Of course I'd heard of the Swiss Army knife, but I never really thought there was a Swiss Army -- let alone one that needed specialized equipment to defend its country. Evidently it does, and one of the things it has is the Pinzgauer, a unique 4-wheel-drive vehicle.

Danville resident Scott Vogel is the proud owner of this 1973 Pinzgauer 4wd Swiss Army surplus vehicle that is quite remarkable.

Because of the name, one might think it was invented or built by a brilliant engineer named Pinzgauer, but that is not the case. "Its name comes from a rugged breed of cattle," Vogel said, "from the Pinzgauer district of Salzburg, Austria, a mountainous area of harsh jagged terrain."

Vogel has owned his pride and joy for about 10 years. "This Pinzgauer was owned by a man in Fort Bragg who had rented it out for Hollywood films, but the hauling back and forth to Southern California was not financially beneficial so he wanted to sell. I paid $14,000 for it.

"There are actually two versions of the Pinzgauer: the four-wheel drive that I have and a six-wheel drive version."

The six-wheeled vehicle has a 30-inch section added that includes another differential and a set of wheels. All other dimensions are the same.

"I actually wanted the six-wheel version, but my insurance company didn't understand it and wouldn't insure it," Vogel said.

Still, he could be a candidate for the 6-wheeler if the right opportunity came along.

Naturally, a 40-year-old military vehicle even in peaceful Switzerland needed some work. "The transfer case went out, new clutch, a lot of things like that that burned through," Vogel said.

Then there were some things he wanted to add, such as a front power winch, which has proved useful on numerous occasions, and a 900-watt stereo system that helps with the noisy road travel.

Repairs and additional equipment puts Vogel's investment considerably over the estimated current market value of about $20,000. He concedes that even if he wanted to sell it, the market for the surplus Swiss Army vehicle is very limited.

While this very usual vehicle does attract attention, it is not a show car. Vogel actually uses this vehicle. Every year he goes on the famous Rubicon Trail from Placerville to Lake Tahoe, an extremely challenging four-wheel drive course. The 86.5-inch wheel-based Pinzgauer performs well on the trail as it has a low crawl speed of about ½ mph and high ground clearance.

He always returns with a few new dents and scratches, but that is all part of the fun. In total, he drives it about 3,000 to 5,000 miles a year.

In order to give the Pinzgauer 13.2 inches of ground clearance, about 3 inches more than a Jeep, the vehicle uses independent Pendel axles and coil springs. As I understand it, normal axles go into the center of the wheel, but the Pendel is above the center of the wheel and uses a series of gears near the wheel to bring the necessary power.

"Pinzgauer has an air cooled four-cylinder engine with dual carburetors with pumps on top of them, so if you get knocked over sideways or at a hideous angle it will keep going," Vogel said. "The 152 c.i. engine produces about 87 HP and has tremendous torque. It has a five-speed manual transmission with two ranges, high and low. Top speed is a very noisy 57 mph."

The 4,300-pound vehicle can cross rivers as deep as the top of the wheels without stalling.

The Vogel Pinzgauer is the 710M model, meaning it is a troop carrier. The 8-foot bed will seat eight people plus equipment in the back, plus two in the front. The rear seats will fold down, making a diamond plate flatbed capable of hauling a ton of cargo.

The easy-to-service engine is located between the driver and the front passenger. Made in Austria by Steyr-Daimler-Puch, it has "shift on the fly" four-wheel drive, meaning the driver can shift into or out of four-wheel drive while moving, an excellent feature especially considering the time period.

One problem the owner had was fitting the 80.7-inch-tall vehicle into his garage. While everything comes off or folds down, that's not convenient. The owner talked to his mechanic. "He cut the coil springs to make the vehicle a little lower, and I had to jack up the garage door some."

Even so, it was just a little too high in the back, so Vogel must put some extra weight, such as sand bags, in the rear of the Pinzgauer to lower the rear another half-inch so it would fit the garage.

Vogel's sons also love the outdoors and the four-wheel drive activity, but his wife, Cindy, seems more tolerant than enthusiastic about the Pinzgauer.

"I think it was his midlife crisis," she said, "but it's better than a girlfriend and a Corvette."

Have an interesting vehicle? Contact David Krumboltz at MOBopoly@yahoo.com.