assume a similar motive backing the Unimog purchase, although given the actor’s Austrian roots, obtaining one may have been a personal decision.

YEARS OF PRODUCTION 1955 – 1980
WHEEL BASE 2,900 mm (110 in)
WEIGHT 4,400 kg (9,700 lb)
WHEEL SIZE 37″, 40″
ENGINE 2.2L, 2.8L
GAS MILEAGE 10–14 mpg (US) (=16.8–23.5 L/100 km)
FUEL TYPE GAS / DIESEL
GROUND CLEARANCE 400 mm (16 in)

How we test?

Offroadium Verdict & Score Explained

We have created our own rating and classification system to differentiate and evaluate the off-road capabilities of vehicles showcased on Offroadium. Based on it, we can conclude the following:

Off-Road Capability Score: 75/70

With its military-grade pedigree and purpose-built design maximized for extreme terrain, this customized Unimog 404 earns one of the highest off-road capability ratings we’ve assigned. Between its flexible chassis and frame allowing incredible articulation (+30 points), stout body-on-frame construction (+5 points), low range transfer case (+10 points), front and rear diff locks (+20 points), and unique portal axles further increasing clearance, it has conquered our 70-point scale. We award an additional +5 points for the portal gear axles that lift the drivetrain higher than any traditional 4×4 pickup or SUV, yielding supreme clearance.

Complexity Level: Advanced

While the 404 model itself hails from 1955-1980, the recent custom work modernizing and upgrading this example qualifies it as an Advanced build. With a unique style prioritizing function over form, it delivers rugged go-anywhere competence ready for expeditions beyond civilization.

Budget: $$

Considering the cost of procuring a vintage Unimog 404 and performing the necessary upgrades to optimize it for overland use, we classify this as a moderate $$ level build. With the premium capabilities unlocked by its customizations, it offers an immense return on investment for backcountry explorers or overlanders needing to traverse extreme remote terrain while hauling gear and supplies.

The Unimog 404 is a specialized tool focused purely on off-road competence rather than cosmetics. With upgraded rolling stock and drivetrain components tailored for conquering rugged terrain, this custom build Unimog earns one of the highest overland capability ratings we’ve issued. It’s the ultimate expedition truck for reaching destinations well beyond the pavement.

Pros

  • Legendary off-road capability with portal axles
  • Reliability and durability

Cons

  • Challenging driveability
  • Limited availability in US market

Conclusion

As an experienced off-road mechanic, I’m thoroughly impressed by this custom Unimog 404 build. With its rugged military pedigree and purpose-built design, the capabilities of this machine far surpass any traditional 4×4 I’ve worked on. The custom upgrades take it to another level for extreme terrain traverse. Unimogs stand in a class of their own, and this example exemplifies why with specialized solutions I’ve yet to see on other platforms. For explorers needing to access nearly impassable remote regions off the beaten path, this Unimog build delivers unmatched all-terrain competence to conquer the toughest trails.

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