1966 Mercedes Unimog

Cars Culture

If there was ever a car out of time and place, it is this 1966 Mercedes Unimog I came across this morning in the car park at Newport Beach, Orange County California. ” My buddy bought this thing from NATO, and I stole it. I’m going to drive it all over the world so he can’t take it back off me!” Tie-died owner, surfer, farmer and charismatic bechside stalwart tells me as he checks the surf this morning.

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all images Michael Fordham/Influx

“I get 12-16 MPG, so that’s pretty good mileage,” He tells me. “Speed is not important for me. As long as you get there with style, that’s the main thing…” I tried not to wince when he mentioned the MPG figures: but there’s a different scale to things here in California is roughly half the price it is in the UK. At around $4 a gallon these guys still moan about the cost of gas. When I was last here in 2009, it was around $2.50 a gallon.

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” The cops love to pull me over in this thing, especially the younger ones. But it’s all completely above board. The only slight concession I ask is that I leave the Berlin license plate on the front. It’s not a lot to ask, is it”. Indeed not. There are subtle hints of this machine’s former usage as a radio car: with the utility space in the back and the battery packs at the side. “The box turns this thing into a great camper”, says Bart, “plenty of room for a double bunk and everything you need.”

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The open cabin is an element of surprise: not sure what happens when there’s a proper downpour. The retractable hood looks like it’d be only competent to deal with the lightest drizzle. But the resourceful Italian American farmer takes the lack of a proper lid wholly in his stride. “I love being open to the elements, he says. “It’s the coolest way to get around…”

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