Overland Legend Lost: 1965 Unimog M404

Image courtesy of BenzWorld

A few days ago, I came across a Facebook post in the “Junkyard Finds” group that included a curious thing: a reference to a pick-and-pull yard putting a classic Mercedes-Benz Unimog into the self-service section loaded with high-end off-road gear. As a frequented of junkyards all over the country, I have only seen one other vintage Mercedes commercial vehicle (a tractor-trailer cab, right here in Rhode Island) but never a Unimog. The story is as complicated as they come, from the original builder of this rig being accused of murder to the last caretaker supposedly losing the vehicle due to repossession following a falling-out with an ex-girlfriend and refusing to register the ‘Mog while it was parked. You can find some additional backstory here on the BenzWorld.com forums, but the reality is a legend from the early days of the overland community has been raided of all of her glorious off-road parts – and it was completely avoidable.

Image courtesy of BenzWorld

The Unimog was affectionately known as “The Prarie Schooner”, a name I’m familiar with because I actually sold a vintage pull-behind camper trailer made by a company bearing the same name; I have to believe the ‘Mog got its name from the trailer builder and the pioneering spirit it embodied. The builder and occasional residents of the truck were Manrico Delcore and Mary Beth Debicki, two accomplished journalists, explorers, and four-wheeler experts, according to this profile of the couple from an archived page of The Auto Channel. Manrico was an accomplished off-road driver and a certified driver trainer for Land Rover here in the U.S. The Unimog was clearly a labor of love, with a custom living enclosure, Borla exhaust, full front brush guard and auxiliary lighting, and much, much more. Sadly, Manrico and his wife passed away due to extremely unfortunate circumstances over a decade ago.

Image courtesy of BenzWorld

The Unimog’s history grows hazy after this. Prior to the owner’s passing, the truck was a regular feature in magazine articles, and the owners were well-known by the off-road and adventure community for their journeys across the U.S. in the Prarie Schooner. It left the midwest at some point after 2010, eventually appearing in upstate New York with a new owner who pledged to restore the Unimog back to greatness. It was then posted on Facebook Marketplace around 2019 with a fire-sale price, at which point the last owner got his hands on it and also promised to bring the now-rusty Unimog back to life. Sadly, it was this “caretaker” who seemingly resisted requests by state officials in the area to put a plate on it, and around the same time, an ex-girlfriend asked him to leave the property along with all his possessions and the Unimog was caught in between, eventually disappearing with the owner seemingly doing nothing to retrieve it.

Image courtesy of BenzWorld

Here is this once-legendary overland pioneer as she presently sits, with its suspension ripped out; its custom brush guard and push bars stripped away; and who knows what else. The owner popped up on social media, desperate for a Hail Mary intervention claiming he still had the title paperwork in his hand – but questions were quickly raised as to why he didn’t attempt to rescue the Unimog at some point over the past 12 months after it was removed from the property without his consent. The story has only gotten murkier since then, but the bottom line is it seems an impound lot gave him plenty of time to get his affairs in order and save this historically-significant ‘Mog from certain death, and he chose to ignore it until it was too late. Let this be a warning for those of us with too many vehicles and not enough space: pay your bills, pay for storage, and pay attention if your lady grows weary of your hobby.

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Comments

  1. Todd Zuercher

    So sad to see! I remember reading their articles in Four Wheeler magazine – probably in the ’90s – I would have all the magazines with their articles in them out in the garage. I can’t read the articles online about them since I don’t have a subscription to the Wichita Eagle but it appears it was a murder-suicide that brought about their demise. Very sad.

    Sad state of the truck too.

    Like 1
    • Ellis

      Todd, if your able to track down the articles in Four Wheeler, i would be interested in either buying them from you or getting pictures of them!

      • Todd Zuercher

        Ellis – I’ll try and take some time and look through some issues out in the garage as time permits. I won’t be able to sell any of them but I could perhaps let you know the year/month of some issues so you can search out your own copies.

  2. rabbit

    Our city likes to take away & scrap unregistered vehicles without the owner’s consent too. Lost a ’72 Grand Ville ragtop that way. They striped out the 455 & TH400 before we could come pay the fine & reclaim it the very next morning. Fortunately, my brother hid his vagrant Ghia behind the fence before ‘Junkbusters’ could get it also. Legalized theft, if you ask me. Was this ‘Mog by chance in Niagara Falls?

    Like 4
    • douglas hunt

      In my city, they will just fine you 105$ a day
      my no good brother ran my deceased mothers 70k mile minivan out of oil, while using it free of charge and while living in the house rent free, and never said a word.
      sitting on the private property, he let the license expire, and because the driveway was gravel, we started getting notices from the city that we would be fined the 105$ a day.
      when contacted and asked why the fine since it was on private property, they said it had to be on concrete to sit unlicensed, i thought what in the world.

      Like 5
  3. BeeMoe

    Had a similar situation with a 71 Cuda. I was asked by a friend to help haul away some vehicles that lay derelict in a closed school’s auto shop because renovations were about to begin on the property. Among them was a stripped Cuda. The place had been closed for 6+ months and the contractors had tried to find the owners of the vehicles without success and the day came that they all had to be hauled away. The Cuda was the last one to be hauled off and after it was loaded they got a call from someone claiming to be the owner, suddenly frantic to get their car back. Sadly, it was too late for the supposed owner, but the car was restored by a new owner.

    Like 4
  4. Robert Rulison

    This sounds like great fodder for a true crime podcast. Maybe the folks over at overland journal could do it.

    So sad to see the state of this. What a waste of what must have been a very expensive build.

    Like 2
  5. Shawn

    A sad story all around, not only the loss of the Unimog, but it’s owners as well. Great writeup Jeff, thanks for sharing.

    Like 2
  6. Rodney Hall

    dude… you could have at least given credit for my photos… lol :)

    I have some others that i took saturday morning at the yard.

    Like 6
  7. douglas hunt

    dang, that’s SAD, I always wished i could afford a UniMog but alas never found myself having the $$$$$$

  8. CJinSD

    Did the couple who owned this truck die as a result of a murder-suicide?

    Like 1
    • Todd Zuercher

      From what I could tell in the article snippets that I found online, I believe that was the case.

      Like 1
  9. t-bone BOB

    According to the owner on the BenzWorld forum the vehicle is now located in upstate New York

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