It’s a common dream to just drop everything, load up the car and make a life on the open road traveling from place to place. The vast of majority of us just fantasize about it, but it’s a reality for the German couple Gunther and Christine Holtorf. They are just finishing what might be the world’s longest road trip covering around 560,000 miles in a Mercedes-Benz 300GD named Otto (pictured above right) over the past 26 years.
G-Wagon and Traveling
Their goal was to visit as many countries as possible, and they ended up reached 215, including places like base camp at Mount Everest; they definitely achieved their dream. The same distance would have gotten them from the Earth to the moon and back, plus a few thousand extra miles to just cruise around.
Holtorf claims that Otto (the G-wagon) remained mostly stock for the Odyssey. “The entire drivetrain with the engine, transmission, and axles is still original,” he said. However, some upgraded suspension parts were installed to handle the extra load from all the supplies the couple needed to carry.
Otto isn’t retiring quite yet, but the hard part is over. The 300GD is going on display briefly at the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart and then taking a tour of the company’s dealers in Europe.
Coinciding with the latest stop in Otto’s voyage, the G-Class is celebrating its 35th anniversary. To commemorate it in Europe, Mercedes is launching the Edition 35 version (pictured above left) of the long-living truck. It gets obsidian black metallic parts for the bumpers, wheel arches, side mirrors and roof and a similar motif for the interior, as well. “I promise that there will still be a G-Class in the future,” said Daimler chairman Dr. Dieter Zetsche in the company’s announcement.
There’s a full chronicle of the trip with many videos, but it’s in German. The BBC also has an excellent long-form piece about the couple in English.
Mercedes-Benz G-Class: The G-Wagon and Traveling
After reading this, you’ll probably want to change your car to a G-wagon but remember that these vehicles don’t come cheap.
A World Record Adventure And A Special G-Wagon Model
Stuttgart. One man, one G, one life’s work. That sums up the essence of an unprecedented global adventure. When Gunther Holtorf and his wife Christine set out in their Mercedes-Benz 300 GD to visit as many of the countries around the world as possible, the G-Class was just ten years old. Today, some 26 years, just under 900,000 kilometers, and 215 visited countries later, Gunther Holtorf drove his cherished G – christened ‘Otto’ – back home to Swabia. The marathon vehicle will take pride of place in the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart-Untertürkheim, where it will go on show to visitors in the Classic Cars section from 21 October. As a world-record holder, ‘Otto’ will also be immortalized in the Guinness World Records. Since the finish of this unique journey around the world will coincide with the 35th anniversary of the G-Class, the occasion will be marked with the launch of the highly exclusive G 350 BlueTEC Edition 35 and G 500 Edition 35 special models.
When the vehicle was officially handed over to the Mercedes-Benz Museum, Dr. Dieter Zetsche, Chairman of the Board of Management of Daimler AG and Head of Mercedes-Benz Cars, was equally impressed by the driver and the vehicle. “I promise that there will still be a G-Class in the future. Will there be more characters of Mr. Holtorf’s ilk in the future? I hope so,” said Dr Zetsche.
For 77-year-old Gunther Holtorf, his Mercedes-Benz 300 GD, which his wife Christine affectionately christened ‘Otto’, is quite simply the expedition vehicle par excellence for this kind of (torturous) tour. “In 1988, when I bought the car I was a bit more skeptical about the promise made by Mercedes-Benz, namely “Where there’s a G, there’s a way”. After all, I’d already seen something of the world beforehand and had a rough idea of what the vehicle would have to endure on this kind of world tour!” This initial skepticism gave way through to an unreserved trust in Otto’s capabilities as the years went by. Especially in precarious situations, the symbiosis between the Holtorf and the G-Class grew.
Earth – Moon – Earth plus 80,000 km under grueling conditions
The 300 GD covered over 250,000 of the just under 900,000 kilometers off-road, perfectly in tune with its innate characteristics. On gravel or washboard roads, in mud, on pot-holed roads or rocky uphill stretches in the mountains – for the suspension and chassis this punishing workout is equivalent to around 2.5 million kilometers under normal central European conditions. In addition to the challenging terrain, there were also the disparate meteorological conditions to contend with, which ‘Otto’ took in its stride throughout all the world’s climate zones – from the unforgiving searing heat of the desert, through steaming jungle regions to the freezing cold of the Arctic climes. As if the demands on the 300 GD were not already high enough, ‘Otto’ actually always had to contend with overweight. Including expedition gear and food, with jerry cans, operating supplies, tools, recovery gear, spare parts and spare wheels, the expedition vehicle fully tipped the scales at 3.3 tonnes – around 500 kilograms in excess of the permissible gross vehicle weight. The roof alone of the cross-country vehicle had to take 400 kilograms. But according to the Holtorf even that could not faze the world record vehicle: “Actually the G was always overladen, which is why I fitted it with reinforced springs and bad-road shock absorbers. Otherwise, ‘Otto’ remains like any series-production vehicle. The entire drivetrain with the engine, transmission, and axles is still original. Neither the frame nor the body has shown any signs of fatigue.”
The Journey Finally Comes To An End
By the time the vehicle crosses the finish line in Stuttgart today, Gunther and his now deceased wife Christine Holtorf will have traveled around 215 countries with Otto. “Travelled around – mind you!”, stresses the former pilot and aerospace manager. “A quick stop, with a stamp in your passport to prove it and a symbolic photo with the vehicle at the border crossing – that was never enough for us! In our eyes, you can only travel through a country once you’ve delved into the particular hemisphere, come into close contact with the locals and got to know their very many facets.” Once a country had been ticked off according to these criteria, another red line was added to the personal world map “ROUND-THE-WORLD RECORD TOUR 1990 – 2014.” This now definitive world map is crisscrossed by red lines and, in the course of his tour planning, had opened a few doors for Gunther Holtorf, letting him undertake journeys which hitherto had been deemed impossible. Such as through entirely inaccessible countries like North Korea and Myanmar or the grand tour through China across 25,000 kilometers with only him at the wheel. Gunther Holtorf calls these journeys “pioneer tours” – the first time a foreign vehicle with a foreign driver was allowed to drive through the particular country.
Before ‘Otto’ the famous traveling G-wagon gets his definitive space in the Mercedes-Benz Museum, he’s going to be sent out on the road again for two years from the end of February 2015 – traveling around the Mercedes-Benz Centres and company-owned sales and service outlets in Germany and Europe. ‘Otto’ will accompany a touring exhibition developed specially for the vehicle, recounting his interesting stopovers and most impressive experiences.
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A Quick Glance At The G-Wagon 300 GD World-Record Tour
897,000, equivalent to about 22 times around the Earth or
Earth – Moon and back plus another two times around the Earth
Of which kilometers off-road
410 (outside Europe)
Ocean container shipments
Deep-sea ferry passages
Base Camp Mount Everest 5200 meters above mean sea level
Dead Sea/Death Valley, both around
150 meters below sea level
The coldest places on the tour
Near Irkutsk, Siberia, -27 degrees Celsius
The hottest place on the tour
Australian outback near Alice Springs,
+50 degrees Celsius
Other Statistical Data
Total time spent driving equivalent to 3.5 years
Stops at border posts around half a year
Technical Data Mercedes-Benz 300 GD
Ladder-type frame with bolted-on body,
Long Station Wagon
5-cylinder in-line diesel engine
Indirect diesel pre-chamber injection, Bosch piston injection pump
65/88 at 4000 rpm
170 at 2400 mm
4-speed manual transmission, engageable all-wheel drive, low range, engageable differential locks front/rear
Kerb weight/payload kg
Expedition weight ‘Otto’ kg
Top speed km/h