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Feature Article

Best tool for the job

Robustness, reliability and impressive versatility have earned Mercedes-Benz Unimog the nickname ‘universal power tool’ – and it’s one that Otaki-based Sims Contractors can’t do without. 

Third-generation owner-operator Robert Sims admits that he likes Unimog because “it’s a bit different” – but this is no vanity purchase. The fact of the matter is that this truck is the best tool for the job. 

A new U319 unit is Sims Contractors’ third Mog and now works alongside an older model. 

“We’ve had Unimogs for 25 years,” says Robert. “We originally bought two second-hand models, one of which we still use now. They’re as tough as anything and you just get so much life out of them – plus they have great offroad ability.” 

Sims Contractors have two Mercedes-Benz Unimog trucks

Fitted with a custom-made 4m3 stainless steel Paul Hoyle bin, Robert’s U319 can access areas that would prove a stretch for other trucks, thanks to a well-balanced combo-deal of 190hp alongside a hefty 750Nm from its Euro 6 OM934 engine, plus “excellent” ground clearance and a 3,000mm wheelbase with a tight 13.7m turning circle. 

“It’s so easy to manouevre,” says Robert. “We need a compact truck because we service a lot of lifestyle blocks, where access would be a problem if we had a bigger spreader. 

“The off-road torque is huge. They’re not race cars, but it’s nice to know you can get yourself out of trouble.” 

Sims Contractors often works on ground that is “rough as guts”, so needs gear that is built to withstand the worst. The Unimog’s tried-and-tested chassis design is based on a robust sub-frame for optimal performance in the most challenging of conditions. In fact it’s so tough, Robert reckons his new unit will last at least 20 years on the job. 

“We tried other brands in the past and they just weren’t strong enough. The single skin, high-tensile chassis was one of the features I was originally sold on and nothing has changed. We don’t want to turn over trucks every five years and we know from experience the Unimog will last.”  

Ballerina in wolf’s clothing  

Another key feature in Unimog’s off-road armoury is its reinforced portal axles with hub reduction gears. In this set-up, the axle and differential sit above the wheel centre, increasing ground clearance while maintaining a low centre of gravity. Torque is split between the differential and the gears in each wheel hub, adding more bite to Unimog’s bark. 

With a maximum clearance of 330mm and 27 degree approach angle, Unimog takes most obstacles in its stride and gives Robert plenty of time to see them coming. 

“The visibility is excellent,” he says. “We can see any potential hazards before we reach them, so there are no nasty surprises and the cab is comfortable. It also has a huge suspension travel, which means we get a smooth ride even in the worst conditions. 

“When I first saw how tall the new Unimog was, I thought it might be quite limited, but it really surprised me. It’s so light-footed and has very good balance, even over wet ground. I thought about putting dual tyres on the back for less ground pressure and extra stability but, after seeing it in action, I didn’t need to, which saves running costs.” 

Sims Contractors use its Mercedes-Benz Unimog U319 for groundspreading

Robert has adjusted the pressure of the 425/75 R20 tyres to find “a happy medium” between off-road grip and rubber on the road. In hindsight, he admits that having Unimog’s TireControl Plus central inflation system onboard would have been a significant benefit. 

“Not opting for that in the original spec is probably the biggest mistake I made. In hindsight, it’s something we really need, because we want to run the tyres hard on the road but cut them down by a third in the paddock.” 

During the October to April peak period, the Unimog will be working up to 60 hours a week for customers within 20km of its Otaki, Kapiti Coast base. 

Mixed load 

The varied nature of his customer base means Robert carries a range of materials in the custom-made bin. 

“Even though the bin is relatively short, to suit the wheelbase, it’ll still hold 3T of urea or 4.5T lime,” says Robert. “We get asked to do quite a few different jobs, so we’ll spread anything from urea and lime to dicalcic, special compost mixes, worm casting and other weird stuff.” 

A Mercedes-Benz Unimog spreads product on the ground

Unlike some in the spreading game, Robert services customers in other areas of the rural sector as well. 

“We’ve always been supplement based, you might say, with a focus on silage and hay.” 

Having a wider offering means he can deliver more within his local area, rather than searching for more specialised spreading work further afield – and that suits him just fine.  

“I always find the best dollars are the ones on your doorstep,” he says with a smile. 

Sims Contractors isn’t your typical groundspreading business, and Unimog isn’t your typical groundspreading truck – yet this impressive ‘power tool’ has found a relatively small and passionate fanbase within the spreading community. 

“It just has so much going for it in this type of application,” says Robert. “We love them and that’s why we’ve stuck with them!” 

To see how the Unimog could be your universal power tool, click on this link!