The Unimog holds its ground in the face of assignments under the most arduous conditions, changing economic settings and changing groups of buyers. It copes with extremely difficult ground, pulls complete goods trains, can be used as a road/railer and features attachment points for a large number of implements. Even its start into automotive life was quite unusual.
The legendary Unimog got off to a start that was as adventurous as the time during which this extraordinary vehicle was designed. Its inventor was Albert Friedrich, previously head of Aeroengine Design at Daimler-Benz AG. It was already during the early years of World War II that Friedrich began to occupy himself with the design of a compact tractor – and he started developing the Unimog in 1945, immediately after the war. It was conceived as an agricultural vehicle, but was to differ substantially from conventional tractors. Among the partners Friedrich was able to win over for his project was his former colleague, Heinrich Rößler, who had also worked in Daimler-Benz engine development before the war. The choice was perfect - Rößler had been making ends meet as an agricultural worker after the war, and so was able to contribute a great deal of valuable experience.
Initial sketches by Friedrich show a "Motorised Universal Working Machine for Agriculture" - the name Unimog had not yet been thought of. This plain vehicle was characterised by four-wheel drive and four wheels of equal size. With an output of 25 hp it was intended as a tractor, agricultural working machine, drive unit for machinery and agricultural delivery vehicle - in the early post-war period nobody had yet thought about its many varied uses in the future.
Six speeds up to 50 km/h were planned, with a pto for agricultural implements at the front, a towing attachment at the rear and a loading space in the middle. All in all this was a simple yet unusual and unique concept which differed considerably from conventional tractors.
Friedrich made contact with the American occupying forces and was able to obtain a rare "Production Order" or operating licence. The chosen development and production partner was the gold and silversmithing company of Erhard & Söhne in Schwäbisch Gmünd. The engineers now developed their vehicle in rapid stages.
The drawings soon showed a changed, extremely rational design: identical sheet metal housings for the front and rear axle, identical braked hub drives for the front and rear axles, only four drive joints.
The designers were practically inclined: a track width of 1270 millimetres corresponded to two rows of potatoes.
Numerous features made the new vehicle unique, among them its relatively high speed, dampened axles with coil springs, four-wheel drive with differential locks at the front and rear, a frame construction comparable to trucks or cars, mounting facilities for implements at the front, middle, sides or rear, operation of a pto at the front, centre and rear.