ADVENTURER & MERCEDES-BENZ BRAND AMBASSADOR
IN motorsport parlance, “pole position” is the best spot at the start of a race. For 51-year- old Mike Horn, “Pole2Pole” is his personal best spot in an exploratory journey between the South Pole and North Pole of Mother Earth.
He covered over 33,000 kilometres round the world in the past two years, from Europe to Africa, Antarctica, Oceania, Asia, the Arctic, North America and finally back to Europe – alternating between boat, skis, kayak and car, depending on the location and situation.
The car needed to be tough enough to tackle the relevant overland legs of the epic expedition. Naturally, it’s a rugged 4x4 off-roader, but it’s neither a Land Rover nor a Land Cruiser. It’s a Mercedes-Benz G-Class, the German “wagen” that’s always on standby to help global explorers heading off the beaten track. Extremely far off the beaten track, in the case of Mike Horn and his “Pole2Pole” circumnavigation to share unique insights into the natural and cultural wonders of rarely explored regions.
We chatted with the adventurer when he stopped over in Singapore (last November) with his sailboat Pangaea, en route to India.
Why the G-Class and not another Mercedes-Benz off-roader?
When I go on expeditions, I need to make my own road and I need a car that can make its own way. So I use the 500 G-Wagen. It’s the petrol version, because when I drive to places where the quality of the diesel fuel is very bad, I can keep on driving, even with lower-octane petrol.
Did your G-Class receive modifications to suit your ambitious mission?
Nothing has been done to the engine. I only added roof racks to carry extra loads and put spotlights, because there are usually no street lamps where we go, you know, and there are animals crossing the road, especially in Africa.
I needed bigger fuel tanks, so Mercedes-Benz engineers bolted them to the back of the car, giving me an extra 180 litres of petrol. I prefer using a manual switch to transfer the fuel, instead of an electrical pump, because when I have a problem with the battery, I got a problem with getting my fuel from one tank to the other. So I do it by gravity feed, with just one simple valve that I turn manually to fill up the main tank.
I also changed the shock absorbers, just to give me a little more ground clearance and a smoother drive through very rough terrain.
Mike Horn has travelled far and worldwide with his equally adventurous Mercedes G-Wagens.
What was the toughest task handled by your G-Class?
The car can go much further than you think it can go. Often, when I feel it is going to topple, it still has 12 to 15 degrees of body-tilt to spare before it becomes a little unstable.
When I’m not so sure about anything, I stop my car and go down – taking a look and testing the ground with a probe. If it’s swamp and there’s nothing solid underneath, you’ll be stuck!
My advantage is I have two G-Wagens with me. My daughters (Annika, 24, and Jessica, 23) usually drive the black one and I drive the white one. I always have the insurance that I can pull one car out using the other.
What are the tools in your survival kit?
The items I carry in my head! I don’t rely so much on equipment to get myself out of trouble, I rely on the decisions I make that won’t get me in trouble. To know that you cannot count on anybody, that you can only count on yourself, is the most important survival tip.
I won’t take a satellite phone, for example, because rescuers won’t be able to rescue me before I die. It’s extra weight that you carry for nothing, it will slow you down, and speed is crucial when it comes to surviving. It’s good to have a pocket knife, but it’s not a survival tool.
Would the desert-storming Mercedes-AMG G63 6x6 be useful for your international off-road adventures?
I’ve tried the vehicle, and I must admit that it’s overkill for what I want to do. Its six tyres have a lot of running surface, so you get a lot of off-roading power, but I haven’t reached the potential of my 4x4 G-Class!
What are the Mercedes models you like the most?
I’m happy with the GLA45 that I have at home in Switzerland. It works well in slippery conditions, in the rain, as well as in the gravel and snow. If I have to choose another car now, I would pick a G-Wagen, because it’s really the tool I use to work.
THE G-CLASS CAN GO MUCH FURTHER THAN YOU THINK IT CAN GO – WHEN I FEEL IT IS GOING TO TOPPLE, IT STILL HAS BODY-TILT TO SPARE BEFORE IT BECOMES UNSTABLE.