On days like these, Andreas Rauscher doesn’t look at the big star on top of the Mercedes Museum. It is true that he is just a good stone’s throw from his workplace on the horizon. But as a winegrower on the slopes of the Neckar in Obertürkheim, the young Swabian is too busy pruning the shoots to let his gaze wander for long. In addition, he does not have to look at the stars in the distance, but only in front of his chest. Because when he’s not trudging through the steep slopes on foot or standing behind the counter of his broom in the valley below, he’s sitting in a Unimog and driving through the vineyards. Just like his father did, and his father before him.
The Unimog is passed on from generation to generation and is older than Andreas Rauscher. While the youngest member of the Winzer family was only born in 1985, the wine-red 412, built in 1976 and after a few years in the factory fleet, has been with the Rauschers in agricultural service since the junior’s year of birth.
However, driving this veteran in Rauscher’s 5.5-hectare vineyard requires a certain amount of practice – not only because the lanes in Obertürkheim are sometimes very narrow and the dirt roads above are correspondingly steep. But above all because the technology comes from a time when people at the handlebars were still reverently called drivers: you need a few muscles to yank the steering wheel around in the serpentines through the vines, every gear change is a feat of strength, and because that If the transmission is not synchronized, you also have to double-declutch when shifting gears – and all this while the Unimog scrambles through the Wingert like a mountain goat in slow motion and the vines for the Trollinger are so dense to the left and right that you can almost see the shoots out of the could cut out windows.
Where amateurs sometimes have a hard time at the wheel, Andreas Rauscher steers the veteran through the Wingert with virtuosity. No wonder, because he was able to drive a Unimog long before he was allowed to drive a car, he calls out over the noise of the diesel chugging bravely under the humped hood.
Don’t expect any speed records here. After all, the 2.4-liter diesel develops just 52 hp. But a lot of power: “No mountain is too steep for him and no trailer too heavy,” says the winemaker. And when it’s on the road down in the valley, it still manages 67 km/h. He even made it to Heilbronn, more than 60 kilometers away, says Rauscher about a jaunt that turned into a day trip. But usually the Unimog only tows its two trailers the few kilometers to the winegrowers’ cooperative. Or it is misused as a wedding car – but then the passengers are in no hurry and savor every minute.
Of course, cultivating vineyards is easier these days, Rauscher concedes and talks about colleagues who have long since switched to modern tractors. Every second winegrower here used to have a Unimog, but today his is one of the last. But the tractors may be easier to handle, but not in use. Because what can drive between the vines as a tractor is too small for road traffic. And when it comes to bringing in the harvest and bringing the grapes to the press, they lack traction.
The red pensioner lives up to its name once again – it’s not for nothing that the Unimog stands for universal motor device. The idea of universal use was the basic idea with which the first prototypes of what is perhaps the most famous commercial vehicle in the country were put on the road exactly 75 years ago. The Unimog was conceived as a mixture of tractor and truck and thus became the epitome of the agricultural tractor.
But with its rustic, indestructible technology, the many connection options for a wide variety of additional devices and the almost endless traction of the switchable all-wheel drive, it has also achieved fame far beyond agriculture: It was and is the first choice as a company car for city cleaners, firefighters and disaster relief workers , pulls entire trains as a two-way vehicle on rails in factory traffic and takes researchers or adventurers to the most remote corners of the world.
And he also made a career in the military. Makers praise the sum of its all-rounder properties, which make it an indispensable helper and a likeable hero. And manager his image. The former boss Dieter Zetsche praised the Unimog as John Wayne among commercial vehicles: “It doesn’t need a road, just an order,” he enthused.
The universal motorized device owes its existence to the American “Morgenthau Plan”, after which it was to be transformed into a factory-free agricultural country. These bleak prospects gave wings to the inventive talent of Albert Friedrich, who headed the design of aircraft engines at -Benz at the end of the war and soon saw no future for his actual job. The idea for a universally usable and extremely off-road vehicle that should satisfy all the needs of the peasant state to be feared with its versatile capabilities matured in him. Therefore, in the late summer of 1945, Friedrich and his partner Heinrich Rößler drew up specifications that not only required high ground clearance, a steep slope angle and exemplary traction.
In addition, there was also a loading area, a load capacity of at least one ton, numerous “PTO shafts” for the operation of additional equipment, a speed range of 3 to 50 km/h, a stable brake system and a reasonably comfortable driver’s cab with at least two seats. The planners came up with the idea that if you opt for the Unimog, you can do without your tractor, pickup truck and car in an emergency.
Because Daimler was very busy at the time getting car production going again in Untertürkheim, Friedrich and Rößler had to look for other production partners. They first found what they were looking for at “Eberhard & Söhne” in Schwäbisch Hall, where the first ten prototypes were built in autumn 1946 after a lengthy approval process by the American occupation forces. In the spring of 1947, they impressively demonstrated their suitability to the federal agricultural authorities and the “Board of Trustees for Technology in Agriculture” because they mastered a piece of forest that was generally considered impassable without any problems. In the next phase, the project moved to the Boehringer brothers in Göppingen, where production was envisaged at the end of 1947. However, the driving force should continue to come from Stuttgart. A diesel from Daimler was chosen as the engine.
The reaction at the public premiere at the 1948 DLG exhibition in Frankfurt was overwhelming and the order books after the trade fair were bulging. In order to be able to meet the demand quickly, more than 40 Unimogs per month would have had to be assembled in Göppingen. However, Boehringer was unable to raise the 20 million marks required for this. That’s why Daimler spoke up again. And instead of longer-term supply contracts for the engines, the negotiations ended with a complete takeover. Production was relocated to Gaggenau in the Black Forest and the Mercedes star was added to the trademark with the head of the stud bull.
The star on Rauscher’s example has lost some of its radiance, has become dull and has long been held on to the radiator grille only by cable ties. All the years on the vineyard have left their mark on the Unimog. The paint is dull and scratched, the leather on the seats is greasy, the seams have burst and the cabin is bristling with sweat, dust and dirt. Of course, if something should actually break, then Rauscher will of course have it repaired immediately, even if he can hardly remember a single defect apart from a striking alternator in the last few decades. But polishing or even restoring the car is something that the winegrower never dreamed of. “In a few years at the latest, it will look like this again,” he says at the Viertele in his Besenwirtschaft.
And the Unimog will still have a few years to go. A few many. Because with the best will in the world, the vintner cannot imagine another wagon for his vineyard.