Mercedes-Benz is most known as the builder of ultra-lux automobiles. You’d be forgiven for thinking that this is all it does… Crafting top-of-the-line magic carpets that ferry around world leaders, movie stars, affluent executives, and industrial magnates. It’s easy to forget that they also have a utilitarian side to their suited-up, champagne-sipping personality, proven by the popularity of a Unimog camper.
It’s not a new idea as well, seeing just how many people are camping out in the wilderness, hopping over mountains in their Unimog campers. Indeed, this hardy nature isn’t foreign to Mercedes, whose line-up includes tough and tumble commercial machines. Everything from cargo vans to giant freight haulers, as well as construction vehicles and passenger buses, Mercedes has a knack for this.
Fun fact, Mercedes is also recognized for inventing the world’s first truck in 1896, back when cargoes are typically moved by horse-powered carriages. As such, making go-anywhere, do-anything, houses on wheels isn’t a far-off imagination. Placing a motorhome on top of a Unimog, however, creates an otherworldly, all-conquering beast. So, let’s take a peek at this Unimog camper, and what it can do.
- What’s A Unimog?
- How Did It Begin?
- The Best Campers
- Is It Worth It?
- Should You Get It?
- Final Thoughts
What Is This Unimog Thing, Anyway?
Before we can properly assess the magnificence of a Unimog camper, we should take a gander and discuss its underpinnings. Just what is a Unimog, anyway? The clue is in the name, “Unimog”. It’s a portmanteau of “Universal Motor-Gerät“, which in German roughly translates to a universal, multi-purpose machine. Its origins began in 1948, though it won’t carry the Mercedes badge until 1953.
The goal behind it is simple – make a utilitarian vehicle that is unmatched and unbeaten for its sheer ruggedness and practicality. In more ways than one, it worked wonderfully. If we look at the innards of a Unimog, it’s generally quite simple. A robust and bulletproof engine and transmission are fitted on top of a highly flexible frame. The drivetrain can be switched between RWD, FWD, or go full 4WD.
In addition, every Unimog should have as high of ground clearance as possible, aiding it to traverse even the most treacherous terrain. Then, combine it with short overhangs front and rear, with portal axles, off-road-ready suspension, and power-take-off capabilities. What you get, in the end, is a truck that can take on the worst of Mother Nature. At first, the Unimog is a staple agricultural vehicle.
But owing to its immense all-terrain potential, you’ll happily find Unimog working in every landscape. For instance, being used as logging trucks in thick forests, or adopted as fire trucks for emergencies, or converted to carry and power construction equipment. In the military, the Unimog works wonders as a personnel carrier, just as you’ll see the Unimog competing in truck trials or even the Dakar rally.
How Did This Concept Began?
As you can imagine, practically any tough terrain can be tackled with a Unimog. Although it isn’t able to carry as much load as a typical truck might, it’s a (very) small drawback to its skillset. What you’re getting in return is a truck that can quite literally go anywhere you point it to. For that reason, as one also takes into consideration its large empty chassis, the idea of a camper-slash-motorhome is born.
So, how did this concept turn into reality? Well, as folks in their Unimogs had to spend long hours, or sometimes days and weeks out in the middle of nowhere, why not turn it into a portable home? This thinking became so widespread, that Mercedes themselves offer Unimog campers to anyone who’s yearning for one. More specifically, they’re marketed as “expeditionary campers”, not merely RVs.
Imagine if you’re an explorer wanting to map out remote regions. Or, perhaps a geologist or a ranger that has to camp out amidst deep jungles. Maybe you’re a researcher that needs to head out into the unknown. Possibly, you’re just an avid outdoorsy enthusiast that wants to go where your typical RV or motorhome can never go. This is where a Unimog camper can help you out, big time.
Till today, the Unimog is still being used as the official support truck for the Paris-Dakar rally, as they travel across some of the harshest sceneries known to man. All the while, they have to carry around spare parts, communications equipment, as well as mobile accommodation for the support crew. It goes to show the immense versatility and dependability of a Unimog being turned into a camper.
What Are Some Of The Best Unimog Campers?
To better give you some inspiration of what to look out for, there’s no shortage of awe-inspiring and mind-boggling Unimog campers out there. Some are built for chilly tundra or frosty woodlands. A few others, meanwhile, are made for camping on the go in the barren outback and hot deserts. All it takes is a quick Google search and perusing through the forums, and you’ll find campers aplenty.
As a bid to your mind racing along, here are some of the best Unimog campers that we’ve found, as a basis for your imaginary build…
1. Zeigler Adventure’s “Mog Home” Unimog Camper
So good is the “Mog Home”, that Ziegler’s home-away-from-home Unimog is officially endorsed by the overlords at Mercedes. The basis of this all-weather and all-terrain adventurist motorhome is the relatively compact Unimog U 4023. It features a 3,850mm (roughly 151.6 inches) wheelbase, which makes it among the shortest of Unimogs out there. In total, it’s just 6.76m (or 22.18 feet) long.
Consequently, you’re not likely to get yourself stuck in between some trees. And you’ll undoubtedly be doing a lot of overlanding in this. It has ground clearance as tall as 50cm (or 20 inches). Plus, the Unimog can also wade through water as deep as 1.2m (or 3.9 feet). Be it driving over boulders or zooming past rocky passes, it’ll manage it just fine. Ziegler takes this recipe and makes it comfier.
The cozy cabin can snugly fit up to two people, with a large drop-down bed. The rest of the interior is packed tight with cabinets and tough aluminum storage boxes. To make it truly house-like, standard fitment includes a full kitchen with a Miele-branded oven and dual induction hobs. In addition, you’re getting a full shower and toiletries. Plus, you’ll be kept warm with a Webasto diesel heater set.
To make sure it continually keeps running, there’s a gargantuan 320Ah lithium-ion battery pack that can be charged with 240W solar-roof panels. Oh, and let’s not forget the ample 230-liter water tank. However, you can also specify optional equipment, if these aren’t enough. This includes nice-to-haves like an air conditioner, bike rack, or a flat-screen TV. The Mog Home is priced at a hefty $420,000.
2. EarthCruiser Australia’s Expandable XPR440 Unimog Camper
Australia is a vast countryside and one where the idea of campervans or motorhomes have become quite popular. Nevertheless, it’s also a very difficult landscape to navigate, especially if you venture further into the Outback. For that reason, you’ll need a mighty RV to cross the bone dry plains and then stay put once you find a scenic spot to camp for the night. What you need, is a Unimog.
But just not any Unimog, but one specially modified by EarthCruiser. At the very bottom is a slightly bigger U 430, with all the bells and whistles that you’d expect out of any Unimog. This means a full-time four-wheel drive system, with diff locks and a low-range gearbox. And since you’ll likely be away from much of modern civilization for a little while, why not fit in a colossal 211-gallon fuel tank.
That should give the XPR440 an operational range of about 2,100 miles. Just for a bit of context, the width of the United States is around 2,800 miles, from East to West. Accordingly, the XPR440 is also fitted with a massive 227-gallon water tank. In case you get stuck between a rock and a hard place, it comes equipped with a winch. On top of that, there’s a four-point lift to help you change the tires.
Perhaps the most notable highlight of the XPR440 is the pop-out roof, which extends the length of its motorhome-y cabin. There’s of course a bed, a full kitchen (including a fridge!), a bathroom (don’t forget the shower), as well as a washing machine to keep your laundry up to shape. There are various nooks and crannies filled with goodies, which I’m sure you’ll need on your next outdoor excursion.
3. John Marshall’s DIY Unimog Camper With A Unique Drivetrain
While we may gush over the bespoke Tier-1 builds, these are costly. Several hundred thousand on top of the cost of an already pricy Unimog is no small price to pay. For that reason, you’ll encounter a lot of custom builds by DIYers who want to live that Unimog camper life. But… Without needing to have as big of a bank account. John Marshall is one of them, and he’s even taken the extra leap or two.
What you see here is almost like any other U 500 Unimog camper. However, Mr. Marshall decided to tinker a bit with the Unimog’s innards. Call it a passion project, if you will. First, and to aid traversing through tough terrain, he’s shortened the U 500’s wheelbase. Cutting it from 216 inches to just 156. If that’s not difficult enough, he also wanted to make some changes with the driving position, too.
His project camper had a complex steering and pedal setup that can move. So, and at the press of a button, the entire steering column and pedals could shift from right to left. It’s both left- and right-hand drive truck all at the same time, whenever you needed it. The transmission is also adjustable, as you switch between automatic and manual. In the back, you’ll find a military surplus camper.
This ‘Gichner Box‘ has a full kitchen space, sleeping area, and bathroom. Keeping it powered is an array of solar panels on the roof. You could then enjoy a warm shower, thanks to the diesel heater. Amazingly, John Marshall jerry-rigged a deployable patio, with pine wood decking. The rest of the cabin is down to earth but is nonetheless a most pleasant place to spend those cold nights in.
Is Getting A Unimog Camper Worth The Expense?
Well… Only you can decide that. We’ve covered various types of mobile houses before. Among them are truck campers, where you’d bolt on a miniature RV-style home on top of your pickup bed. Then, we’ve also discussed the idea of simple #vanlife campervans, simply turning the vast cargo space in the rear into a tiny apartment. More recently, we’ve thus gone through box truck conversions, too.
Essentially, take a U-Haul and turn the freight area into a compact flat. While each motorhome does vary significantly in price depending on how much décor and furnishings you’d like to install, they can be inexpensive if you choose carefully. More often than not, you can get away with a fully kitted-out campervan, truck camper, or box truck motorhome for far less than $20,000, including the vehicle.
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Unfortunately, Unimog campers do cost a bit more. The price of the Unimog itself averages around $20,000 to $40,000, based on data from Bring A Trailer. That differs based on what particular model of the Unimog you get. A more Spartan and older variant from the 60s and 70s, for example, could cost you as little as $15,000. Unimogs are rare in the States, to they’re quite hard to come by.
As for the camper, it’ll also cost a pretty penny. Expect a few grand once you’re done with procuring the box itself, and have the plumbing and electrics done. After that, you’ll have to consider including storage space, bedding, a kitchen, as well as a very basic bathroom, at least. Unlike most other types of RV conversions, a Unimog camper is inherently expensive, and you can’t cut corners too easily.
What Are The Benefits Of A Unimog Camper?
But how can you justify that expense? Consider the upsides…
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- We needn’t remind you of how capable the Unimog is off-road. Just a few YouTube videos should be more than enough to convince you. Unlike most other motorhomes, a Unimog is more than capable of handling difficult terrain.
- Despite how large it might seem, the Unimog is fairly compact for a vast truck of its capability. This means that you won’t be weighed down while trekking the trails. Or, being forced to pick a different route because your big truck couldn’t fit between the narrow passes.
- Since it was designed for utilitarian applications, the Unimog is thus not only easy to drive but rather surprisingly simple to maneuver. It has an extremely tight turning circle, which makes navigating around obstacles like trees or rocks effortless.
- The Unimog is well-known for its dependability, as it was engineered to work reliably under duress and hard conditions without ever breaking down. You can thus be quite certain that you won’t face mechanical or electrical woes as you’re hundreds of miles away from the nearest workshop.
- Any Unimog is like Lego, as one can practically build anything on top of it. Owing to its diverse use in many industries around the world, it’s incredibly easy to modify. Its modularity makes the Unimog a DIY-friendly truck, and you can tinker around with it as much as you want.
- Finally, there’s the cool factor. Let’s face it, most people will never, ever get to see a Unimog (quite literally) out in the wild. Very few of them have made their way to the US and seeing one parked at your local campsite or park trail is a blessed sight to see.
Are There Any Downsides To Living In A Unimog Camper?
Where there’s good, there’s also the bad. A Unimog camper isn’t all sunshine and rainbows…
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- As we mentioned, it’s expensive. A Unimog itself is a costly affair to invest in, and then there’s the motorhome. Remember, the Unimog is a serious off-roading machine. With that in mind, you’ll have no choice but to spend heavily on getting a proper cabin fitted on the back.
- While its reliability may be somewhat bulletproof, pray that nothing breaks. Since the Unimog is a rare treat Stateside, finding spare parts or workshops who know how to work on a Unimog will be a chore. An expensive chore at that, as any spares will possibly have to be imported in.
- It may be quite capable off the beaten path, but don’t expect it to be fast. The Unimog’s performance can only be extracted through its flexible frame and heightened suspension. Otherwise, many old Unimogs come fitted with a diesel 6-cylinder, often with less than or just around 200hp.
- Compared to most other trucks of its size, the Unimog’s payload capacity is oddly meager. This would impact your camper conversion, as you’re limited to how large the rear cabin can be. Most Unimog campers can only accommodate two or four people at the most, constrained by interior space.
- Moreover, Unimogs aren’t the most refined vehicles on earth. It’s a utilitarian truck, remember. The interior is barebones, with few luxuries and creature comforts. Get it moving quickly, and its boxy shape won’t just create a strong draft but also forces it to drink quite a lot of fuel.
Should You Get A Unimog Camper, Or Consider Something Else?
Camping on the move isn’t a one-size-fits-all scenario. If you don’t mind comfort too much, a lengthy station wagon with enough room in the rear for a sleeping bag would fit the bill nicely for a camper. We’d argue that anything could be turned into a motorhome, even something as small as a bike. For that alone, opting to spec a Unimog camper shouldn’t be your only choice.
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Do get a Unimog camper if:
- The terrain where you plan on visiting, camping, and exploring is challenging, with an abundance of obstacles along the way. Think rocky passes, grassy hills, uneven terrain, deep snow, waterlogged paths, or all of them combined
- You want a reliable and trustworthy truck that can accompany you anywhere you go. Plus, it’s easy to drive and not at all that lumbering to maneuver. And, it should be simple to modify and upgrade, however you wish to approach it.
Don’t get a Unimog camper if:
- Your budget is too tight. Believe me, you can find camper conversions oftentimes for a piffling, but a Unimog is one of them. Be prepared to spend a lot on acquiring the truck, undertaking the camper conversion, as well as the running costs and maintenance.
- Maximal interior space is a priority. Owing to its relatively low payload capacity, you can only fit so much stuff with so few people in the back. It’s bigger than most motorhomes but smaller than your usual all-American RV.
Well then, that should be a good place to round up our look at Unimog campers. In short, they’re an incredible creation, and one that has no doubt filled the hearts of many with joy. To think that this all began with a simple truck built to keep farmers going in a land-ravaged and still-recovering post-war Germany. To this day, the Unimog is a hard worker across the globe in endless professions.
From the official support truck of the Dakar Rally to being adopted for construction, forestry, search and rescue, the military, humanitarian operations, expeditions, as well as holiday excursions. Barring its high price and upkeep, few could match the sheer abilities of a camper built atop a Unimog. There ain’t no mountain high enough, or valley low enough, where a Unimog can’t possibly go.
But are they necessarily the end-all and be-all of motorhomes? Of course not! At the end of the day, it all depends on your needs in particular. One could argue that a pickup truck camper conversion is just as capable off the road. Yet, it’s more cost-effective, albeit smaller. Perhaps even a Delica should be enough to suit your needs. Then again, is there really anything out there as cool as a Unimog?
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