30 Years Later, Mercedes-Benz Revisits First-Ever V8-Powered G-Class

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The 500 GE laid the foundation for decades of G-Wagens with powerful V8s.

Mercedes-Benz has taken a walk down memory lane this week to celebrate exactly 30 years since the first-ever V8-powered G-Class, the 500 GE, was unveiled.

It's hard to remember a time when the formidable G-Class didn't have a V8, with even today's base G550 in the USA coming with a 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V8 delivering 416 horsepower. That's before you get to the potent G63 with its 577-hp V8.

But it all started with the 500 GE V8 in 1993, which was based on the W463 series G-Wagen and produced a mere - by modern standards - 237 hp and 277 lb-ft of torque. Only 446 examples of the 500 GE were ever built between 1993 and 1994, so it figures that they very rarely come up for sale.


With a displacement of 5.0 liters, the GE's M117 V8 featured two-valve technology and propelled the heavy 4x4 to 62 mph in 11.4 seconds. The modern G550 can complete the 0-60 sprint in 5.6 seconds, demonstrating just how far the V8 G-Class has come over the last 30 years, even if it looks much as it did way back then.

However, Mercedes did not merely shove a V8 engine into the body of the G-Class in 1993. New 16-inch Bridgestone tires were fitted around the aluminum wheels and were the only off-road tires approved for speeds of up to 210 kph (130 mph), even though the 500 GE's top speed was just 180 kph (112 mph).

The anti-lock braking system was also revised to complement the 500 GE's greater performance, while the drivetrain did without the front differential lock. A marginally shallower fording depth was a small sacrifice to enjoy the 500 GE's V8 growl.


To further differentiate the 500 GE from other G-Class models at the time, it came with a black leather interior with medium grey contrast trim for the seat surrounds, backrest cushions, and door panels. Walnut veneer added a touch of luxury to fittings like the center console, while equipment included air conditioning, a sliding sunroof, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, heated seats, and an automatic transmission. The assortment of knobs, switches, and sliding controls for the ventilation system is archaic by today's standards but forms part of a refreshingly straightforward interior layout.

Interestingly, Mercedes only limited production of the 500 GE to 446 units due to the fact that not many M117 engines were available as these had already begun to be phased out. The newer, four-valve M119 would've been a fine substitute, but it could not fit into the engine compartment of the W463 G-Class, which, as you can see below, was quite compact.


At 178,250 Deutschmarks at the time, the 500 GE was very expensive, being more than double the price of the six-cylinder G320 of the period. Even the 140-series S-Class 500 SE with the newer M119 engine was cheaper at DEM129,030.

But neither of those cheaper cars was quite as impactful as the 500 GE, which began a long tradition of V8-powered G-Wagens. This included the AMG 500 GE 6.0 introduced later in 1993, as well as today's fire-breathing AMG G63.

What's next for the iconic G-Class? An electric model called the EQG is expected to arrive in 2024, and Mercedes is said to be working on a much smaller version, too.


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