After 38 years the oldest vehicle in the Mercedes range has been replaced by a more civilised version. GQ motoring ed Dieter Losskarn says cheers to one of his all-time favourite cars, the legendary G wagon. In a species-appropriate manner: 5500 kilometres through South Africa and Namibia, across dusty dirt roads with murderous corrugation, through deep, red sand with temperatures ranging between 14 and 40 degrees Celsius. And because this would have been just too easy in a G 350 D, he chose the ballistic G 63 AMG instead for this farewell adventure.
This dreadful feeling you get in the desert, when the petrol station you remember from previous trips is abandoned and your current range does not quite match the distance to the next one. While the now pump-less place, somewhere between Mariental and Keetmanshoop, looks rather photogenic I am slightly worried about the next 150 kilometres of nothingness. What was a fun-filled, fossil fuel burning blast so far, is now turning into an involuntary eco-challenge.
Time to reflect a little bit about the G. How about some fun facts? No, not those ones. By now we all know, that the Pope used to love his special one, the Popemobile in mystic-white, with a glass dome for easy Pope-viewing and a catholic converter. We are also aware, that the Russian mafia preferred the G in black with tinted windows and Hollywood stars like Arnold and Bruce enhanced their masculinity with the icon from Schwarzenzegger’s Austrian hometown Graz. Yes, this German car has been handmade in Austria for almost four decades now. But who initiated its inception? It was none other than the former Schah (King) of Persia (Iran). Once upon a time the proud owner of 25% Daimler stock, he asked Mercedes-Benz to build him an off roader, fit for for a king, as he was sick and tired of being chauffeured through the desert in an old Jeep to inspect his troops.
The inventor of the automobile obliged and together with Austrian 4×4 specialist Steyr-Puch the Geländewagen was born. Though Germany stopped calling him that in 1989 already. Since then it is simply known as the ‘G’. It was introduced in 1979, ironically just when the one Iranian dictator was replaced by an even worse one.
50 more kilometres to Keetmanshoop. The range shows 42km. This might work. The embarrassing thing is, that I am being overtaken by just about anything on wheels.
And now in 2018, almost 40 years later, the ‚G‘ is being replaced by a new, more civilised model. Judging by the pictures it luckily retains the boxy shape and iconic style. But it is a complete new car. As far as I know only the door handles were reused from the old G. Reason enough to give the previous one an adequate farewell, with a 5500 km long trip through South Africa and Namibia. And yes, it would have been much more sensible to tackle this adventurous journey in a G 350 D. But less spectacular. The G doesn’t deserve boring. And obviously there is G in AMG. Wherever the G 63 shows up, growling in a guttural fashion, like a slightly irritated lion, it attracts enormous attention. Even in the tiniest desert hamlet, people gather and pay homage to this automobile primary rock. They are stunned to see a non-diesel so far from home. And each petrol attendant automatically grabs the black nozzle first, until I let the G growl again. ‚V8, V8.‘ And the green Premium Unleaded purse-killing device comes out.
For the long stretch on perfect tarmac between Cape Town and the Northern Cape the Conti street tyres, engineered for speeds up to 220km/h, are the perfect, smooth and fast choice. And the G does what it always loved to do: refusing to go in a straight line and handling like a truck. But that’s exactly what you expect and want from him. In the ballistic G 63 AMG the cruising speed is still at 150km/h to 160km/h, while the wide desert landscapes are rolling away below the tyres. An almost meditative experience.
I love small border crossings. Especially the one in Sendelingsdrif, in the barren Richtersveld. Shaken and stirred from the first violently corrugated dirt road of the trip we reach the border post. The police commander is enraptured by the iridium silver G. She asks whether she could sit in it for a selfie. No problem, whatever eases the red tape. Her colleague knows exactly what AMG means: All Money Gone. We have a lot of fun, before we board the tiny pont across the Orange River. Just us, the uniforms and the G. On the other side we roll onto Namibian soil.
Apart from grand mountain and desert landscapes, Namibia, the former German colony Deutsch-Südwest-Afrika (German Southwest Africa), has another huge advantage. Because of the past you can get beer on tap, brewed in accordance with the German purity law nearly everywhere. A joy to behold in the desert. Just remember three names: Hansa, Tafel and Windhoek. Namibia is twice as big as Germany, but only has a population of two million-odd people, of whom 80% are living in the far North. The South with its two (semi) deserts, Namib and Kalahari, is practically – excuse the pun – deserted.
After the impressive Fish River Canyon we continue on nasty corrugated dirt roads, forcing us down to walking pace (rather embarrassing in an AMG) due to the wrong tyre choice (see boxed text; ‘Re-tyring the G 63 AMG’), to the giant red sand dunes of Sossusvlei. There the AM-G can show its full potential again. On sand and tarmac the wide rubbers are terrific.
And just when we thought, that it couldn’t get any worse, we hit the C 14 towards Swakopmund, after a petrol and apple cake stop at Solitaire. Not knowing, it would turn into the longest day of the trip. Tyres torn to shreds and various lost body parts at the side of the track augur badly. I’ve got the feeling, that the G shivers in anticipation of what is to come. In the end it takes us nine hours to battle 330 kilometres. And only the thought of a freshly drawn beer and a crispy pork knuckle in the Strand Hotel in Swakopmund keeps us upright. There is a huge temperature difference between the Namib, whose sand dunes reach the city streets, and the former German town. Temperatures between 18 and 20 degrees are perfect to devour a crispy pork knuckle. In the desert, food like this would have been too heavy. If the G would be a meal it would definitely be a crispy pork knuckle. Substantial and lekker.
After days of tranquility and expanse the first robot in Swakopmund shocks us back into civilisation. And it remains urban. After another driving day we reach Windhoek, Africa’s smallest and most contemplative capitol city. We meet some G owners at the awesome Old Wheelers Club, eat giant bratwurst at Joe’s Beerhouse and stay overnight in a historic, German castle on top of a hill.
I am coasting down a hill right now, with zero range, all warning lights on and reach the petrol station in Keetmanshoop on fumes alone. From here on it is going back home. But as fellow G enthusiast Schwarzenegger once remarked so aptly: ‚I‘ll be back‘. Next time in the new G – and with proper tyres.
18,7 litres/100km average consumption during the trip
1 litre of oil
1 tyre puncture
Re-tyring the G 63 AMG
The Original Continental street tyres on the 21inch wheels of the G are not suited for the murderous corrugated dirt roads of Namibia. An extremely cautious pace (not so easy with 420kW) resulted in only one puncture during the entire trip. As there is no off road tyre available for the 21inch wheels, the G 63 AMG would have to be fitted with the 20inch wheels instead. Anything smaller than that is also not feasible, as the AMG brake calipers are too large. For the 20inch wheels there are two excellent Allterrain tyre choices (275/55R20) available: the Yokohama Geolander and the Pirelli Scorpion ATR. The following tyre pressures are optimal for both tyres: 2,4 bar on tar, 1,5 bar on sand and 1,8 bar on the nasty, corrugated stuff. Equipped accordingly I would ‘flown’ over the corrugation with 80 to 100km/h, instead of limping across with 20km/h.
G 63 AMG (2017)
Engine: 5,5-l.-V8 biturbo, paired with an AMG 9-G-tronic Speedshift Plus auto
Power: 420 kW
Torque: 760 Nm
Top speed: 220 km/h
0-100km/h: 5.4 seconds
Price: from R2 459 000 (last price for the ‘old’ one in 2018)
Travel tips South Africa/Namibia
Naries Namaqua Retreat
Springbok – www.naries.co.za
Wonderful old farm in a quiet setting, a couple of kilometres out of Springbok. The thatched Mountain Suites are the best overnight option.
Fish River Lodge
Fish River Canyon – www.fishriverlodge-namibia.com
Unbelievable position, with a pool right on the edge of the Fish River Canyon.
The giant, natural rocks of the surrounding landscape are partially used as walls in the thatched overnight houses. Most beautiful pool of the trip.
An absolute mecca for petroliana fans – ‚In rust we trust‘. A cool collection of vintage enamel signs, petrol pumps, oil cans, tools and vintage cars, inside and out, with more or less patina. The former farm water reservoir is now a highly appreciated pool in the heat.
Staying overnight amidst the magnificent, red sand dunes of the Namib in this mother of all Namibian eco lodges.
Namib Dune Star Camp
On the very top of a sand dune, far away from everything else, is this unusual overnight stay.
One of the most stunning lodges in Namibia, a real desert dream. Afro-chic design is paired with excellent service and an unbeatable location close to Sossusvlei.
Kulala Desert Lodge
The sister lodge to Little Kulala and a slightly more rustic overnight stay, catering for more guests. Perfect position, even closer to Sossusvlei and a private entrance into the park.
Swakopmund – www.gondwana-collection.com
The author’s favourite hotel in Swakopmund. Relaxed, airy and cool. Fantastic breakfast, with fresh oysters and bubbly. Barman Jerome creates his cocktails passionately.
Windhoek – www.heinitzburg.com
Guest in a castle in Africa. Staying overnight in a German chateau and dine at Leo’s, Namibia’s best restaurant. When we arrived, the Namibian president just finished his lunch there, so we knew we were in the right spot. His bodyguards prefered the G to the fleet of S-classes parked in front of the hotel.
Kalahari Anib Lodge
Kalahari – www.gondwana-collection.com
A very large lodge, which caters for many guests. Nothing for those seeking tranquillity, but the sundowner drive and the food quality is excellent.
GQ hot tip
Tutwa Desert Lodge
Augrabies – www.tutwalodge.co.za
One of the most beautiful lodges in Southern Africa. Here, everything is 10/10. The adventurous drive to there, architecture and breath taking position at the Orange River. Tutwa Desert Lodge owns 28 km of river frontage. Service and food quality are outstanding. An absolute highlight is the sundowner drive in the open Land Rover with rafts on the roof through an impressive canyon to the river. Sundowner on some rocks in the river after some relaxing paddling.
De Bergkant Lodge
Prince Albert – www.debergkant.com
The most beautiful overnight stay in Prince Albert in the historic parsonage. Friendly Swiss owner couple.
Old Wheelers Club
Windhoek – www.oldwheelers.com
Have a beer on tap and some great food in the cool club house of Namibia’s Old Wheeler Club. Weird characters guaranteed, like Siggi the guy in the red Madcedes with wooden (!) airbag.