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This 1991 Mercedes G-Wagen Restomod Has a Prime Pace of 65 MPH, and It Nonetheless Blew Us Away

This 1991 Mercedes G-Wagen Restomod Has a Prime Pace of 65 MPH, and It Nonetheless Blew Us Away

As a child, Expedition Motor Company founder Alex Levin recalls learning how to drive sitting in his father’s lap behind the wheel of a white Mercedes-Benz 250GD. In 2015, Levin imported two military-spec G-Wagen cabriolets, sight unseen, and quickly discovered just how much work both needed to approach even a semblance of drivability. He subsequently launched Expedition Motor Company (EMC) to hone the process of restoring and modernizing the “Wolf” G-Wagen, which was built originally in partnership between Mercedes-Benz and Steyr-Daimler-Puch.

Almost every military Wolf lived a roughshod life early on, often taking a beating from over-eager soldiers. Luckily, the original iteration featured a stout, steel ladder frame that can survive just about anything. Even though most never reach high mileage, Levin estimates that four out of five need an engine rebuild, most need the second and third gears replaced, and the bodies and interiors require an extensive refresh. 

A 1991 Mercedes-Benz 250GD restomod from Expedition Motor Company.

Vlad Shurigin, courtesy of Expedition Motor Company

The unique demands of producing around two Wolf restomods per month have forced Levin to amass what’s quite possibly the largest G-Wagen collection in the world, with over 160 original vehicles parked stateside. The results of that focus and determination speak for themselves: Every Wolf rolls out of EMC’s New Jersey facility with a renewed lease on life, complete with new paint, rebuilt mechanicals, a pristine convertible top—perfect for beach trips—and a refinished interior that includes wireless Apple CarPlay connectivity on a centrally mounted Pioneer touchscreen.

But don’t make the mistake of thinking that those modern touches translate to a driving experience at all similar to a current Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen. Yes, the peppy little inline-five diesel purrs to life easily on the first crank. And at lower speeds, the mill puts out plenty of torque while the short wheelbase makes maneuvering through traffic and tighter streets quite easy. But the upright, boxy body that makes G-Wagens so stylish—plus the beefy components that lead to a Wolf weighing nearly 5,600 pounds—mean that EMC’s reimagined Wolf maxes out at around 65 mph.

A view of the steering wheel and dash of a 1991 Mercedes-Benz 250GD restomod from Expedition Motor Company.

The refinished interior includes wireless Apple CarPlay connectivity on a centrally mounted Pioneer touchscreen.

Michael Van Runkle

Levin believes his clients don’t want a highway cruiser, that most buy a Wolf to putter around town or keep at their vacation homes for short hauls. “People recognize that this is not a modern-day truck,” he told Robb Report. “This is a vintage truck, and they respect the authenticity of it. It’s an analog driving experience that’s been slightly modernized so that today’s driver can have some of the creature comforts, but not all of them.”

For those use cases, this rebuilt 1991 Wolf 250GD that we’re testing hits the nail on the head. Smooth suspension, made possible by the G-Wagen’s early use of coil-spring solid axles, now employs modern Eibach springs and Bilstein dampers. Levin also upgrades the braking system with larger rotors, new calipers, and revisions to the vacuum-assist system that vastly improve pedal feel.

The inline-five diesel engine inside a 1991 Mercedes-Benz 250GD restomod from Expedition Motor Company.

The inline-five diesel engine puts out plenty of torque at lower speeds.

Vlad Shurigin, courtesy of Expedition Motor Company

One EMC owner apparently took a Wolf on a thousand-mile road trip, which, though undoubtedly slow, was probably quite comfortable. Faux-leather vinyl upholstery wrapped around the steering wheel and seats, honeycomb floor mats, climate control by Vintage Air, and seat heaters all swaddle the interior in premium touchpoints. Trim from European Oak will purposefully age, since EMC declines to finish the wood in overly applied lacquers. Even the original map light on the dash works.

Our vehicle wears classic Racing Green but with a slightly darker proprietary blend, as well as upholstery dressed in a light beige that Levin calls “Mushroom.” He typically suggests a manual transmission, though he will also spec an automatic. Further options include an engine-bay snorkel, a front bull bar, a winch, and the addition of rear jump seats.

The interior seating of a 1991 Mercedes-Benz 250GD restomod from Expedition Motor Company.

The interior, trimmed in European Oak, includes heated seats dressed in faux-leather vinyl.

Vlad Shurigin, courtesy of Expedition Motor Company

For the few buyers who plan to take their Wolf off-roading, the G-Wagen’s short wheelbase, solid-axle articulation, and both front and rear cable-locking differentials combine to create a capable rig. Hence the original shovel under the hood (“for digging your Jeep friends out of holes”) and the decision to offer original G-Wagen steel wheels shod in skinny tires.

Mercedes-Benz’s nifty two-speed transfer case has 2-Hi and 4-Hi, as well as the rare capability to shift between 4-Hi and 4-Lo on the fly. Two buttons next to this truck’s automatic-transmission gear lever, which read “W” and “S,” do get a new purpose, though: changing up the gearbox’s torque-converter lockup, rather than allowing it to start in second when W (for “winter”) is selected.

A close-up of the automatic-transmission gear lever in a 1991 Mercedes-Benz 250GD restomod from Expedition Motor Company.

The founder of Expedition Motor Company, Alex Levin, typically suggests a manual transmission, though he will also spec an automatic.

Michael Van Runkle

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Driving an EMC Wolf around Malibu required a bit of an adjustment period. Best to avoid the steeper hills flanking Pacific Coast Highway, and definitely stick to the right lane. But that’s part of the point, to revert back to a previous age of motoring with a more engaging vehicle and fewer digital distractions.

“When you’re driving a Wolf or a vintage G-Wagen . . . you’re not taking conference calls,” Levin said. “You’re probably not texting and driving because you’re shifting through the gears and you need to pay attention to the road.”

Meanwhile, the upgraded suspension prevents too much classic-SUV body roll and easily absorbs ruts, potholes, and speed bumps. Even with the convertible top removed, the Wolf never goes fast enough for wind noise to become a big issue. And zero creaks or rattles emanate from the body or drivetrain, possibly the truest testament to EMC’s extensive experience.

A 1991 Mercedes-Benz 250GD restomod from Expedition Motor Company.

This engaging vehicle harkens back to a previous era of motoring, one without digital distractions.

Vlad Shurigin, courtesy of Expedition Motor Company

Pricing for an EMC Wolf typically hovers around $170,000, and Levin aims to average around 25 to 30 builds per year, each of which requires around 2,100 hours of labor and an average of $40,000 in genuine Mercedes-Benz parts. Sticking with OEM components means that every Wolf can still be serviced at any dealer or German specialist shop, and Levin flatly rejects the possibility of LS swaps and EV conversions that so many restomod companies take on these days. Instead, he wants to keep EMC’s Wolf builds as close to how Mercedes did it back in the day, and preserve the elemental driving experience in the modern era.

Click here for more photos of this 1991 Mercedes-Benz “Wolf” G-Wagen restomod.

A 1991 Mercedes-Benz 250GD restomod from Expedition Motor Company.

A 1991 Mercedes-Benz 250GD restomod from Expedition Motor Company.

Vlad Shurigin, courtesy of Expedition Motor Company

Source: Robb Report

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