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The Swede Mercedes Unimog Alternative: The Volvo Laplander

At least in the US, luxury cars tend to be what people think of when the name ‘Mercedes-Benz’ pops up. But the German automaker has an extensive history of more utilitarian offerings, too. It’s made minibuses like the Omnibus, for example. Plus, the G-Wagon was originally a rugged off-roader fit for civilians and military personnel. And before the G-Wagon there was the Mercedes Unimog, an almost comically-capable off-pavement vehicle. But if you can’t get your hands on one, there is a Swedish alternative: the Volvo Laplander.

Like the Unimog, the Volvo Laplander is made for rugged off-roading

The Mercedes Unimog was originally designed as a kind of “enhanced” do-it-all tractor, Automobile reports. Thanks to a torquey diesel engine, four-wheel drive, high ground clearance, and power take-off, the first Unimogs could tackle practically any terrain and a variety of tasks. And after 70 years of production, the modern ones do, too, Autoweek reports.

Unimogs have served as fire trucks, military transports, tractors, logging trucks, and so on, Automobile reports. And with three locking differentials, a low-geared transfer case, and excellent chassis articulation, they make excellent campers, MotorTrend reports.

The Volvo Laplander wasn’t originally designed as a Unimog competitor, but it shares a similar design ethos, Silodrome reports. Unlike the Unimog, it started off as a military vehicle, the 1959 L2304. After Volvo delivered a few examples to the Swedish Army, it released the L3314 Laplander in 1963, Bonhams reports.

A brown 1965 Volvo L3314 Laplander truck in a field
1965 Volvo L3314 Laplander | Bonhams

The Volvo Laplander didn’t offer all of the Unimog’s accessories, The Drive reports. However, it was available in a variety of body styles: half-cab, full-cab, and even with a soft-top roof. And later models have served as ambulances and even raced in the Paris-Dakar, Automobile reports. That’s thanks to a few Unimog-like features.

Like Mercedes’s truck, the Volvo Laplander has 4WD and locking differentials, albeit two and not three. The 4-speed manual transmission has a two-range transfer case, and thanks to portal axles, the Laplander has excellent ground clearance. With an 82-hp 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine, the L3314 models aren’t necessarily fast. But they can reliably drive through or over many different types of terrain, MotorPunk and Jalopnik report.

It spawned some civilian models: the Volvo C202 and C303

A modified gray 1979 Volvo C202 Laplander
A modified 1979 Volvo C202 Laplander | Bring a Trailer

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The L3114 Volvo Laplander lasted until 1970 when the automaker replaced it with the updated C303. And in 1977, Volvo introduced the stripped-down cheaper C202. The C202 doesn’t have locking differentials and has a smaller engine and weaker axles, TTAC reports. But in terms of rugged design, both the Volvo C303 and C202 Laplander models have a lot to offer.

Both of these later Volvo Laplander models have 4WD and two-range transfer cases, Motorious reports, as well as portal axles. With that, the C303 has 15” of ground clearance, Automobile reports, as well as 45° approach and departure angles. The break-over angle is 125°, which is four times greater than the new Land Rover Defender’s angle. Little wonder a factory-backed Volvo C303 won the truck class at the 1983 Paris-Dakar.

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And unlike the C202, which has an 82-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, the C303 has a 125-hp 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine. It’s not exactly fast, but it can climb an 80% grade. And if you want even more capability, Volvo briefly offered a 6×6 C303.

It offers a cheaper way to go adventuring

As with the Unimog, overlanding and #vanlife fans have used the Volvo Laplander as a build base. Even without locking differentials, a C202 with a good snorkel and quality off-road tires makes an excellent off-roader, GearPatrol reports. And with a winch, a stove, and some other minor upgrades, the earlier L3314 Laplander makes for a great camper van, Motorious reports. Finding one, though, maybe tricky.

A black 1975 Volvo C303 Laplander
1975 Volvo C303 Laplander | Bring a Trailer

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The last Volvo Laplander rolled off the line in 1984. The Swedish automaker made roughly 8000 L3314s, and about 9000 C303s. As a result, they’re fairly rare. But they’re cheaper than the average Unimog. As of this writing, there’s a 1979 C202 listed on Bring a Trailer for $11,000. And previous Laplanders and C303s listed on Bring a Trailer have rarely exceeded $40,000. In comparison, some Unimogs have gone for close to $60,000 on BaT.

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