Peter Anderson | Aug 20, 2012

Mercedes' first four-wheel-drive, the Dernburg-wagen was launched 105 years ago in 1907, when the brand traded as Daimler.

The wagen's name came later, from Secretary of State at the German Colonial Office, Bernhard Dernburg.

Praising the car's abilities and those of driver-mechanic Paul Ritter, Dernburg used the wagen in lieu of travelling on horseback.

The beast was launched as a commercial vehicle capable of carrying five people, although it might be a stretch to say they were carried in comfort.

The 6.8 litre four-cylinder was good for a very modest 26kW at 800rpm and a top speed of 40km/h.

The machine measured 4.9 metres long and 2.7 metres high, with kerb weight coming in at a substantial 3.6 tonnes fully-laden. Ground clearance was a huge 32 centimetres.

As well as four-wheel drive, Paul Daimler's design also featured all-wheel-steering and protection against airborne sand, which came in handy for its tours of duty in German South West Africa.

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Forty years after the Dernburg, the Universalmotorgaret, or Unimog, again broke the mould.

Almost endlessly configurable, the Unimog has been configured for work as a fire truck, radio truck, crane, snow plough and farm vehicle.

The Unimog remains a firm favourite with the military, particularly NATO, with uses such as troop transport and ambulance. Second-hand NATO Unimogs are popular with enthusiasts.

The 1972 Gelaendewagen, or G-Class, also won fans with the world's armed forces. It could climb an 80 percent grade and drive almost on its side at a 54 percent angle.

Over a century later, Mercedes has expanded its use of four wheel drive with the M- and GL-Class models.

The upcoming A 45 AMG hot hatch will also make use of four-wheel drive to deliver its substantial power to the road.

Filed under Mercedes-Benz 4wd News history