With a cooperative agreement between Daimler-Benz and Steyr-Daimler-Puch in Graz, Austria, the development of this model began in 1972, focusing on off-road abilities and maximum safety and comfort. Mercedes-Benz engineers in Stuttgart were in charge of design and testing, while the team in Graz developed the production plans. The first wooden model was presented to Daimler-Benz management in 1973, with the first drivable prototype beginning various testing including German coalfields, the Sahara Desert, and the Arctic Circle in 1974. Construction commenced on a new production facility in Graz, where the new cross-country vehicle would be assembled nearly entirely by hand in 1975, with production of the “G Model” beginning in Graz in 1979. In 1980, the Vatican took delivery of a specially made G-Wagen outfitted with a clear thermoplastic top which served as the Popemobile. The “Papa G” later took up permanent residence at the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart, Germany.
The original 460-series Geländewagen went on sale in 1979, after having debuted in February of that year. It was offered with two wheelbases, a short wheelbase (SWB) of 2,400 mm and a long one (LWB) of 2,850 mm. One could choose between three body styles: A two-door short wheelbase convertible, a two-door SWB wagon and a long wheelbase four-door wagon. The two wagon versions were also available as windowless two-door Vans (or Kastenwagen in German). While always assembled in Graz, the car was sold as the Puch G only in the Austrian, Swiss, and Eastern European markets.
During the G-wagen’s life span many a different body style was made for army and public-service clients, like the Popemobile, the pickup or the chassis/cab with a wheelbase of 2,850, 3,120 or 3,400 mm, the chassis/cab being the base vehicle for army-ambulances or communication vehicles. Because of the sheer variety of military versions, this article focuses on the more standardized civilian G-Wagen.
The 460 was particularly popular with military and off-road enthusiasts, with more than 50,000 built in the first decade. Mercedes-Benz initially did not sell the model in the United States, but by means of “casual importation” grey-market in the mid-1980s, importers sold a number of G-Wagens which had been modified to meet the specifications by the US DOT.