The history of UNICAT
The first steps taken by today’s developer and manufacturer of expedition vehicles go back to 1978.
Thomas Ritter, born 1958, was enthusiastic about vehicles and technology from an early age, so he decided to buy a vehicle after obtaining his driver’s license.
There was a choice between a Porsche 964 in need of restoration or a decommissioned Unimog U404 that had previously been used as a medical vehicle by the german army.
Both vehicles were loud, not very comfortable and expensive to maintain, but the Unimog promised more fun and a prospect of adventure.
This marked the path that was to lead from the first self-built expedition vehicle to today’s UNICAT GmbH.
In 1980 the Unimog was rebuilt in the courtyard of the parents’ business, the body was raised with an aluminum construction in order to achieve standing height. The interior was then completed according to own ideas and plans. Replacing the petrol engine with a 300 D diesel engine should also improve the vehicle’s suitability for expeditions.
The self-construction proved itself on the first test drives in Europe.
The Unimog demonstrated its qualities as an expedition vehicle in 1981 on its first off-road trip through Iceland.
However, the body was heavy, which was disadvantageous in difficult terrain, and it was poorly insulated.
Already during the trip to Iceland the idea came up to design and build a completely new body made of GRP composite panels, as they were used almost exclusively for refrigerated bodies at the time.
The construction and interior fitting of the first cabin made of GRP composite panels were carried out according to Thomas Ritter’s own designs.
Further trips to Egypt and Morocco followed, which also served to optimize the vehicle and improve the design of the body in practice.
The time had come – Thomas Ritter founded his first company in 1982 – “Thomas Ritter Kunststoffe” and started delivering GRP bodies for expedition vehicles to Geo-Service.
During his mechanical engineering studies, Thomas Ritter manufactured 3-4 superstructures for the Geo-Service company each year.
In 1985 a new, own and innovative project was started. The conversion of a MAN KAT1 4×4 into an expedition vehicle, also a former military vehicle.
For this vehicle, a structure with sloping side walls, sloping roofs, a motorcycle lift and an electric wing door was implemented for the first time.
The increasing demand and size of the vehicles prompted Thomas Ritter to restructure his company.
In 1990 “UNICAT Fahrzeugbau GmbH” was founded and the company moved to a new, larger factory building. The workshop offered sufficient space for the modifications to the chassis and the manufacture of the custom-made bodies. The newly established construction department as well as the administration found space in the new offices.
This enabled the many ideas and innovations to be implemented with the necessary technical background.
While previously UNIMOG chassis served almost exclusively as the basis, a integrated structure with a pop-top roof for a MAN KAT 8×8 was created – for which a special torsion-free floor assembly was developed.
1991 – Production of the first structure with side slide out suitable for expeditions.
1992 – Thomas Ritter takes part in the Paris – Dakar rally to Cape Town as a navigator in the GECO Raid Team’s service Unimog. The route ran over 12,427 km through France, Libya, Niger, Chad, Central African Republic, Cameroon, Congo, Angola, Namibia and South Africa.
The team reached Cape Town without any major problems, also thanks to the service body made by UNICAT.
1994 – Development and manufacture of the Funmog U90 in cooperation with Merceds-Benz UNIMOG.
1995 – A Mercedes G500 4×4 becomes a Mercedes G500 6×6.
1996 – Development and manufacture of lifting roofs suitable for expeditions.
1998 – Maximog – start of a development project for Bran Ferren, Applied Minds, USA.
2000 – Maximog trailer – production of a trailer with a lifting roof, swing-outs and hydraulic wheel drive.
2001 – UNICAT vehicles in the Museum of Modern Art, New York (MoMA).
Maximog and Maximog trailer are exhibited from February to April 2001 as part of the “Workspheres” exhibition.
2002 – TERRACROSS – a series of bodies with proven floor plans and tried and tested technology is launched.
2003 – Relocation to Dettenheim to the newly built company headquarters.
After the number of orders and, in particular, the size of the vehicles could no longer be economically managed at the old building in Hambrücken, it was time for the next future-oriented step – the construction of a production hall and office space, which in turn offered sufficient space for innovations and manufacturing of complex and large vehicles
2004 – The first chassis is equipped with independent suspension axles, hydropneumatic suspension and rear-axle steering.
2005 – The first vehicles for customers in the USA are built.
2006 – The 100th UNICAT vehicle is delivered!
2007 – Thomas Waas, world traveler with a UNICAT vehicle, becomes a partner in UNICAT GmbH with Thomas Ritter who now focuses on consulting and sales as CTO. Bernhard Söllner is appointed CEO.
2008 – The first MAN TGA 8×8 leaves the new production facility. A UNICAT base with a workshop is being built in Dubai.
2009 – Production of the G Entdecker, 6 vehicles are built.
2010 – Development and manufacture of a container loading system for a Unimog U4000 which was converted from a 4×4 to a 6×6.
2011 Order to develop and manufacture the UNIMOG SUV in cooperation with Merceds-Benz UNIMOG China, a small series is being built.
2012 – UNICAT cooperates with a sales partner in China, a sales office is opened, 2 demo vehicles are built.
2013 – The first vehicles are delivered to Mongolia, UNICAT cooperates with a sales partner in Mongolia, several demo vehicles are built.
2015 – The design department is expanded, additional 3D workstations are created.
2016 – The first body made of full carbon composite panels is delivered.
2018 – A combination consisting of a 3-axle towing vehicle and a 2-axle trailer is handed over to the customer.
2020 – Another extraordinary vehicle leaves the production. A lifting roof vehicle with garage based on MAN TGS 6x6x4.