The History of the G-Wagen

Photo Credit: Mercedes-Benz

The Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen has a well-earned legacy as a luxury SUV icon, with high-profile fans from accomplished athletes to world-class musicians. Although this vehicle is a modern status symbol, the Mercedes-Benz Geländewagen was originally conceived in the early 1970s as a versatile all-wheel drive vehicle for military use. As buzz grew around its unique style and impressive capabilities, the G-Wagen rolled out as a consumer-focused model while maintaining its trademark boxy design for nearly four decades. To commemorate the next generation of this luxury SUV, join us as we delve into the G-Wagen's rich history as a testament to automotive culture.

Photo Credit: Julian Herzog

The Purpose-Built Military Vehicle

The G-Wagen was originally commissioned by the Shah of Iran for use in his nation's armed services. These military vehicles came in two-door, four-door, and 2-door convertible styles. Several models of this Mercedes have seen military use over the years, including the 240GD, 250GD, 230GE and 300GD. Out of the military-spec G-Wagens, the 250GD stands out from the pack and was famously given a nickname, the Wolf, by the German Bundeswehr armed forces.

The Consumer Evolution

After it was introduced, consumers began demanding a vehicle like the G-Wagen with a rugged go-anywhere, anytime spirit. The consumer version of the SUV incorporated some comforts compared to the bare-bones military model and lost a bit of its capability.

Civilian buyers flocked to the G-Wagen, including early models such as the 230G, 230GE and 280GE. The Pope even rode in a customized 230G G-Wagen during a public appearance in 1980. This event marked the first time he could greet and bless the crowd from the unique see-through box on top of the vehicle. Later models constructed this cabin from bulletproof glass.

A Luxurious Transformation

Over the years, Mercedes continually adapted the G-Wagen based on market needs and preferences. In a significant departure from its original military use case, the vehicle's interior saw a comprehensive 1990 redesign to create a premium, high-end cabin. This generation of G-Wagen added running boards for easy access to the vehicle, anti-lock brakes, cruise control, leather upholstery, and wood trim. Even with the addition of these comforts and amenities in the G-Wagen, the quality and utility of its military roots remained.

Photo Credit: Bring A Trailer

While the vehicle didn't officially land in the U.S. market until around 1993, several hundred imports made their way to the states during the first decade of production. The American version of the G-Wagen, commanded a six-figure price tag because of the cost of bringing the vehicle up to U.S. manufacturing and safety standards. The high cost added to its mythos as a rare, exclusive luxury vehicle.

The Modern Mercedes G-Wagen

Starting in 2002, Mercedes officially started offering the G-Wagen in the U.S. market with a V8 version of the SUV. Over time, they've released many iterations of the vehicle, including full runs and rare special-edition models. Each generation is an evolution of the last and incorporates even more luxury features, cementing its storied cultural reputation.

At one point Mercedes tried to replace the vehicle with the three-row GL Class SUV in 2006 but ultimately decided not to as the G-Wagen continued to drive a substantial amount of sales. Some of the most notable modern versions of the G-Wagen include:

  • G55 AMG, a 2005 model that ranked as the most powerful G-Wagen of its time with a supercharged engine.
  • G65 AMG, a $225,000 truck released in 2015 with niceties such as quilted leather interior and a 626-horsepower V12 engine.
  • G63 AMG 6x6, an international version that gained notoriety for being a G-Wagen with 6 wheels for having a third axel.
  • G500 4x42, a limited special edition with extra ground clearance and other off-road-focused upgrades.


While the purpose and use of the G-Wagen have dramatically evolved since its early days as a military juggernaut, Mercedes has well to retain the strong sense of history that comes with this icon.

Photo Credit: Bring A Trailer

EMC Vintage Mercedes G-Wagen

At Expedition Motor Company, we have committed to honoring the heritage of the G-Wagen with every single restoration build. Contact us today or check out this blog post to learn more about what makes our builds so special.