Silicon Valley is home to trillion-dollar tech companies, bootstrapping startups and a modified Mercedes G-Class pickup truck unlike anything on U.S. roads.
The standout ride is a 2006 Mercedes-Benz G500 outfitted with a 1969 G-Class truck bed. It’s the brainchild of a Dutch G-Wagen converter and a tech entrepreneur.
Mani Kulasooriya, a Woodside, Calif., native with an affinity for adventure, envisioned the truck conversion in 2011. He wanted to mix the style and comfort of a Mercedes-Benz G-Class with the off-roading capability and cargo capacity of a Land Rover Defender 110.
In 2011, however, his off-the-lot options were limited.
Kulasooriya first thought to convert a Land Rover Defender 110 into a pickup. As he scoured auto listings, Mercedes unveiled the monstrous G63 AMG 6×6. It nearly fit his original vision but came with a hefty price tag of $500,000.
He balked at the idea of taking a vehicle that expensive off-road.
But the G63 6×6 still intrigued him. Instead of ponying up a half-million dollars, though, Kulasooriya dug into its specs and realized modifying an existing G-Class to match its characteristics would be doable.
“[G-Wagens] are built as a body on frame, so you can remove them easily and alter them however you like,” Kulasooriya told Trucks.com. He was able to source a 2006 G500 that fit his vision for $45,000.
He also “started looking for shops that could make the modifications I wanted,” he said.
Extensive online research for the right body shop ultimately took him beyond U.S. borders to the Netherlands, Kulasooriya said.
He found Albert Bouma of the Dutch auto body shop ikWILeenG. Located outside Rotterdam, Bouma’s shop specializes in G-Wagen conversions of all types. His first project was a converted G-Wagen pickup he designed and built for himself.
For months, Kulasooriya and Bouma planned the build, going over everything from the truck’s body style to its dimensions. Bouma’s experience modifying his own G-Class gave him confidence in the conversion, but since the G500 was newer, he encountered some hurdles.
“The biggest challenge was getting everything to line up correctly,” Bouma told Trucks.com. “It was like you hear about measuring twice just to cut once.”
And though Kulasooriya liked Bouma’s original G-Class, he requested a few minor changes, Bouma said. For example, “he wanted a sliding roof, something mine didn’t have, so we had to make the proper alterations to the roof for it,” he said.
To start, he scrapped the G500’s entire exterior, fabricated new metalwork and built a unique pulldown tailgate. But going from an SUV to a pickup required specific modifications to make it longer.
“We had to extend everything: cables, hoses, fuel lines, everything,” Bouma said. “But at the end, it was still a G-Class.”
Even the frame required alteration in order to properly fit the salvaged bed. To attach it, Bouma cut behind the second door of the G500 and extended the frame around 90 centimeters — roughly 1 yard. Though this was done primarily to assure the bed fit correctly, it also helped maintain its handling behavior.
“You often see people putting a bed on the end of a G-Class without extending anything,” Bouma said. “This gives you a different kind of G-Class. But these vehicles are known for their axle being at the end. For driving on hills or towing, it’s much better to have the axle at the back.”
The final step was piecing it all together. The G500’s body removes so easily from the frame, and putting it back on was just as simple.
Shipping it back home to the States wasn’t so easy. Customs officials in both the Netherlands and the U.S. bogged things down, and it failed a visual smog check upon return.
But since its arrival, the truck has been everything Kulasooriya had hoped.
The finished product is a harmonic combination of utility, practicality and glam. His G-Class pickup has enough cargo room for his family of five, along with mountain bikes for each. They also love the open-air seats in the bed, as well as its distinct look.
With an improved ground clearance, it provides access to sights and trails Kulasooriya didn’t have before. Originally lifted 3 inches, it now has 18 total inches of clearance thanks to its Cooper Discoverer A/T3 tires, a modified exhaust and the replacement of its stock running boards.
It’s even capable of tackling advanced off-road terrain, including the occasional boulder crawl.
Off trail, the truck attracts swarms of people all asking the same questions: “What kind of Mercedes is this?” “Where’d you buy it?” It’s something he refers to as the “Kim Kardashian effect.”
Even Mercedes-Benz took notice. After a glimpse of the truck while visiting Silicon Valley for its own vehicle testing, a group of engineers asked Kulasooriya for a closer look. They were so impressed, they invited him to visit the Mercedes-Benz G-Class factory in Graz, Austria.
The truck was built for an estimated total price just shy of $150,000, roughly the same as a base 2019 Mercedes-AMG G63.
“It really is fun to drive,” Kulasooriya said. “I wanted a highly capable off-roader, and that’s exactly what I got.”
Kulasooriya said he already has his sights set on another SUV-conversion project: Either a 2013 Mercedes-Benz G63 or a Land Rover Defender 110.