Ceci n’est pas une Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen. Well, this is a G-Wagen, it just isn’t a Mercedes G-Wagen. Confused yet? Don’t worry, you’re not the only one. The family tree of the Mercedes-Benz Geländewagen is gnarled and expansive, with an inordinate number of special editions and military versions that we Americans never even got wind of, let alone bought from a dealer.
Heck, we have a hard time imagining a stripped-out utilitarian version of the blinged-out rolling clout-box that is our version of the G-Class here in the States. Since we first got our greedy little hands on the G-Class in 2001, Mercedes has only offered the leather-lined luxury variant of the venerable G to America, while the rest of the world enjoys the full range of off-road scented flavors.
That’s not to say you can’t wrangle a luxury G-Wagen in Europe, it’s just that you have to make a clear decision between a backroad workhorse with cloth seats or a Kevlar-lined Birkin bag. In that regard, most of the Gs you find in Europe have a range of four- and six-cylinder engines in both diesel and gas configurations, while Americans have only had V-8 G-Wagens since 2001.
This all to say that when Mercedes finally did slot a V-8 under that slab of a front hood, it was a big deal for the G-faithful. In 1993, Mercedes crammed the 5.0-liter M117 V-8 into the most luxurious civilian G it made and dubbed it the 500 GE, a prescient precursor to the soon-to-be baller-box that arrived in the early 2000s. Unlike the 577-hp brawler found in the current Mercedes-AMG G63, the most the aged M117 could muster was a reasonable 237 hp and 269 lb-ft of torque, enough for a 0-60 mph chug in 11.4 seconds. Well, at least it sounded good while doing it. Only 446 500 GEs were made between 1993 and 1994 before production ended, and it wasn’t until 1998 that you could once again spec a V-8 in the then-new G 500.
So, as far as older G-Wagens go, this one’s pretty special—except, it’s way, way more special than even a regular 500 GE, as this is just one of three Puch 500 GEs ever made. Yes, like I said—not a Mercedes. Under an agreement between Daimler-Benz (parent to Mercedes-Benz) and Steyr-Daimler-Puch, any and all G-Wagens sold in Austria, Switzerland, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia, and Mongolia carry Puch branding, done so under the argument that the “Puch” name carried weight in the off-road sector in the late 1970s and 1980s when the deal was first struck. From 1979 through 2000, these Puch-branded G’s ruled the off-road of its limited markets, wearing bespoke badging to distinguish it from the regular Mercedes.
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So, of the 446 500 GEs, only three of them left the Steyr-Daimler-Puch factory with Puch badges. This Puch 500 GE up for grabs at RM Sotheby’s Essen sale later this summer is one of the finer examples, as it wears fetching Amethystblau Metallic paint, known primarily for its use in promotional materials and press drives when new. It holds the distinction of being the 500 GE used for homologation and testing by Puch, and comes with a bundle of related paperwork and historical documents.
For someone with eclectic tastes, this is a very solid buy, especially considering how the G-Wagen market has yet to explode with the same ferocity as the rest of the vintage Mercedes sector. If anything, this is an excellent conversation piece to have as a runabout in the Hamptons or on your Wyoming ranch.