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Two people, a Mercedes G-Wagen, and their 23-year, 500,000 mile journey around the world

Gunther HoltorfIn 1989, Gunther Holtorf and his wife Christine climbed aboard their 1988 Mercedes Benz G-Wagen to travel from Germany to Africa, where they planned to complete a once-in-a-lifetime road trip that would last 18-months.

Except the trip didn’t last 18-months, it has lasted 23 years, spanned more than 200 countries and the G-Wagen now has 800,000 kilometers, or 500,000 miles, on its odometer. That’s the equivalent of 20 times around the equator.

The trio have visited everywhere from Alaska to Zimbabwe by way of North Korea, the Sahara desert, Mount Everest and Siberia in an effort to drive around the globe. Sadly, Gunther’s wife Christine passed away in 2010, but he has continued to travel the world, as per her wishes.

In June this year, the Philippines became the 200th country visited, and the G-Wagen showed 799,783 kilometers on the clock.

At 74-years old, Gunther Holtorf is an inspiration, but for all his and Christine’s determination, they couldn’t have done it without Otto — the name given to their trusty G-Wagen.

Powered by a 3.0 liter diesel engine, which produced around 85 horsepower when new, the 300GD was never fast, but it is very, very strong. Quite apart from reaching 500,000 miles, Gunther’s G-Class is continuously overweight, as he carries 500 kilograms (1100 pounds) of equipment on the roof, plus the car is his home – meaning it contains everything he needs to survive, from sleeping quarters to a shower.

He estimates the total laden weight to be 3,300 kilograms, or 7,275 pounds. Its style is also a far cry from many modern G-Class’s too.

Holtorf Otto OdometerAs reliable as the car is, things can go wrong, and more than half of that extra weight on the roof is made up of hard-to-find, genuine Mercedes spares, all of which he fits himself when the need arises.

When another 100,000 kilometers is about to pass, Otto returns to a Mercedes dealer in Europe, where the instrument binnacle is opened, and a new sixth digit is stuck next to the standard five-digit readout.

A 20-year old GPS unit, a traditional paper map and a diesel additive is about as technical as it gets, and don’t go looking for a website, Facebook page or Twitter feed on Gunther’s exploits either, as the adventure is strictly low-key.

Gunther Holtorf and his G-Wagen will finish their incredible journey next year, when the car will retire to the Mercedes museum in Stuttgart, Germany.

Take a look at this amazing slideshow made up of images taken by Gunther, on film with a pair of Leica cameras, and those by photographer David Lemke. It charts not only Gunther and Christine’s truly inspirational adventure, but the astonishing ability of the humble car too.