Sometimes you need a break, so while we were busy elsewhere, we sent Chris Johnson from Yorkshire Gritters to a farm to try out the latest Unimog vehicles…
As a Direct Message dropped into my inbox asking if I was free to go along to a Mercedes-Benz Press event my heart fluttered…would it be something with the F1 team? Would it have a naturally aspirated engine? Would it be a drop-top? Would it be in the French Riviera? The Alps? The African Plains?
Well the answer to all of the above was NO! A big fat NO!
I was to arrive by 9 am at an industrial estate close to the M1 at a place called Wentworth Park, just outside Sheffield, the location of one of the largest commercial vehicle sites in Europe, a site of some 80 acres.
Well, it won’t be Lewis Hamilton I’m meeting, was my immediate thought, quickly followed by a reduced enthusiasm that it wouldn’t be ear-splittingly loud or require sunglasses.
On arrival the sheer size of the facility was jaw-dropping. The site was simply wall-to-wall with three-pointed-star commercial vehicles, many of which were gleaming white – maybe I should have brought the sunglasses.
As was to be expected, the car parking was official, the coffee was hot and the bacon sandwiches were spot on. The event hall was brimmed with huge shiny machines that on first glance appeared to be two stories high.
The sign said “Welcome to Unimog on the Farm” so I was glad I’d packed my boots, ready to get muddy and have some fun. I’d heard of these Unimog machines before, and had seen them on TV news in war-torn regions, saving lives with the military and United Nations, or fighting fires on remote moorlands, and even on the autobahns of Germany carrying out essential maintenance in order to keep their roads in much better shape than our own.
The presentation was factual and full of the enthusiasm for a product only a new mother would appreciate, or the head of marketing from such a multi-national, but as I was to find out throughout the day, they had every right to be proud.
The large roller shutter door opened as we sat on our high stools like a scene from an old spaghetti western, and the range of Unimogs and, interestingly, their implements rumbled past like the scene from a military parade out east.
This was definitely going to be an awesome day. Mogs with mowers, Mogs with hook lift trailers, Mogs with snowploughs and gritters… how had I survived nearly 48 years without such an experience?
A team of Unimog experts were on hand at the farm, along with regional dealers. A really nice touch was that the implement manufacturers representatives were also on hand throughout the day – they had even flown a chap in from Germany, although he never did take his anorak off all day.
Split into various groups of coloured high-vis vest-wearing people, we probably looked more like a five-a-side competition than novice Unimog converts to be, but we were in great hands with the Mercedes team. Vehicle walkarounds, fun competitions and a well-chosen bunch of journalists and end-users alike made for the prospect of a great days fun.
The range of uses for a Unimog is probably endless; yes, it can tow a trailer or fix wires on a pole in a field, but after the Unimog on the Farm day we all found out it was so much more.
For example, it has Vario-Pilot (as an option) that allows the vehicle to be either left or right-hand drive, taking just seconds to switch over. You could drive down the highway to your worksite and then switch over the steering and drive on the left to keep a close eye on the implement you are using. Then there are the portal axles, so nothing’s going to get caught under a Unimog. Cleverly, they had run the tyre inflation system through these axles too so visits to the garage airline need be a thing of the past.
There’s three-stage engine braking, multiple gear ratios, locking differentials, front and rear PTO’S, a multitude of hydraulic points both front and rear, and also at mid-point down the vehicle, which are all available along with endless other accessories that you probably wouldn’t know you needed but be glad you had.
The view from the driving seat is panoramic. The three or four-step access into the spacious cabin seems endless but, once sat inside, the vehicles don’t fill you with fear. Familiar Mercedes switches provide reassurance and everything is within reach. It was a little unusual though, as my first Unimog of the day was already in the left-hand drive format of the Vario-Pilot.
The engine was convincing and, with the support of a patient instructor, I was soon confidently manoeuvring around the car park, often within feet of a rather large line up of trucks all destined for a major supermarket retailer.
My Unimog was complete with a gritter and a snowplough and, with the option of four-wheel steering, I was convinced I was driving a small van, such was the ease of driving. Taking one’s foot off the accelerator, the three-stage engine brake stopped you in a heartbeat, saving the wear and tear of the braking system, which incidentally was of the air brake type and for the uninitiated could easily lead to a bumped nose on the windscreen. If the Unimog was being used in anger towing a loaded trailer at high speed they would certainly inspire confidence.
Off-road was simply a master class in excellence, the engine torque alone was sufficient to pull the “Uni-bog” through the slippery mud. The suspension travel and chassis was truly bionic and, as a regular off-roader, I found my inner voice sitting back and relaxing instead of nagging in my ear that it was “too steep” or “we won’t get up there.”
The sheer brilliance of the complete package that is the Unimog cannot be understated at this point. The on-screen tyre pressure monitor, the array of diff locks and the engine and gearbox delivered what would probably be the most sophisticated vehicle fit for purpose that I have ever been in, and I should know as I learnt to drive on a David Brown!
If it was The End of Days, Armageddon or Brexit Day and there was a rush on at the supermarket you’d be well advised to choose a Unimog. Not only are they relatively good on fuel, they travel at HGV speeds and they hold their residual values better than a Rolex.
Using them in their natural territory was the key. Having a go with the variety of implements that were available on the day got your mind going; what about getting one for this? How about using it for that? Those thoughts entered the minds of those on the day. Mud is the Unimogs friend, hard graft is what the Unimog expects from you on the farm, and big boots and a baseball cap are what the Unimog expects you to wear…
The ambition for many in life is to get a supercar or maybe a classic but, from now on, my aim in life is to not only buy a Unimog but to actually use it.
In summary, the Unimog, Mercedes Benz, the team at Tankersley, and the implement manufacturers were keeping a massive secret from us all and it must really be shouted from the rooftops (of the Unimog) to everyone in the agricultural, forestry, utilities, construction and in even the Chelsea tractor brigade: The Unimog is the most capable all-round vehicle on the road (and on the farm) and if you are in the market for such a beast then you will not be disappointed
You might thank your lucky three pointed star for making the best decision of your life (after marriage and having kids.) If you’re still tractor mad after reading this then please consider the following; why would you want to pay considerably more for a similarly specified agricultural tractor where you sit in the middle like a child on a Donkey at the seaside, with poor visibility to your left and right, with virtually no cab space for your pork pie and energy drink, and nowhere to hang your coat or carry a passenger on a proper seat with a real seat belt, and all in something that’s got worse fuel economy, lower residual values and comes either green and yellow or red and grey?
So, do yourself a favour, give one a go, and if your productivity doesn’t improve then you deserve to be on the naughty step wearing matching tractor overalls with a straw in your mouth.