Trucks & SUVs

Doug Demuro Drives a Mercedes Unimog U500 You Can Buy

The G-Wagon is already one of Mercedes-Benz’s most capable off-roaders. But when it comes to overlanding, even the G-Wagon has to bow to the Mercedes Unimog. Unfortunately, it’s rare that one pops up for sale in the US. However, the 2004 U500 Doug Demuro recently featured in one of his videos isn’t just in the States—it’s up for sale.

The Mercedes Unimog can crawl through fields and over practically anything

If ever there was a vehicle best-described as a giant Tonka truck, it’s the Mercedes Unimog, TruckTrend reports. But ‘truck’ is only one of the duties the Unimog can fill. It’s been in production for over 70 years, Autoweek reports, and seen use in the military, as a forestry vehicle, field tractor, and Paris-Dakar racer. And that’s just the start.

The Mercedes Unimog was developed as a “multi-purpose compact tractor,” Automobile reports. But the same qualities that go into making a good do-it-all agricultural piece of equipment also translate very well to off-roading and overlanding. Which explains why, at the start of 2020, a Unimog U5023 broke the vehicular high-altitude world record, The Drive reports.

Broadly-speaking, the Mercedes Unimog follows a similar formula to many off-roaders. Namely, four-wheel drive and high ground clearance, Road & Track reports. But it also comes with three locking differentials, portal axles, and “hyper-articulating suspension,” MotorTrend reports. And not only does the Unimog have a two-speed transfer case, but it also has multiple forward and reverse gears.

To quote TruckTrend, “[i]f there’s terrain the Unimog can’t tackle, then it’s likely nothing else can, and it’s time to call in the helicopters.” And, as Doug Demuro explains in his video, some Unimog owners modify them even further.

Watch Doug Demuro detail all the 2004 Mercedes Unimog U500’s quirks and features

The rear 3/4 view of a modified silver 2004 Mercedes Unimog U500
Modified 2004 Mercedes Unimog U500 rear 3/4 | Cars and Bids

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The subject of Doug Demuro’s video is a 2004 Mercedes Unimog U500 pickup truck. But while it looks stock, this particular example was modified by a previous owner with a shorter bed and a custom-painted crew cab. The 6.4-liter six-cylinder turbodiesel engine, with 260 hp and 700 lb-ft, remains in factory spec, though.

This particular Unimog U500 has a factory-equipped central tire inflation system. This system can also remotely lower the tire pressure if you need more traction off-pavement. The rollover bar, though, is a custom addition, as is the bed-mounted spare tire. And speaking of the bed, it’s a three-way power-tilting bed with a tailgate-mounted folding ladder. The sides also fold down for easier access. Plus, there are external power connections mounted both up front and in the rear.

The driver's side of the 2004 Mercedes Unimog U500's interior
2004 Mercedes Unimog U500 driver’s seat interior | Cars and Bids

Despite its size, the Unimog U500 is still a Mercedes product. It has Mercedes-Benz door handles and a Mercedes-Benz key, for example. But that’s about where the Benz touches seemingly fall away.

The Unimog is large enough that it has floor-to-ceiling ‘quarter’ windows to cut down on blind spots. And regarding the ‘normal’ windows, you can still order the Unimog with crank windows, though this 2004 example has power windows. Not to mention cruise control and A/C. The driver’s seat also comes with its own pseudo suspension system.

The quirks of driving a U500

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Interestingly, you don’t need a commercial driver’s license to operate a Mercedes Unimog. But driving one takes some getting used to. Not because it’s fast—top speed is about 75 mph—but because of its size, though visibility is fairly good. Also, the transmission.

The truck has a pre-selector transmission. So, to get going, you push in the clutch, tap the shifter handle forward, release the clutch, and the truck starts rolling. To up-shift, you tap the handle again, then press and release the clutch pedal. And to help you, the tachometer has colored sections. In the green section, you pre-select the next gear, and in the yellow section, you push in the clutch to let the truck shift up.

The rear seats of a modified 2004 Mercedes Unimog U500
Modified 2004 Mercedes Unimog U500 rear seats | Cars and Bids

Also, the Unimog doesn’t have traditional brake pads. Instead, it has air brakes like a semi-truck. The parking brake is also an air brake, and the U500 can also supply air to an attached trailer’s air brake. And like many trucks, it has an externally-mounted fuel tank.

This particular U500, with its custom cab, has a rear row of seats. But they lack both backrests and any sort of safety belt system. Plus, while there are crank windows back there, there’s no actual rear window or rearview mirror. Though there is a sliding panel in-between the rear and front seats.

It’s for sale right now on Cars and Bids

Mercedes never officially sold the Unimog in the US. Case International imported a few in the early 80s, Motor1 reports. And in the early 2000s roughly 200 were imported and sold a few through Freightliner dealerships, FourWheeler reports. And this 2004 U500 is one of those 200.

A modified silver 2004 Mercedes Unimog U500
Modified 2004 Mercedes Unimog U500 | Cars and Bids

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Because of their rarity and capability, US-legal Unimogs tend to command high prices. In fact, this very U500 was previously for sale early in 2020 for $369k, Business Insider reports. And now, it’s listed on Cars and Bids, the auction site that Doug Demuro started. As of this writing, it’s priced at $110,000 with four days left in the auction.

Admittedly, older import-eligible models occasionally surface on Bring a Trailer. And the relatively-stock ones tend to go for less than $60,000. But if you want one of the most capable off-road trucks possible, this 2004 U500 might just fill the role.

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