An alphabetical series of short driving impressions of some of the museum’s car collection. This month we borrow and take a ride in the L’Ormarins Estate’s Unimog fire tender.

With such a large of land to maintain and protect, it is hardly surprising that the L’Ormarins Estate has a fire tender as part of its fleet of maintenance vehicles. It is based on a 1974 Mercedes-Benz Unimog 416-162 chassis that was originally made into a Bosvark, an armoured personnel carrier used by the South African Army during the Border War. The Bosvark offered limited landmine protection to the crew, but compensated for this with good off-road mobility. The Bosvark was replaced with an improved version called the Buffel in 1978, but the fire tender is one of the original 54 chassis that were converted into Bosvarks.

The name Unimog  is an acronym for the German “UNIversal-MOtor-Gerät”, Gerät being the German word for device, also in the sense of machine, instrument, gear, apparatus. Production began in 1951.

Engine is a Mercedes-Benz OM352 5,7-litre six-cylinder naturally-aspirated diesel developing around 80 kW. Gearbox is a four-speed with high and low range with a separate lever for selecting reverse. There is also a diff lock. Riding on its 11-inch wide rims shod with 12.5 20 10-ply tyres, top speed is around 80 km/h with the heavy duty truck-derived motor turning at just 2 800 r/min. A hand throttle helps when slow but steady progress is the order of the day. But no matter at what speed you are travelling, the Unimog’s forward control configuration means that half of the engine protrudes inside the cab under a basic cover so the noise level is deafening. Sound deadening is non-existent, panels fit where they touch and the number of exposed metal catches, latches, levers and handles would make Ralph Nader and all subsequent safety-conscious promoters cringe in absolute despair. The only crumple zone in a Unimog is your own body…

The fire tender is equipped with a giant water tank and generator-powered hose equipment and its all-up weight is 3 430 kg. High ground clearance and a relatively flat undercarriage add to the Unimog’s go-anywhere attributes and its turning circle is remarkably small. It has been used on occasion to put out small fires on the estate, but thankfully the occasions have been few and far between. I wonder what Fireman Sam would make of it? MM

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