What’s it like to drive a 1980 MERCEDES UNIMOG 406? Bitchin…’

What’s it like to drive a 1980 MERCEDES UNIMOG 406? Bitchin…’

Every now and then at Malibu Cars & Coffee, this unbelievable truck would show up and leave jaws dropped. But to say it was a rugged off-roader would be an understatement, and you’d also expect that it would be driven by a beer guzzling, pot-bellied, semi-driving, chew spitting kind of guy. Well, you’d be so wrong.

Ari Soffer’s 1980 Mercedes Unimog 406 is what any off-road enthusiast would dream of having. And, of course, living in Malibu, we have one. So, I reached out to Ari and said “I need to see this beast up close and feel what it can do.” 

Ari is a long time Malibuite and manages that by being an incredible Jewelry and leather designer at www.sofferaristore.com. His standards are very high and when he snagged this Unimog, it had the potential that he wanted. 

“I’ve owned it for three or so years and bought it on Ebay with 1,600 original miles,” Ari said. “It came from a guy in Chicago who bought it from the Mercedes dealer there and was never titled because it was used as a snowplow on the dealer lot and was never driven on the street. After they were done, it sat for a while until they decided to sell it at auction. It’s technically a tractor.

We removed the snowplow which weighed 3,500 pounds and recycled the metal in Chicago. The truck arrived here in Malibu on a car carrier and I had it titled as a pick-up truck. Spent the next two years restoring and rebuilding it into what I have now.” 

And it’s as military spec as it gets, with 125 horsepower, 5.7 liter military diesel inline 6 with a “hot rod tune.”  Ari advanced the timing and turned the diesel pump up which brought the power from its stock agriculture tuned 75 horsepower up to 125horsepower. Night and day difference.

He then raised the rev limiter from 2200 rpm to 3100 rpm. This, along with the taller tires, brought the top speed up from 45mph to 58mph. The entire truck has been gone over with a new leather interior and a custom Ipe wood bed on an aluminum frame. 

There’s a custom spare tire carrier, crane mounts for a little military grade crane and hand made parts all over the truck.  

“Blood sweat and tears went into this truck,” he said.

“It’s the most unique and cool looking truck anybody has ever seen,” Ari said. “It’s also the most fun to drive, more than my Turbo Porsche. It’s slow, but the 4 wheel drive and air locking diffs let it climb straight up anything in front of it.

I had always seen them in the mountains in Europe and loved them and they have an almost cult like status. I wanted to take my then-girlfriend to dinner in it.”    

Ari runs to pick up pallets of chicken feed as well as hay and alfalfa bales for his goats and horses. It’s also used for moving his motorcycles to and from the mechanic and any heavy lifting. He built a crane attachment point on the back so it can lift 900 pounds straight up and swing it over and onto the bed. 

“We took the truck to the Rowher Truck Trail near Santa Clarita.” Ari’s said of his best story with the truck. “Along the way, there were other trucks being pulled out from being stuck — small caravans of off-roaders helping pull others out, all heading up parts of the trail that I couldn’t understand why they were unable to navigate without getting stuck.

And we are just idling by them at a steady fast crawl so easily. When we got home at the end of the day, I looked up Rowher Flats in a trail book I had at home. Apparently this trail is rated as an ‘Expert Rated Trail.’ Extremely steep and rutted; a long and relentless climb up one side of a mountain and down the other.

The Unimog barely flexed its muscles getting over the trail. The truck drove up and over this trail barely above idle. It’s so impressive, it turned an extremely difficult trail into a Sunday drive.”   

Ari’s favorite thing about driving in Malibu is all the dirt roads and little hidden areas of off-roading that nobody but a handful of people know about. For me, that would be worth searching for. 

And if he got his hands on a favorite movie car? 

“The Bandit from ‘Smokey and the Bandit,’” he said. “But if you are speaking about trucks, which would be more appropriate for the interview, then we should never forget the 1982 Ford Bronco named Pepe. The Little Mule from ‘Romancing The Stone.’” 

Ah, yes. I’m familiar with that as the writer of that movie actually owned my house before me. That script was written in the office were I’m currently writing this.

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