A generally accepted definition for a club or association is "a group of people that share in similar interests and passion".
The Unimog, with its origin shortly after the Second World War in 1948, under the then banner of Boeringer, is clearly one of those vehicles that stirs passion and brings specific, like-minded people together.
“The smell of diesel smoke and the sound of the OM352 pumping air and warming up at sunrise” will bring back many memories to quite a few readers. And, the more you get to know it, the more it becomes part of your blood.
The history of the Club starts off with four people who each had a different but related role.
Each of them had their own reason for his very personal, deep-rooted passion. It was only a matter of time for them to kindle the fire. Who were they?
Carel Roux from Sabie, who virtually grew up in the Unimog workshops of Mercedes-Benz from his days as a young apprentice, and best known as Mr 411. Daan Conroy, an academic, Unimog fanatic and purist with a passion for the 404S and the 411s.Daan also owned the oldest Unimog in South Africa, a 1951 2010. Ferdi de Beer was the key Unimog specialist with Mercedes-Benz in South Africa and a Unimog owner. Stefan Coetzee whose passion for the Unimog stems from his military experience during 1975, when the Unimog was deployed on a large scale for the first time, and an owner of a 1959 411.110 and a 1978 416.162.
Stefan started sharing 411 know-how with Daan from 2008 and with Carel from 2009. Ferdi was connected to both Daan and Carel through his role in Mercedes-Benz and his extensive knowledge of Unimogs.
Early in 2010 Carel decided to get a few Unimogs together in Sabie, on the farm of late Werner Muller. This gathering attracted eight Unimogs. In June 2010 Daan called a gathering on his plot in Zambezi Drive Pretoria, with the then-Gelandewagen Club.
Twelve Unimogs were at this gathering, of which only two were at the Sabie gathering earlier in the year. Ferdi joined with his 416 Doka and Stefan with his 411.110.
Both were not at the Sabie gathering with their Unimogs. It was on this day that Ferdi and Stefan met for the first time, and it was here, when Daan did the introductions, that he said, “You two should start a club”.
The fire was lit! And it was at this gathering that the original cap with the first logo, which Stefan designed for himself and had embroidered for what he thought would be a good place to start an informal trend, was handed to the Unimog owners there.
Shortly after the “Daan gathering” Ferdi and Stefan got together to share their personal visions of a possible club. After many an hour of talking through the whys and why-nots, whats and the hows, their individual visions folded into single one both felt comfortable with.
The club in principle could be a reality. The most important decision then was that the club will be for Unimog owners only. The passion will, through this, bring all into one big family where those near and dear to the owners can participate as members of this future family.
The cornerstone was there. The passion clearly pumping through the blood.
To make it a reality was the next big step. During the rest of 2010 both Ferdi and Stefan started talking to Unimog owners and tested the waters.
The enthusiasm was overwhelming. Many felt that it is the first time that they will be among others that understood this contagious passion. During the last quarter of 2010 meetings were held with Daan to get his input and advice on the vision and a trip or two to Sabie for meetings with Carel cemented the way forward.
An official, constitution-based Club would be formed. This would happen in Sabie, with the date set for the weekend of March 18 to 21, 2011. From here on, Ferdi and Stefan pulled in others to assist.
Marna Roux from Sabie to help get the accommodation and site matters sorted, Ray Thompson to help with the writing of the constitution, Daan to be the purist who made sure we do the right things and the wives and children who knew there was something brewing.
Final checks and balances were in place by the end of February 2011, as were invites to guests of honour, including Oom Johny Gavin, formerly from MBSA and now a pensioner and known in South Africa as Mr Unimog.
Those we knew of who had Unimogs were called on. The last count in early March showed around 30 interested Unimog owners. This was indeed very encouraging, as we started off with a low base in a very small known owner’s community.
Unimogs and people interested started arriving on Friday the 18th. The press was there, Mercedes-Benz were represented and contributed significantly to various aspects for the weekend and non-owners followed the Unimogs to see what was going on.
By late Friday evening 22 Unimogs were on site and many others that did not come in their Unimogs joined in their daily runners.
The first regalia being shirts and caps, as well as an official club flag sponsored by Stefan were handed out. This created an immediate sense of community.
The family was formed that evening. Saturday morning at 10:00 all there gathered for the big moment. Ferdi opened with a welcome to each of the approximately 80 people. The special invites were singled out for their role in the world of Unimog and for making the day a special and commemorative experience. A note of appreciation from Unimog Germany was also read by Ferdi.
Ferdi shared the vision and the reality with all. Stefan then took over and explained some of the inner workings as planned and the broad principles of the constitution.
After this Stefan went ahead with the following statement, “If there are no objections to the forming of the Unimog Freunde Club of South Africa, then forever hold your voice, we now call that the Unimog Freunde Club of South Africa is official from this moment on.”
The club was alive, the vision was a reality and the family was born on Saturday March 19, 2011 at about 11:00. Today, eleven years on, the Unimog Freunde Club of South Africa is a well- respected club with a core membership of around 45 Unimog owners, who between them own around 70 personal Unimogs.
Membership spans the whole of South Africa, as wide as Cape Town to Upington, East London to Durban with the bulk in Gauteng.
The club has now reached the point where it has started discussions to establish provincial chapters, very much in the line of motorcycle clubs. Our first out the blocks is the Western Cape, where quite a number of Unimogs live. Other provinces that are promising at this point are Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal.
The club at this stage has one signature static gathering per year, which is the Pretoria Old Motor Club-hosted Cars in the Park, held annually, normally on the first Sunday of August, and has at least one big road trip per year to a destination which will allow for as many as possible to join.
There are quite a number of short trips which normally are a little impromptu in nature and could see five or six Unimogs going somewhere (slowly) for a weekend.
Unimogs in the club span a large part of the existence of the vehicle, with the 1951 2010 of Daan, through to 2022 U4000s and U5000s.
Many Unimog owners are still “unaccounted for”, so the members of the club endeavours to find and attract every Unimog they encounter, to the club. Some owners use their Unimogs as workhorses, what they are built for, and thus do not join the club.
But we still try and get them on the register, with their permission. And so it happened that that one of the members bought an early 1960s Unimog 411.112 for restoration. In the process of tracing the history it was found that this particular Unimog was originally the fire engine deployed in Nelspruit.
As proof, Carel sent the new owner a photograph of the Unimog in front of the railway station.
Another member fell in love with a 1958 411.112 Unimog in his early school days some 45 years ago.
That same Unimog, still original and in sound mechanical condition (just gone old), is now owned by Johan Oosthuizen of Hoedspruit.
Many of the 70s and 80s Unimogs running are remnants of the South African Defence Force, modified into farm workhorses or overlanders for touring. The name Buffel will ring a bell for many. Quite a few of the surviving Buffels are now fully fledged campers, and members.
The club also offers support and advice to European Unimog owners travelling in South Africa and our immediate neighbouring countries. They will come in to one of the club members owning a service centre for needed repairs, a good service and some rest before they continue on their way.
In the past months the club assisted a French, Austrian and German Unimog and there is a Dutch Unimog on its way down through Zambia that will receive a warm Unimog welcome.
A special vehicle, a special family of owners and as the Mercedes-Benz tagline says, “The work begins where the road ends.”
Any reader with a Unimog or knowing of one, can contact the Club if they would like to join or just need advice or assistance on technical matters at email@example.com or via the Facebook page of the Unimog Freunde Club of South Africa.
Founding Member and Club Secretary