Buy­ing Guide How to bag the best Mercedes-benz G-wa­gen, Ger­many’s an­swer to the Range Rover, now it’s been wel­comed into the clas­sic fold

Plenty of poor qual­ity Gs are around – here’s how to find a good one

Classic Cars (UK) - - Contents - Words RICHARD DREDGE Pho­tog­ra­phy JOHN COLLEY

Next year marks the 40th an­niver­sary of an SUV that was con­ceived as a go-any­where mil­i­tary ve­hi­cle but has now evolved into a cult clas­sic. Re­cently re­placed by an all-new G-class, the orig­i­nal Ge­landewa­gen (cross-coun­try ve­hi­cle) has be­come a favourite for tuners to turn into a lux­u­ri­ous and fast road-bi­ased SUV.

Man­u­fac­tured by Magna Steyr in Graz, Aus­tria, the G-wa­gen was sold around the globe and fea­tures su­perb build qual­ity, a func­tional cabin and the abil­ity to tackle se­ri­ously tricky ter­rain.

Launched in Europe in 1979, its UK sales be­gan in 1981. US buy­ers couldn’t buy an of­fi­cial im­port un­til 2002 – six years af­ter UK sales first ended. They re­sumed later, but Brits only ever got un­der­pow­ered diesels that need to be thrashed, de­stroy­ing their econ­omy and re­fine­ment. The petrol ver­sions of­fer bet­ter re­fine­ment and per­for­mance but are fe­ro­ciously thirsty, so it’s worth shop­ping in Europe for a diesel model such as the G270/300/320/400 CDI (though the V8 en­gine in the lat­ter isn’t very durable).

While poor Gs abound, val­ues have risen along with the model’s pro­file. Within a few years the num­ber of sur­vivors will drop markedly as sub-stan­dard cars are bro­ken up, leav­ing a higher pro­por­tion of good ex­am­ples but sig­nif­i­cantly higher prices.

Ex­pert ad­vice in com­pil­ing our guide comes cour­tesy of Mike Axel-berg of the G-wa­gen Reg­is­ter (gwa­gen­reg­is­ter.com), Gavin Helme of Mercedesbenz UK and Ed­die Gilmartin of Car­dock Clas­sics (car­dock­clas­sics.com).

Which one to choose?

The G-wa­gen launched in 1979 in four-cylinder 230G and six-cylinder 280GE petrol for­mats, and four-cylinder 240GD and five-cylinder 300GD diesels, all car­ry­ing the in­ter­nal Mercedes co­de­name W460. There was a choice of three-door short-wheel­base or five-door long-wheel­base (450mm longer) bod­ies, also a SWB con­vert­ible and LWB van. Only a man­ual gear­box was avail­able. All cars had switch­able four­wheel drive, and two diff locks were optional.

An au­to­matic gear­box and optional air-con were of­fered from 1981.

‘The G has be­come a favourite for tuners to turn into a lux­u­ri­ous and fast road-bi­ased SUV’

The 2.3-litre petrol en­gine gained fuel in­jec­tion in 1982 to be­come the 230GE. The 250GD re­placed the 240GD in 1986. Power steer­ing was stan­dard on all mod­els from 1987. A sub­stan­tial facelift in 1990 lead to a change in co­de­name to W463, iden­ti­fied by the fuel cap hid­ing be­hind a side flap. Four-wheel drive was now per­ma­nent, three diff locks were stan­dard. The in­te­rior was over­hauled, anti-lock brakes were optional and the 170bhp 300GE ar­rived as the most pow­er­ful G yet.

The G-wa­gen of­fi­cially be­came the G-class in 1993 and the V8-pow­ered G500 ar­rived. The G300 TD re­placed the G350 TD in 1996. The G320 gained a new V6 en­gine in 1997 and the cabri­o­let got a pow­ered roof. The 354bhp G55 AMG joined the line-up in 1999. The 250bhp V8 G400 CDI de­buted in 2000. New elec­tronic trac­tion con­trol, sta­bil­ity and brak­ing con­trol sys­tems were fit­ted from 2001. The su­per­charged G55 AMG had 476bhp from 2004. The 224bhp 3.0 V6 G320 CDI diesel de­buted in 2006. The G65 AMG ar­rived in 2012 with a twin-turbo V12 pro­duc­ing 612bhp.

Body­work and struc­ture The sep­a­rate chas­sis can rot spec­tac­u­larly – get the car onto a ramp and fo­cus on the rear sus­pen­sion top damper mounts and spring plat­forms be­cause they can cost £750 per cor­ner to put right if they’ve gone. While you’re there en­sure the fuel tank re­tain­ing straps are in good con­di­tion, along with the tank it­self (it’s plas­tic in the W463). The steel straps can rot, re­sult­ing in the tank drop­ping out.

The W460 is more re­sis­tant to rust than the later W463, but check all G-wa­gens’ body­work thor­oughly for signs of cor­ro­sion. A W460 body and paint re­fresh starts at £5k, full body restora­tions can eas­ily sur­pass £20k. Home in on the front wind­screen sur­round be­neath the rub­ber and check the car­pets for damp, be­cause the car will de­te­ri­o­rate swiftly if wa­ter has started leak­ing into the cabin.

Blocked drain holes mean the sun­roof mech­a­nism can cor­rode on W463s (the W460 wasn’t avail­able with a sun­roof and most Ja­panese-mar­ket W463s got air-con in­stead). Re­pairs can cost £5000, so walk away if there’s tape around the sun­roof or ev­i­dence of blocked drains. The rear quar­ter pan­els around the tail lights and rear door pil­lars are fur­ther weak ar­eas.

When in­spect­ing a cabri­o­let make sure the roof is in good con­di­tion be­cause re­place­ments can cost thou­sands. Cabri­o­lets are noisy at mo­tor­way speeds,

New re­place­ments are avail­able for all pan­els and in most cases there’s a choice be­tween gen­uine and pat­tern. The for­mer cost more but fit bet­ter, sig­nif­i­cantly re­duc­ing labour costs.

En­gine The petrol six-cylin­ders in the 280, 300 and 320 last well, as do the 290D, 300D and 300TD units. Not so good are the 230 and 230E petrol en­gines or 240D and later 350TD, the lat­ter fea­tur­ing the OM603A pow­er­plant. The ear­lier 300D got the bul­let­proof OM617 unit; the OM603 3.0-litre diesel is also ro­bust.

The M110 en­gine in the 280GE can de­velop oil leaks and will cost £3-4k if a re­build is needed. The 300GE’S M103 can suf­fer from blown cylinder head gas­kets and oil leaks. Re­builds for the 300GD’S five-cylinder OM617 start at £6k. Bud­get at least £5k for a W463 re­build, dou­ble that for a later V6 or V8 vari­ant.

All ra­di­a­tors are cooled by a vis­cous fan which is prone to wear. Test whether the en­gine gets hot un­der load or when idling. Bud­get £250-£300 for a new fan if the gauge creeps up, al­though it might be that the ra­di­a­tor is blocked in­ter­nally. A re­place­ment costs around £500 for a gen­uine part; pat­tern ra­di­a­tors are best avoided. The metal W460 ra­di­a­tor can be recored, but the W463’s plas­tic item must be re­placed.

Trans­mis­sion The W460 runs in rear-wheel drive mode un­less 4WD is man­u­ally se­lected; the W463 has per­ma­nent 4WD. Both have a low-range gear­box and dif­fer­en­tial locks, the lat­ter be­ing elec­tron­i­cally con­trolled in the W463. The trans­mis­sion should be re­li­able as long as you change the oil in the gear­box, trans­fer case and diffs; bud­get £3k for a re­build and fit.

Steer­ing, sus­pen­sion, brakes Gs are ca­pa­ble of han­dling rough ter­rain – but if a pre­vi­ous owner has been over-en­thu­si­as­tic it will have taken its toll on the steer­ing, brakes and sus­pen­sion. Watch out for bro­ken rear springs; re­place­ments cost £150 each. The steer­ing box wears, but a re­built unit only costs about £300. The disc/drum brakes can seize through lack of use, but you can over­haul ev­ery­thing eas­ily enough. Only the later V8 and V12 Gs got discs all-round.

Trim Al­though the G-wa­gen was con­ceived as a mil­i­tary ve­hi­cle, Mercedes soon latched onto the fact that it could be sold like its reg­u­lar pas­sen­ger cars

‘Even with 1.1 mil­lion miles un­der its belt my G still has its orig­i­nal axles’

– which meant an ex­ten­sive op­tions list. Items such as Re­caro seats and al­loy wheels were of­fered from 1981.

The 460’s in­te­rior is spar­tan but well-made. Later cars are more lux­u­ri­ous but fea­ture lots of frag­ile plas­tics that gen­er­ally can’t be re­placed. The driver’s seat of a high-mileage car is likely to have seen bet­ter days, with dam­age un­likely to be con­fined to the bol­sters. Retrim­ming is the only op­tion; cor­rect fab­ric ma­te­rial is usu­ally avail­able apart from cer­tain early W460 ma­te­ri­als and W463 colours. If the cabin has got damp the fi­bre­board head­lin­ing mould­ing will be sag­ging. Fix­ing it means re­mov­ing the whole in­te­rior.

Electrics While the reg­u­lar W460 G-wa­gen came with 12-volt elec­tri­cals, a mil­i­tary ver­sion (the W461) was of­fered with 24-volt electrics, though th­ese rarely come onto the mar­ket. The 12-volt sys­tem is gen­er­ally re­li­able but if wa­ter has got into the cabin ex­pect plenty of earth­ing and switch prob­lems. Re­place­ment com­po­nents are read­ily avail­able.

Wa­ter leak­ing into the later W463 is bad news be­cause the ECUS fail – there’s one for the anti-lock brak­ing sys­tem and an­other for ev­ery­thing else. They are avail­able only from Mercedes and re­place­ments cost more than £1000 apiece.

Prices for good G-wa­gens start at around £15k; val­ues are gen­er­ally con­di­tion- rather than spec­i­fi­ca­tion-based

Early W460 cars had more ro­bust trim than later W463s which fea­tured frag­ile plas­tics that can­not be re­placed

Mercedes used about a dozen en­gine types – most are ex­tremely ro­bust

Rear quar­ter pan­els around the tail lights and rear door pil­lars are rot-prone. Also check be­neath the rub­ber sur­round­ing the front screen

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