“They just don’t build them like they used to.”
The adage recalls a moment in time when craftsmanship superseded profit; when usability trumped aesthetic garnish. Pithy quips like these are often founded on a rosier picture of the past than reality, but sometimes they’re grounded in truth.
The automotive industry is rife with corner-cutting and diminishing quality. Brands excuse cheap plastics and faux materials for the sake of weight savings and fuel economy. Premium automotive manufacturing is a display of interior technology rather than artistry. Surely, innovation has its place in today’s vehicles, but I shudder at the thought of how interior components will age.
Alas, most consumers don’t appear bothered by this transition, encouraging luxury carmakers to stray further from their roots. How does the saying go? “I’m not upset; I’m just disappointed.”
At this point, I’d love to continue painting a tragic picture of modern motoring, but my attention keeps straying to a neon green hunk of metal. Mercedes-Benz calls it the G-Class. Surely something so ostentatious is yet another example of degrading production standards.
Not even close.
You see the G-Class stands apart not because its Alien green paintjob is visible from the cosmos. Rather, the boxy Benz is distinguished by 38 years of microevolution, culminating in a harmonious balance of classic and contemporary. Let’s start at the beginning.
The year was 1972. Mercedes-Benz was churning out two-door coupes, four-door sedans, and Pullman limousines. Apart from its Unimog utility vehicle, a purpose-built 4×4 wasn’t anywhere on the company’s radar. Then Mohammad Reza, the Shah of Iran, placed a call to MB’s headquarters.
Reza was keen on buying a German-built off-roader – trouble was, such a thing didn’t exist. To make the Shah’s vision a reality, Mercedes-Benz recruited Austrian military vehicle manufacturer, Steyr-Daimler-Puch to do the development work. Over the next seven years, the ‘G-Model’ took shape. Finally, in 1979, the hand-built 4×4 entered production.
While Mercedes-Benz originally intended for the vehicle to be used by the German army (and Reza), the automaker decided to make both military and civilian variants. Nimble, rugged, and very square, the G-Model quickly became popular among all-terrain enthusiasts.
Each year, the G-Model (known later as the G-Wagon) became more refined, but also more capable. Leather, wood-grain trim, and air conditioning were juxtaposed with three locking differentials, short overhangs, and torquey powertrains. Soon after the G-Wagon changed its name to G-Class, it became a status symbol.
Famous and fortunate individuals flocked to the G-Class’ rugged-yet-glamorous physique. On the surface, the SUV became glitzier, but its body-on-frame durability, slab-sided doors, and off-road hardware remained.
Today, few people know of the G Class’ tremendous origin story, leading many to assume it’s simply an overpriced fashion accessory. Admittedly, it’s rather difficult to imagine Kylie Jenner taking her G63 on the Moab trail. However — in my final platitude — I’ll offer this: “don’t knock it ‘til you try it.”
Experiencing the G-Class firsthand — even one as obscure as a V12-powered, highlighter green model — is revelatory. At once, I understand what draws both celebrities and off-road sages. The outward visibility, build quality, and grandeur are intoxicating. It’s as much a tank with a license plate as it is a quilted leather haven.
Sadly, the Mercedes-AMG G65 is a bittersweet discovery. While its existence proves the survival of superlative automotive manufacturing, the fact that it is based on a decades-old concept is vexing. How much longer will vehicles like the G-Class exist?
When it comes to safety, efficiency, and convenience, modern cars and trucks are vast improvements over their predecessors. To adopt outdated technology or engine mechanics would be foolish, but let’s salvage the built-to-last rationale of years past.