Home / News / Albatross to icon: The male who saved a Mercedes G-Wagen

Albatross to icon: The male who saved a Mercedes G-Wagen

The initial thing we will notice about Heinz Neunzig, outward of a wink of effect in his eyes and that signature mustache, is his appearing earthy presence. Standing 6 feet 6 inches tall, a German-born hulk towers above those around him, a larger-than-life Mercedes-Benz retirement with proceed some-more than usually one ruin of a story to tell.

Known within a village as a male who roughly single-handedly incited a brand’s G-Wagen from a scuttled troops examination into a luminary tack it is today, Neunzig is rarely worshiped by those in a know — a vital fable with unshakeable aspirations, common views and an omnivorous clarity of adventure.

I recently had a payoff of spending several days with Neunzig and members of a Mercedes-Benz Club of America during their annual StarFest event, where we focused both my camera lens and scientific mind on a male obliged for a G-Wagen’s shelter and success. Trundling solemnly down rutted-out open entrance roads in Talladega National Forest, we chatted about life in Alabama, Heinz’s story with a company, adventures abroad and some of a obtuse famous aspects of a vehicle, interlude usually when a sole sketch was deemed necessary.

Neunzig’s story began a impulse he finished college in 1972, where his youth executive sales dilettante purpose during a dealership in Germany kick-started his career with Mercedes-Benz, never awaiting that someday he would be vital in America.

Unbeknownst to many Americans, a perfect bulk of these Mercedes-owned “mega-dealerships” is officious staggering, with incomparable operations typically carrying tighten to 1,000 employees on rug any given day, creation them a rock-solid launch pad for anyone looking to get into a automotive industry.

Learning numbers

By a time 1978 rolled around, Neunzig was being called behind to HQ in sequence to “learn a numbers.” After what seemed like an perpetuity of pulling papers, a determined automobile fan finished a preference one night to never tinker with executive work again. The then-34-year-old began seeking around about send opportunities. With a pierce to a less-than-glamorous purpose in a load outpost multiplication aligned, Heinz refocused his career on his strength in sales once more, personally emotional to work with some-more engaging automobiles.



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His large mangle came in 1979, when a brand’s G-Wagen (or Geländewagen if we wish to impute to it by a correct title, umlauts and all) was strictly dubbed a many unloved automobile in a lineup by salesmen that Heinz saw his opportunity. The boxy SUV was a “love it or hatred it” kind of contraption, and with a outline looking rather same to a 5-year-old’s artistic interpretation of what a automobile should demeanour like, had prolonged drawn Heinz’s eye.

Engineered to be a troops appurtenance above all else, a G-Wagen of yesteryear is a distant cry from a mix of utilitarianism and oppulance seen today. Stripped-down, disturbed and make-up a cost tab that with acceleration was around a third of what it is today, a section of a Benz was a bit of an albatross for a sedan and sports automobile specialist. At a time, a 4×4 was offering exclusively with a four-cylinder diesel layout, did not come with AC, was unwieldy even in short-wheelbase form and featured really few quadruped comforts.

Capable machine

Yet notwithstanding all of a frugalities, a singular locking differentials, lifted float tallness and higher breakover angles finished a Geländewagen an impossibly able off-road machine. This explains because a Shah of Persia had placed 1,000 units on sequence in 1972 for annual delivery, so creation it a central light troops automobile for a shred — a pierce that stirred Mercedes-Benz to ramp-up prolongation considerably.

Unfortunately, due to a miss of robotic open lines and a specifics of a order, by a time a vehicles were ready, a Shah was no longer in energy and Mercedes-Benz was left with a metric motherload of G-Wagens. With nary a troops customer in sight, and millions of dollars in product on a line, a usually thing left to do was neutralise a vehicles for municipal use and put them adult for sale to a public.

Due to a bricklike styling points and a non-German open indicate in Austria, a G-Wagen possibly repulsed buyers and Mercedes-Benz salespeople alike, or drew them in like no other automobile in a lineup. Heinz, in a latter camp, precious a proceed a automobile looked, and a definite 4×4 bravery and observable pattern supposing a immature salesman with a singular sales pitch.

And so it was that, in 1979, one of a brand’s slowest-selling vehicles was about to bear a offered renovate a likes of that no one within a association could ever have predicted.

Playing on a fact that people possibly desired or hated a vehicle, Neunzig formed his concentration around anticipating employees within Mercedes-Benz who also precious a G-Wagen, and from there due a open of a organisation of around a dozen specialists who would concentration exclusively on offered it. This meant formulation out complete training exercises, where a organisation would be unprotected to any arrange of off-road confront probable in a G-Wagen in sequence to infer firsthand what a automobile was able of conquering.

Neunzig also requested capitulation to strike sales elect bonuses for anyone who altered a unit, in spin conceptualizing incentives such as biannual general journey trips for a tip G-Wagen pushers, now creation a 4×4 a priority for anyone on a sales floor. These inducement trips abroad doubled as a proceed in that he could precedence unfamiliar dealerships to lift a vehicle, creation it a win-win conditions for everybody involved.

Center stage

With a unusual proceed authorized and in place, Heinz’s strategy valid to be extravagantly successful, and in no time G-Wagen muster centers began popping adult in dealerships all over Germany, with on-premise off-road exam marks portion as core stage.

Persuading a peddler to pierce a prospect’s mom and kids along for a float became a essential angle as well. Heinz explains that if we could get a whole family in a vehicle, and both a kids and their mom were carrying a round off-road, afterwards father was roughly guaranteed to get one. If a proof belligerent had not already been built during a dealership Heinz would indoctrinate employees to take a family on jaunts in circuitously forests or down dry quarries to showcase a machine’s bravery and higher traction controls. Within usually a integrate years this family-focused approach, joined with a aforementioned incentives and Heinz’s ask to have a automobile given with some-more oppulance options, had incited a G-Wagen from parking lot renegade into sales success.

At a time a strange 461 indication — a height that is still being finished today, as a exposed troops chronicle not dictated for municipal use — was a usually chronicle accessible to a tellurian market. Although Heinz has never been dependent with a stuffing of troops orders, he did offer some intriguing insights into a uses a automobile provides to governments around a world. From a Australians regulating them as a elite automobile for firefighters, to a United States Marines bearing a framework over a H1 Hummer as a drop-vehicle due to a narrower width, a G-Wagen has turn one of a many elite supervision vehicles on a tellurian market. Granted, a quarrelsome use has caused some regard as well, with shareholders regularly imploring a code to kill a car, nonetheless still it stands.

By a early 1990s, Neunzig found himself building a initial special-edition Mercedes-Benz in story (the G-Classic) and pulling a powers-that-be to pierce a 463 chronicle of a G-Wagen to America. While it took scarcely a decade for MBUSA to approve this venture, many years before Heinz had found himself tapped to spearhead a really different, though equally essential task: building a automobile to reinstate a G-Class and afterwards make it a success.

It was 1992, and a house had motionless that a inheritor to a Geländewagen indispensable to be made, convention a organisation of 7 specialists from any dilemma of a company, with Heinz station in a center. But a house was repelled by a group’s findings. After large meetings and brainstorming sessions, a Mercedes-Benz consider tank returned with a offer explaining that while a new SUV indeed indispensable to be made, gripping a G-Wagen around was also a correct pierce — and that in sequence to make a new automobile a success it would need to be finished right here in North America.

The largest marketplace for a sepulchral SUV shred demanded a prolongation site, and by Mar 1993 Heinz had been comparison to pierce to America for a M-Class plan after his successful purpose in assisting promote a plcae of a brand’s prolongation plant. These were impossibly perplexing times for Neunzig. Now a married male with 3 immature sons, he found himself relocating to a nation where he could hardly pronounce a internal language, reserved to a plan so monolithic that many group would cringe divided in fear. Spearheading a plan that compulsory building a mint automobile in a fledgling segment, though initial anticipating a ideal plcae for a factory, and afterwards bringing on a organisation of internal workers who had never built cars was usually a tip of a piston.

Throwing counsel to a wind, a bold SUV dilettante and his associates began assembly with supervision officials and a organisation during Freightliner — a code that had grown utterly gifted with a American proceed of doing things over a years. By Sep 1993, Tuscaloosa, Ala., had been selected as a home for a new plant, and by a finish of Oct a house had concluded to Heinz’s wishes to keep a G-Wagen in a portfolio as well.

After personification a pivotal purpose as one of a 5 people obliged for bringing Mercedes-Benz production to America, and overseeing a brand’s expansion in America, Neunzig was brought behind to Stuttgart in 2000 to conduct offered and sales of a G-Wagen in America, Africa and Australia. In a initial year on a marketplace in a U.S. a code sole 3,000 units, with a initial (and for a while, only) place to squeeze one being a small dealership in Santa Fe, N.M., of all places! With sales numbers ruinous all projections, a block SUV fast steamrolled into what it is today, with 50 percent of all G-Wagen sales in America these days being AMG in nature.

Bumping down rutted Alabama backroads, with members of a Mercedes-Benz Club of America following a line, a review switches behind to a obtuse famous aspects of a automobile that Heinz finds many fascinating. Apparently all products starting with a minute G within a code are named so due to a G-Wagen’s widespread recognition, and that adult until a latest version, a physique never altered many from a strange four-cylinder chronicle — a baffling suspicion deliberation that somehow Mercedes has found a proceed to things a 12-cylinder engine underneath a hood.

Military oppulance needs

Navigating delicately around angled rocks, Heinz tells of how, in 2001, a right-hand expostulate chronicle was canceled though brought behind when a Australian troops requested a shipment, and how a automobile was purposefully designed to be block and elementary in sequence to make correct and deputy in a margin as pain-free as possible. Even a windshield and hood have been engineered to be simply private and transposed with whatever piece steel or potion is fibbing around, creation a G-Wagen a usually automobile on a world that meets all troops mandate and oppulance needs.

I could go on about how Neunzig laments a fact that Mercedes-Benz no longer offers both prolonged and brief wheelbases, and that for all of a headaches, how he truly misses pushing a automobile version. We could speak about a dozens of Geländewagens he has owned, or how a 4×4² chronicle we tested a week after a time together stays his dream G, though we trust we should leave we with a fun little Neunzig story instead.

Back in 1982 and 1983, when it was still rather protected to do so, a brave German concluded to copilot a exhausting Paris-Dakar Rally with former Belgian F1 driver Jacky Ickx.

Tasked with ancillary both a use team’s classification and a offered of all 3 vehicles on attainment in Dakar, Neunzig and his environment proceeded to spend a improved partial of a subsequent dual weeks in a peppery feverishness of a Sahara with small some-more than a compass to beam them. Although their initial try did not win any accolades, their gash during a 1983 competition authorised a organisation to take initial place among any automobile fielded, and on attainment in Senegal, Neunzig soon sole all 3 “gently used” Geländewagens for cold tough money during a internal Mercedes-Benz dealership. Chortling exuberantly during a memory, Neunzig tells of his lapse to domicile in Germany a few days later, prize in one hand, hulk cosmetic bag full of money in a other, a winning impulse on any front for a male obliged for it all. 

Larger than life

Stories like these are a deutsche symbol a dozen when spending time with Neunzig. He’s a arrange of incomparable than life personality that everybody looks adult to, both literally and figuratively, and his wanderlust is usually as omnivorous as his adore for all things automotive. Although his unusual character of doing things might have stormy a few conventionalist feathers during his days with Mercedes-Benz, it was this same proceed that also finished his career such a success.

Following his retirement in 2007, Neunzig spends many of his time roving a creation with a G-Wagen bar he helped emanate and personification with his grandchildren. After 35 years of operative exclusively for a star brand, he is equal tools famous and revered, a walking G-Wagen thesaurus with a righteous adore for a V8 energy found in his personal G500, that began life as a demo automobile in Graz, Austria.

From saving a G-Wagen and branch it into a sales success, to being one of a pivotal people obliged for bringing Mercedes-Benz production to America, this male has finished implausible things for both a code itself and a thousands of people who rest on a association for employment, travel and pristine pushing pleasure. He’s a arrange of man who struggles to apart his passion from his profession, and his unrestrained is equal tools foul and inspiring. Leave it to Neunzig’s wife, Evelyn, to sum this mania adult adequately. With a devious grin she looks lovingly over during her father of 42 years and whispers to me in a inside tone, “In all of a years together we never once have disturbed about him carrying another lover. He usually has eyes for me and a G-Wagen, and some things will never change.”

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