"The Most Adventurous Mercedes"

By B. Johannsen ©1995

It was 30 years ago, back in 1970, when James Ince, first encountered Mercedes-Benz four wheel drive UNIMOGS in the deserts of Afghanistan. He was then operating a medical clinic for Tibetan refugees in the Himalayan Kingdom of Nepal, and traveled the 6,000 mile Asian Highway in various Mercedes-Benz trucks once or twice annually, over a period of 10 years. Jim, an American, founded and ran the free clinic for these years with the help of the International Red Cross, The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), Shanta Bhawan Missionary Hospital, and private donations received through a charitable organization he founded in Canada 1973. During this time he did alot of the kind of overland traveling it takes to learn that where other vehicles fail, the all-terrain Mercedes makes it through. Thus, on one of his periodic return trips to his home in the Bavarian Alps south of Munich, Germany, he and his bride-to-be, Birgit, purchased their first UNIMOG, a 1.5 ton all wheel drive "UNIMOG-S" equipped with a special van body. Birgit and Jim prepared and outfitted the go-anywhere motorhome with complete galley and auxillary heating system for the overland journies where self-sufficiency and independence were a must. On the first trip, temperatures dipped to 30 degrees Fahrenheit below zero along the stretch from the Black Sea and Mt. Ararat in eastern Turkey, to the Caspian Sea in northern Iran.

The "MOG" turned out to be just right for the task. Since Jim asked no money for the medical services which focused on Tuberculosis and tropical illnesses, he made UNIMOG sorties throughout the hinterlands of the middle east and Asia on the lookout for collectibles, antiques, rugs and other weavings and artifacts, which he transported back to the art and antique markets of Europe. With the UNIMOG, he could get to the most remote desert oases, where nomad weavings and other treasures could be found far more reasonably than in the bazaars of Istanbul, Tehran, Kabul and Kathmandu. Indeed, other westerners would often follow Jim and Birgit along their 40-day overland odyssey, especially through the Hindu Kush Mountains and the Margo Desert of Afghanistan, where the MOG's cable winch, tow bar and mud/snow chains were everyone's lifeline, without which all would have had to turn back, or remain stranded. He recalls many scenes with Landrovers, Range Rovers, Toyotas, Jeeps and even a bus in tow behind the MOG through axle-swallowing mud and deep drifts of snow! On one particularly memorable occasion, the MOG led, and at times individually dragged, an evacuation convoy across 800 miles of Iranian desert during the Shah's fall from power, circling the several dozen assorted vehicles at oasis rest and fuel stops.

As history unfolded, the Shah's Peacock Throne crumbled (during one of their trips along the Caspian Sea!) and the communists pulled off their coup in Kabul, essentially closing the Asian Highway (for Americans) just East of Mount Ararat on the high plateau at the Persian frontier. Not to be stopped, Jim headed for India and the East by traveling west, via the States, and with the UNIMOG. There, faced with increased Pacific Ocean freight charges, he sold both the MOG and another of his special-purpose Mercedes trucks, an L-319-D purchased years earlier as the clinic's ambulance in the Himalayas..

Jim reckons that the UNIMOG has taken him "on some of the most adventurous back country tracks on the planet" and has demonstrated to him "almost unimaginable capabilities" there, and in powering a wide array of implements on their ranch. With "a product of this caliber", he looks to the future with hope and enthusiasm. "After all", he says, "the Mercedes-Benz Star stands for excellence and innovation in engineering, also for industry and commerce. Plus, being the most successful truck manufacturer on the planet, with ready market access, why should anyone settle for less?"

This article was authored by B. Johannsen and translated by James Ince ©1995, All Rights Reserved. Revised March, 1995.

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