MUNGA. The word sounds like an Aussie abbreviation for a mung bean pie. Or something similar. But it’s actually an acronym – Mehrzweck UNiversal Geländewagen mit Allradantrieb, which translated from the German means "multi-purpose universal off-road car with all-wheel drive.”
Tiny, resilient, simple yet complex mechanically, the 4 (or 6 or 8, depending on the chassis) seat four-wheel-drives were the post-war West German Army’s answer to the US Jeep and the UK Land Rover.
First manufactured in 1956, Auto Union (now Audi) produced almost 50,000 of the units, predominantly for the Bundeswehr or West German Army, but also for police, farm and border patrol use. The Munga ceased manufacture in 1968.
That’s the technical stuff out of the way. Now – how do two of these tough little beasts end up hiding in shed in Ballarat?
That’s a longer story, and former auto-electrician John McRae from Canadian is the person to tell it.
“In the 1960s a fellow named Arthur Upton, from Upton’s Engineering in Albury, brought in 22 of them and he sold them to the cockies up there for irrigation, to transport their aluminium pipes around,” says John.
“It was better than a Jeep in many ways except it didn't have a very strong motor. It had a three-cylinder, two-stroke engine. It should have had a small four-cylinder, four-stroke. It’s four wheel drive, and the suspension is identical, front and back. You can transfer them around if something’s damaged.”
Despite its quirks – for example the camshaft and conrod are a single unit, unable to be broken down for repairs – the Munga was successful and remarkably popular. John was so taken that he bought several, which he moved on over time.
These are the last two John has in his collection.
“They’re a rare vehicle now,” says John, with a trace of sadness.
They didn’t go terribly fast, but it was a lot of fun bushbashing in them. You were always a chance of being thrown out the back.Suzie McRae
“I bought five of them, which I took down to Melbourne on a semi-trailer. We rebuilt a couple for ourselves, sold one to Queensland, and a couple, would you believe, went to Ceylon – Sri Lanka.
“A friend took them there. You had to bring them into Ceylon in parts, dismantle them. That was because the government was worried you might be building up a military opposition!”
“They were replaced by the Volkswagen Iltis (a update and modification of the Munga), and now the Iltis is no longer made either. Porsche made prototypes of the Munga, as did Goliath.”
A fellow named Arthur Upton... brought in 22 of them and he sold them to the cockies for irrigationJohn McRae
John’s daughter Suzie remembers riding in the Munga with her sister.
“Seatbelts? Nah. You’d just hang onto the metal bar across the back.”
She picks up a dried frond of pine needles from the back seat of one of the vehicles.
“That’s probably from the Canadian Forest,” she says.
“Might have been there 30 years. They didn’t go terribly fast, but it was a lot of fun bushbashing in them. You were always a chance of being thrown out the back.”
For now, these two leftovers from the Cold War are waiting in a cold shed in Ballarat, stored until John Mcrae decides what to do with them. Perhaps one day they’ll be out again, tearing up the forest.