Highland Council’s new Mercedes-Benz Unimog is hard at work trimming roadside hedges and verges across northern Scotland, but not so long ago it was in the forefront of the battle to keep some of those roads open.
Last winter’s ‘Beast from the East’ weather system brought heavy snowfalls and freezing temperatures to the region. Fitted with a snow cutter-blower and a demountable gritter body, the Unimog helped clear a way through monster drifts on roads to the CairnGorm Mountain ski centre near Aviemore, allowing winter sports enthusiasts to take advantage of the prime conditions as soon as the storm abated.
The end of the ski season brought a change of roles. Equipped with a front-mounted mower and ditch-cutter attachment, the Unimog is now undertaking the crucial job of trimming roadside verges and overhanging branches, to maintain sightlines and improve safety for drivers.
Supplied by Dealer South Cave Tractors, the Unimog was funded by a partnership between the local authority, the Scottish Government’s economic and community development agency Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), and ski resort operator CML. HIE provided finance which Highland Council used to purchase the truck, as well as a grant to CML so it could buy snow cutting/blowing and gritting attachments.
The long wheelbase Unimog U530 has a platform body which accommodates its large gritter spreader during winter. Its 220 kW (299 hp) six-cylinder engine drives through a semi-automatic gearbox which allows the driver to concentrate fully on the road and his implement attachments.
Life at the wheel is also made easier by a number of optional features, including air-suspended and heated seats, a heated windscreen, forward- and rear-facing cameras, working lights and a central tyre inflation system for extra grip in snow and ice conditions.
Mowing and snow-clearing equipment, meanwhile, is attached and powered by the integral DIN plate, PTO and Hydrostatic transmission drive, which allows working speed to be adapted easily without any change to the engine and PTO speed.
Highland Council Transport & Logistics Manager James MacDonald said: “We had been relying on a dedicated snow-blowing vehicle, until it reached the end of its life. The Unimog is a far more cost-effective solution, though, because it can be used in a variety of roles all year round.
“For example, the work ours is currently undertaking is more commonly assigned to agricultural tractors – but they can’t match the Unimog’s 56 mph on-road speed, which represents a huge advantage.
“With its ability to carry and power a variety of front, side and rear-mounted implements, and to pull a trailer at a gross combination weight of up to 40 tonnes, the Unimog is incredibly versatile. No other vehicle is able to carry out such a wide range of tasks, so well.”
Susan Smith, Head of Business Development at HIE, added: “It is important that as many people as possible can access the Cairngorm ski resort when conditions are at their best. In the past there have been problems with keeping the access routes clear, and this has been a source of frustration. The availability of this new equipment improved the visitor experience and benefited the business overall by attracting more tourism trade to Cairngorm.”
The off-road heritage of the iconic Unimog stretches back more than 70 years. Since the first model was launched in 1946, constant development by Mercedes-Benz engineers has kept it at the forefront of the off-road pack and today it is widely acknowledged as the world’s leading all-terrain vehicle, with a reputation forged in the harshest operating conditions.
There are two core variants: an implement carrier with front, side and rear attachment points, and an all-terrain capable of carrying a wide range of other bodies. All Unimogs have 4×4 chassis with single rear wheels, which follow the track created by the front wheels. Gross weights vary from 7.5 to 16.5 tonnes and engines from 156 hp to 300 hp.