Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Secret Machines

Emily was telling me the other day that I should post about the Unimog. When I was in the Badlands last year I came across some German tourists who had shipped their Mercedes all-terrain vehicle to the States. Mercedes Unimogs are little known in the US because they were never sold here and are difficult to service. I saw one in Seattle once – a big flatbed version, rolling down Broadway – but that's the only other one I've seen.

After flying over from Germany and retrieving their Unimog in New Jersey, these people had been touring around the countryside for about eight months.

I'm not particularly into cars – I mentioned before that I never actually bought one until we got the Jeep recently – but there are certain models that I really, really appreciate as a designer and as someone who also enjoys motoring across our great and wondrous land.

The Unimog is one of those vehicles that has reached legendary status in my mind. I like the idea of being fully self-sufficient in an enclosed space, and that's what you get with a Unimog. Everything you need to live is built in or has a place in the car.

It was introduced as an agricultural service vehicle in the late 1940s and has since taken on a number of different uses (military, snowplow, rally, etc.) Unimog comes from "Universal Motor Gerat." Gerat is apparently Kraut-talk for "machine" or "device."

After retiring, this dashing elderly couple had bought theirs so they could cross the Sahara, which they ended up doing three times. The guy had an old Leica, which also seemed to fit their lifestyle perfectly. They were not rich people, you could tell – just people who saved and bought the best thing for each requirement, and then took great care of it so it would last forever.

That is infinitely more chic than just being rich and getting what you want, when you want it.

I didn't just take pictures of German tourists and cars in the Badlands. The landscape is beautiful too.

That's my mom, looking a bit German-modernist herself.

It's beautiful there, and unlike anywhere I've ever been. I always thought of it as a drab, moon-like place, but in actuality, it's extremely colorful.

I'm looking forward to visiting again this October, in our own little self-contained roadtrip machine.

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