MB Truck vs Unimog

Iain_U1250

Explorer
I’ve worked on both. Comes down to pedigree.
MB is a truck used to transport goods. To which you can get 4x4 added. Still mostly a transport chassis. MB makes a great truck. Older 90s were very easy to work on. Interesting fact, many TATA truck parts fit on MB in that era.
Unimog started as a coil sprung tractor, designed as a base to add all kinds of implements. Fire equipment, snow plows, farming. Still a tractor, very hard to justify the extra costs to maintain a unimog.
Unimogs Achilles heal, nobody knows how to set up and repair portal axles. You need special tools and knowledge
Unimogs are unbelievably awesome in the bush!
Don’t let cool factor cloud judgement.
I am biased, but to set the facts straight, you don't need any special tools to rebuild the portal axles other than a decent socket set and a copper hammer. I've done two sets, takes about two-three hours per wheel now. 2018-04-25 12.34.48.jpg
 

VerMonsterRV

Gotta Be Nuts
We went the route of an LN2 for a few reasons. We are full time in the truck and plan on shipping it to other continents once Covid settles down (didn't see that one coming when we started our build).

1. Given we are in the USA we would need to have an older truck. The LK/SK trucks can handle a larger habitat and weight.
2. In most of the world these trucks are fairly common for delivery trucks so finding someone that can work on them will hopefully be easier
3. Wanted an inline 6 with turbo/intercooler. Very common engine and with the turbo will operate at elevation better.
4. They are fairly simple trucks and I am not a mechanic, though I do try.
5. I realized that a large portion of our driving would be on tarmac. So the truck needed to be ok with that, our tire/wheel setup reflects that.

Our background before this truck was sailing. I mention that because I was not an off roader, heck this is my first 4WD vehicle. So someone that has done a lot of challenging off road tracks with a built 4x4 might be disappointed in our truck. I do know for us, driving a 20,000lb truck on sketchy/narrow roads/tracks can be a bit nerve wracking. Since most challenging tracks we have seen have been made by Jeeps (or similar sized trucks) our size is really the limit, not the truck. The reality is if you break down/get stuck recovery can be a bit challenging. Last year when we went to Big Bend NP every ranger we talked with, once they say the truck, had to tell us the story of the UniMog that ended up on its side the year before. Since it was in the park the recovery cost the guy about what our truck cost us to build (or so the story goes, they might have been embellishing a bit) .

I have been working on trying to improve the ride both on and rough road though. I have replaced the factory tapered leaf springs with parabolic ones and a couple of days ago swapped in heavier duty shocks. The leaf springs have been a great upgrade, I haven't put many miles on the new shocks so time will tell. Also, any of these trucks are not known to be powerful. To that end I just finished installing a turbo off the next generation Mercedes inline 6. I have done a test drive and feel the difference in lower RPM's. I still need to adjust the injector pump to supply more fuel so I get the full benefit of this larger turbo with a wastegate.

A previous post mentioned "Drive the Globe". We met him at Overland Expo East. He was parked next to us in the DIY section. Very nice build but his habitat was a trailer that he custom built. I guess his switch to a cab over might be due to not wanting to tow a trailer (though it now seems he wants to tow a 4x4 truck). The places we have been I wouldn't want to be towing anything. I am sure he now has way more living space with his new truck.
 

Geo.Lander

Active member
We went the route of an LN2 for a few reasons. We are full time in the truck and plan on shipping it to other continents once Covid settles down (didn't see that one coming when we started our build).

1. Given we are in the USA we would need to have an older truck. The LK/SK trucks can handle a larger habitat and weight.
2. In most of the world these trucks are fairly common for delivery trucks so finding someone that can work on them will hopefully be easier
3. Wanted an inline 6 with turbo/intercooler. Very common engine and with the turbo will operate at elevation better.
4. They are fairly simple trucks and I am not a mechanic, though I do try.
5. I realized that a large portion of our driving would be on tarmac. So the truck needed to be ok with that, our tire/wheel setup reflects that.

Our background before this truck was sailing. I mention that because I was not an off roader, heck this is my first 4WD vehicle. So someone that has done a lot of challenging off road tracks with a built 4x4 might be disappointed in our truck. I do know for us, driving a 20,000lb truck on sketchy/narrow roads/tracks can be a bit nerve wracking. Since most challenging tracks we have seen have been made by Jeeps (or similar sized trucks) our size is really the limit, not the truck. The reality is if you break down/get stuck recovery can be a bit challenging. Last year when we went to Big Bend NP every ranger we talked with, once they say the truck, had to tell us the story of the UniMog that ended up on its side the year before. Since it was in the park the recovery cost the guy about what our truck cost us to build (or so the story goes, they might have been embellishing a bit) .

I have been working on trying to improve the ride both on and rough road though. I have replaced the factory tapered leaf springs with parabolic ones and a couple of days ago swapped in heavier duty shocks. The leaf springs have been a great upgrade, I haven't put many miles on the new shocks so time will tell. Also, any of these trucks are not known to be powerful. To that end I just finished installing a turbo off the next generation Mercedes inline 6. I have done a test drive and feel the difference in lower RPM's. I still need to adjust the injector pump to supply more fuel so I get the full benefit of this larger turbo with a wastegate.

A previous post mentioned "Drive the Globe". We met him at Overland Expo East. He was parked next to us in the DIY section. Very nice build but his habitat was a trailer that he custom built. I guess his switch to a cab over might be due to not wanting to tow a trailer (though it now seems he wants to tow a 4x4 truck). The places we have been I wouldn't want to be towing anything. I am sure he now has way more living space with his new truck.
waiting for a (very) detailed write up on the turbo upgrade Jon :D
 

beanmachine314

New member
Hello and welcome! You have asked the question where you will get a pretty well 50/50 split in answers. Both have merit, and both have disadvantages... In my opinion I think the first thing you need to do is work out how much space you want and how much gear you plan to carry, as this may well dictate the truck you buy. The Mog owners will always vote Mog, as they have one... The NG/SK owners will always vote truck, as they have one!! I have the latter and will give you the reasons why we chose a truck over a Mog. Note, I have nothing against Mog's and loved driving the Ag Mogs in the UK.

So, why do we have a truck... We plan to live in our truck for a few years, so chose space over off road ability. Our Hab Box is 6m long, 2.5m wide and 2.2m tall. We have decent room to be comfortable inside when the weather outside is bad. We plan to do a lot of remote travel, but not go rock crawling so think the truck will be more than capable for our needs. If we meet a track or obstacle where I have to question driving it, we won't. The truck comes with heavy over engineered axles and transfer box, along with a huge unstressed V6 engine, so will sit at 90-100kmh all day long without getting hot and without breaking. The chassis will happily cope with 11 or 12 tonnes all day long. The truck option has the cab over the engine, and with our 4.3m wheelbase, our 6m hab box sits nicely on it. As the wheelbase is 4.3m we have lots of chassis space for a big semi fuel tank, 1 of two water tanks, start batteries, gas locker, AC base unit, recovery gear and spare fuel locker, tool locker, hidden locker under spare wheel carrier, chassis mounted drop down twin wheel carrier. This means the body is kept free of a lot of stuff. I see all this as advantages.

However... There are disadvantages... Because it's a 'truck', it is easy to get carried away with your build. I now have a 7.8m long 3.5m high and I'm guessing 11 tonne home on wheels. It's big! This is where having a Mog wins. You can't go crazy big on a Mog, so have to really plan what yo carry. Ian and Trish are a good example of this (Unimog Adventures on Youtube). They have crammed a lot into their Mog but still have a reasonably nimble machine. They have just uploaded a new video on their thread on here which is worth a watch. Read all the threads you can, work out what you 'need' and what you'd 'like', and then plan from there. Most importantly, take your time, allow for even more time, and be advised that building your own truck will consume you both!!! :)
This is what I am afraid of with a truck. We have already moved from a Landcruiser sized vehicle to a Mog sized vehicle and I'm a bit anxious about going bigger and losing even more maneuverability. I've seen "Unimog Adventures" new video and we were pretty much thinking about doing almost exactly what they did except including a full bathroom. So far the plan is to have a box no bigger than 4 - 4.5 m, so not very big.

I'll play.

-- I have a MB 917. In hindsight, would probably be happier with a conventional US truck for speed, economy, etc. I am of the camp that if you are planning to drive both ways 'round the world, you want the simplicity of straight axles, the lower complexity, and the higher cruising speed. Joe917 and the Hays would probably agree with me. These folks are helpful: https://www.ln2-forum.de/

-- My friend, Rob Blackwell drove a Unimog from Siberia back to the US via Europe. He pretty much proved that there are much higher maintenance challenges. http://whiteacorn.com/home/rtw Dr. Arrons, who can be found on this site and Iain Burgess, both of whom own Unimogs, are always worth listening to.

Come visit at OEXPO East.
Yes, if we were planning on staying in the US, or even being part-time I think a domestic truck would be the best. However, we are planning on extended travel outside the US. Do the trucks have a higher top speed? I'm thoroughly confused as I see that you can get a much more powerful engine, but they are still limited in top speed by gearing (maybe?). I know you can regear the Unimog axles to do US interstate speed, but I haven't seen how this is done on the truck. 65 mph would be more than enough for us as most of our US trip would be done on back-roads and highways.

Will definitely stop by at OEXPO

Important question: where would you register it? EU, Canada, USA?
Can’t give advice without that.
I ended up with a U500NA because it was the best thing for bad road travel with a 4.5-4.8m camper I could find in 2005 when I ordered it new, registerable in US. It’s pretty civilized to drive and I cruise at 92-97 kph, top speed 108. It has really nice features like CTIS, really low gears, automated shifting that can also be manual with a switch, and the obligatory (in anything) diff locks.
If I lived in Canada or EU and were looking for something perfect now, not concerned about cost, I would look for late Euro 3 MB or MAN truck with CTIS, 9 or even 16 speed (they were introducing autoshifting manuals in the early 2000s). Or else, an Excap restored/improved Steyr 12M18.
The reason CTIS is so great (people do always bring up reliability issues, but the Anglic expression “knock on wood” applies to me) is that people are lazy, and manually deflation and re-inflation, maybe in nasty conditions, just isn’t going to be done as much as playing with a couple of switches. And it is an option on the MB and MANs.
I weighed mine 2 weeks ago. With 380L fuel (a further 462L empty), water full, it was 5050kg (11130 lb) front, 7300kg rear (16090 lb) for total of 12350kg/27230 lbs. GVW 15000kg.
But that’s with 2 hydraulic winches, big bullbar, 2nd unmounted spare tire, an over abundance of recovery gear (anchors plural etc etc) every plausible tool and an enormous supply of parts. Could be as much as as 2500 lb/1150kg!
A U500 is a unicorn in North America and only slightly less so outside Europe. A MB Atego or mid range version or MAN equivalent is pretty common outside North America.
If you are from US, Acela refurbished FMTV are interesting, but there’s a couple of issues.
Whatever, do yourself a favor and get something from 2006 or earlier, the “apex” of world travel capable medium trucks.
Right now the plan is to register in the US, and it could pan out that we get a couple years in Europe to handpick and start the build there then bring back, so we could be in something as new as a 1998 model. Would absolutely LOVE CTIS because of exactly what you mentioned, no one wants to get out to air down in the muddy road.

We went the route of an LN2 for a few reasons. We are full time in the truck and plan on shipping it to other continents once Covid settles down (didn't see that one coming when we started our build).

1. Given we are in the USA we would need to have an older truck. The LK/SK trucks can handle a larger habitat and weight.
2. In most of the world these trucks are fairly common for delivery trucks so finding someone that can work on them will hopefully be easier
3. Wanted an inline 6 with turbo/intercooler. Very common engine and with the turbo will operate at elevation better.
4. They are fairly simple trucks and I am not a mechanic, though I do try.
5. I realized that a large portion of our driving would be on tarmac. So the truck needed to be ok with that, our tire/wheel setup reflects that.

Our background before this truck was sailing. I mention that because I was not an off roader, heck this is my first 4WD vehicle. So someone that has done a lot of challenging off road tracks with a built 4x4 might be disappointed in our truck. I do know for us, driving a 20,000lb truck on sketchy/narrow roads/tracks can be a bit nerve wracking. Since most challenging tracks we have seen have been made by Jeeps (or similar sized trucks) our size is really the limit, not the truck. The reality is if you break down/get stuck recovery can be a bit challenging. Last year when we went to Big Bend NP every ranger we talked with, once they say the truck, had to tell us the story of the UniMog that ended up on its side the year before. Since it was in the park the recovery cost the guy about what our truck cost us to build (or so the story goes, they might have been embellishing a bit) .

I have been working on trying to improve the ride both on and rough road though. I have replaced the factory tapered leaf springs with parabolic ones and a couple of days ago swapped in heavier duty shocks. The leaf springs have been a great upgrade, I haven't put many miles on the new shocks so time will tell. Also, any of these trucks are not known to be powerful. To that end I just finished installing a turbo off the next generation Mercedes inline 6. I have done a test drive and feel the difference in lower RPM's. I still need to adjust the injector pump to supply more fuel so I get the full benefit of this larger turbo with a wastegate.

A previous post mentioned "Drive the Globe". We met him at Overland Expo East. He was parked next to us in the DIY section. Very nice build but his habitat was a trailer that he custom built. I guess his switch to a cab over might be due to not wanting to tow a trailer (though it now seems he wants to tow a 4x4 truck). The places we have been I wouldn't want to be towing anything. I am sure he now has way more living space with his new truck.
I think we have a relatively similar set of requirements as mine are turbo engine, common outside the US, and low range 4x4. I'm not terribly concerned about extra maintenance as I'm pretty handy, but I do like that the trucks are more simple.
 

Alloy

Well-known member
I am biased, but to set the facts straight, you don't need any special tools to rebuild the portal axles other than a decent socket set and a copper hammer. I've done two sets, takes about two-three hours per wheel now. View attachment 685557
What about parts?
Is a portal rebuild done and you leave it alone like changing transmission fluid or does it lean closer to something like servicing the brakes.
 

Iain_U1250

Explorer
I did my portals 60,000km ago, and the only reason I had to change one it that the truck fell off the jack and damaged the main bearing, all the others are still good. You need good synthetic oil in them, and change it often, but there is only about 500ml in each so not a big deal. My Unimog has an exhaust brake, so I hardly ever use the brakes, they will probably outlast the portals, almost no wear on the brake pads at all. I have three rebuilt portal boxes sitting in the shed, and I even have a full set of new gears as well, have not needed them yet.
 

beanmachine314

New member
I did my portals 60,000km ago, and the only reason I had to change one it that the truck fell off the jack and damaged the main bearing, all the others are still good. You need good synthetic oil in them, and change it often, but there is only about 500ml in each so not a big deal. My Unimog has an exhaust brake, so I hardly ever use the brakes, they will probably outlast the portals, almost no wear on the brake pads at all. I have three rebuilt portal boxes sitting in the shed, and I even have a full set of new gears as well, have not needed them yet.
In my research I'd already decided to do something to increase the portal oil capacity as that seems to be the Achille's heel for on highway travel. I've done all my own maintenance on every vehicle I've owned including setting up a ring and pinion and my Landcruiser's front birf rebuild so the extra maintenance doesn't scare me. We're just worried most about maneuverability, which seems like the Mog has the advantage over a truck. We're going to try and peek into as many different trucks as we can at OEXPO and decide there. Getting excited about getting on the road tomorrow.
 

Iain_U1250

Explorer
In my research I'd already decided to do something to increase the portal oil capacity as that seems to be the Achille's heel for on highway travel. I've done all my own maintenance on every vehicle I've owned including setting up a ring and pinion and my Landcruiser's front birf rebuild so the extra maintenance doesn't scare me. We're just worried most about maneuverability, which seems like the Mog has the advantage over a truck. We're going to try and peek into as many different trucks as we can at OEXPO and decide there. Getting excited about getting on the road tomorrow.
We drive ours at 100kph all the time on highways, if you are getting one and want to drive fast, you will need either an overdrive or high speed gears in the diff or portals. Overdrives are not being made anymore, and changing the diff or portal gearing means you will need the low range/working gear to retain off road low speed ability. I decided to change our transmission for a new UG100, with working gears. It is quite an expensive change over, but give the best of both worlds with being ablle to drive at 100kph @1950rpm, and still do 1.5kph in first gear low range.


I tried to find a way to make a full bathroom, but it was just not possible to have along with the passenger seat, bathrooms take up a lot of space, considering the amount of time you spent in it, not much of a priority for us. We did have a way to screen the toilet off when in use, but we never use it to be honest.

Ours is the smaller Unimog, narrower than a U1300 even, so fits in normal parking bays, and has a turning circle similar to my Defender. If yo want a 4.5-4.8m box, you will need a U1700L38, which is considerable bigger.
 
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beanmachine314

New member
We drive ours at 100kph all the time on highways, if you are getting one and want to drive fast, you will need either an overdrive or high speed gears in the diff or portals. Overdrives are not being made anymore, and changing the diff or portal gearing means you will need the low range/working gear to retain off road low speed ability. I decided to change our transmission for a new UG100, with working gears. It is quite an expensive change over, but give the best of both worlds with being ablle to drive at 100kph @1950rpm, and still do 1.5kph in first gear low range.


I tried to find a way to make a full bathroom, but it was just not possible to have along with the passenger seat, bathrooms take up a lot of space, considering the amount of time you spent in it, not much of a priority for us. We did have a way to screen the toilet off when in use, but we never use it to be honest.

Ours is the smaller Unimog, narrower than a U1300 even, so fits in normal parking bays, and has a turning circle similar to my Defender. If yo want a 4.5-4.8m box, you will need a U1700L38, which is considerable bigger.
Yes, I had already planned on waiting until we found one with working gears, as I knew we would need the fastest axles you can get and I've heard the OD is ~$10k if you find it. 100kph is perfectly fine, like I said we plan on skipping the 70mph interstate when we can, and taking the highways.

As for the 'bathroom', my idea was to have it in a similar location as yours, just slightly bigger. Basically an entryway/shower area with a toilet that can be pulled out when needed and stowed away when not. We're also planning on having a combined bed/sitting area so the space where your 'front seats' are will be available for us to use as well. I've not designed anything less than 4.5m and the working design is about 4.3m, and I'm attempting to get it to 4m.

I've found it a bit difficult to find good information as to the dimension of all the different Unimog series, but from what I gather the U1300 is about the same width as the U1700, so I've been thinking we'll be in a 1700 anyway, mainly because it seems that more of them come with working gears which will be a must and the higher hp engine which will be nice.
 

Iain_U1250

Explorer
Yes, I had already planned on waiting until we found one with working gears, as I knew we would need the fastest axles you can get and I've heard the OD is ~$10k if you find it. 100kph is perfectly fine, like I said we plan on skipping the 70mph interstate when we can, and taking the highways.

As for the 'bathroom', my idea was to have it in a similar location as yours, just slightly bigger. Basically an entryway/shower area with a toilet that can be pulled out when needed and stowed away when not. We're also planning on having a combined bed/sitting area so the space where your 'front seats' are will be available for us to use as well. I've not designed anything less than 4.5m and the working design is about 4.3m, and I'm attempting to get it to 4m.

I've found it a bit difficult to find good information as to the dimension of all the different Unimog series, but from what I gather the U1300 is about the same width as the U1700, so I've been thinking we'll be in a 1700 anyway, mainly because it seems that more of them come with working gears which will be a must and the higher hp engine which will be nice.
Maybe these will help - the U1300 is narrower than the U1700 by a little bit, but has a stronger but heavier chassis. Motors vary, and the you can upgrade any one that come with a turbo and the piston oil squires to about 250hp if you want to, there are kits sold by Mog Central over here with fuel pump, intercoolers and turbo upgrades for that.
 

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DiploStrat

Expedition Leader
International travel is always a challenge. I had a Blazer for decades in Africa and South America. My friends, the Howes, have taken their Chevrolet to over 60 countries.

And I am immobile on the side of the road in Charlottesville with a burned starter. The first tow wasn't that bad, but the second is going to leave a scar while I search for and await the arrival of a new starter.

Bottom line, unless you are driving a naturally aspirated Toyota, the gremlins can always get you.

International travel can require deep pockets and friends at DHL.
 

DiploStrat

Expedition Leader
I'm heading to Expo East from Ohio early Sat morning, anything I can do to help?
If you can bring a starter for a 1990 MB 917 AF, VIN: WDB 676 182 153 570 00 (I am shotgunning all the usual suspects.)

At this point, we are planning to tow to OEXPO today. That will allow us to do our Saturday and Sunday presentations. They tell us we can remain on site until Wednesday, by which time we may have resolved more options.

Hopefully, we will see you there.

Twenty years with a US vehicle in Africa and South America and now I am busted flat in the US. :(


Oh, and horror of horrors, the milk brother broke - no cappuccino this morning. Beloved Spouse is NOT pleased. :oops:
 
If for some reason you want a USA registerable Unimog that can comfortably and relatively quietly cruise at 60mph (97kph), and is suitable for a camper, find and buy a U500NA. With proper options including EAS (electroautomatic shifting), long wheelbase, 33k GVW, CTIS, working gears, and at least H02 hydraulics. Hopefully with other useful options as well, like primary fuel filter/water separator.
I helped sell one here in Alaska this summer with all that stuff and very low mileage. I believe it sold for ~10% over new price, about $140k.
They are geared at 5.92 rather than 6.38, of course came with the UG100/8-9.57 gearbox with 0.736 8th gear.
So no need for expensive modifications. Portals hold 700ml; with temperature thermocouples it’s not too hard to monitor. Plus 14mm hex socket easily accessible to check fluid levels every 3-5k miles. Although I check anytime I see 2C difference between sides, or T>25-30C over ambient. You can also just check temperature with one of those Fluke IR “guns”.
 
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