This Bulbous Convertible Is Actually a G-Wagen Underneath
Nearly two decades before the Nissan CrossCabriolet and Evoque Cabrio, there was the Intruder.
French automakers are perhaps the quirkiest bunch in the entire motoring industry. So to learn that they'd also come up with a way to cross a Mercedes G-Wagen with an SLK Roadster shouldn't have been surprising, yet it absolutely was.
Yes, you read that right, and there's no need to adjust your eyes. Underneath all of this bubbly, topless skin that looks like an amalgam of the Nissan CrossCabriolet and Lexus SC430 does, in fact, sit a G-Wagen. Meet the Heuliez Intruder.
This one-of-one concept was built way back in 1996 by French coachbuilding company Heuliez. Founded in 1920, its claim to fame wasn't actually building its own vehicles from the ground up but modifying cars from French manufacturers such as Citroen, Peugeot, and Renault. It built convertibles, station wagons, limousines, and even an ambulance. The company eventually became insolvent and had around 283 employees when it closed up shop in 2013. Just 25 employees were on the payroll in 1996 when it completed the Intruder prototype.
The foundation of the Intruder is a Mercedes-Benz G320. Mechanically, not much has changed. The concept still utilizes the factory 210-horsepower 3.2-liter V6 and 4-speed automatic gearbox. That means that power is sent to all four wheels and the G-Wagen's factory locking differentials are still in place. Heuliez didn't change anything from a mechanical standpoint except for some slight suspension modifications and rearranged components to fit the new bodywork.
On the outside, however, you'd never recognize the relationship between this car and a regular ol' G320 if they were sitting side by side. It looks more related to the SLK Roadster, which had just debuted six months prior at the Turin Motor Show. The SLK's folding metal roof was even incorporated into the Intruder's final design, making it one of the only other vehicles in the world to have this style of a convertible top. Not everything was metal, though. Both the hood and bumpers were molded from carbon fiber.
The interior is perhaps one of the quirkiest parts of the entire car. Like the bodywork, nothing here screams G-Wagen, though various factory components were reused. One such example is the gauge cluster, though it has been relocated to the center of the dashboard, where one might expect a generous screen to be today.
That being said, it's also equally impressive. The striking blue contrast is certainly a head-turner, and various bits of natural wood and exposed metal add a bit of contrast to the extremely '90s carpet and off-gray paneling.
But why build something so off-the-wall weird? Marc Deschamps, who was Heuliez Torino's head of styling when the Intruder was built, tells us: “With the Intruder, we wanted to explore an area of different use for the sports car," said Deschamps during an interview with Auto Design Magazine. "Of course, roadgoing sports cars continue to have a strong appeal; but they can hardly ever be used at the levels where they transmit real driving satisfaction. So why not try something that achieves it? There are plenty of ways; the one we chose inserts into our operational area.”
It's not like the concept of a truck with a removable roof was new. Convertible trucks have been around for some time—there was Scout, the Kubelwagen, Ford Bronco, and Suzuki X-90, to name just a few. Even the G-Wagen had a Cabriolet version dating back to the 1970s. But the Intruder was really something else.
Deschamps says that Heuliez built the car with America (specifically California) and Asia in mind. The Intruder was meant to be a fun-to-drive vehicle that tested the limits of what defined the sports car, though it's arguable if the Intruder project accomplished that goal. It wasn't until the early 2010s that the world would see the likes of the Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet and Range Rover Evoque Convertible, and only then could some picture an SUV as a sport-themed convertible. Indeed, the Heuliez Intruder was ahead of its time.
As for this particular car, it's been for sale at DK Engineering for nearly two years. When it first went up for sale in July 2020, it was priced at $228,995. The price has since fallen to $214,995 unless you're paying in British Pounds, in which case it remains the same today at £174,995. That price might just be a steal, however. Between its unveiling in 1996 and 2020, someone paid around $300,500 (280,000 Euros) to have the concept car completely restored. That means a cosmetic overhaul, including a respray from its past colors of blue and red back to Mercedes-Benz silver, a mechanical overhaul of its engine, and a complete reworking of its folding metal roof.
If you miss your chance on this car, you might have slightly better luck finding a close relative. After its debut in 1996, the Intruder was reportedly modified by an Italian firm called OPAC. Its slightly more refined (and significantly more expensive) version was dubbed the Status Contender XG, five of which were built. But if this convertible crossover-esque concept is really your thing, do you really want to chance missing out?