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The fabulous Mercedes 600

There's nothing better than driving around town in a moving piece of modern art. And it is that this was a car built by top artists and engineers without limitations. A car where technique and aesthetics were the protagonists and that, to this day, has not lost any of its ability to impress in every way...

TEXT MERCEDES 600: MARTIN HORROCKS / TRANSLATION: MIGUEL SANCHEZ

El Mercedes-Benz 600 It created a strong impact when it was presented at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September 1963, being in tune with the optimistic spirit of the XNUMXs. Moment in which the Beatles revolutionized music at the same time that Dior did the same with fashion or Fellini and Kubrick with cinema. An exciting time when social attitudes radically changed, economic opportunities improved, manned spaceflight became possible, and satellites globalized communications.

Under that context, it is not hard to imagine the effect of this particular car. Order boldly in color Tunis Beige Metallic, His destination was Madrid in 1964. A year in which Spain was still far behind the rest of Western Europe in terms of economic and social development. In addition, at that time, protectionist economic policies made luxury imports extremely expensive, making this particular car cost more than a luxury residence in Madrid at the time. Quite a contrast to the popular SEAT 600, responsible for the incipient growth of the mobile fleet in Spain.

The charm of this W100 in particular it is based on being a very early specimen, having survived undisturbed with only 4 owners in 58 years. Time in which he has traveled only about 80.000 kilometers. It was repainted in 2006 in its original beige and shows off the original cream leather inside in an excellent state of preservation.

Accessing this car transports you to a world of placidity and luxury but without excesses of dubious aesthetics. And is that sobriety is everywhere. As in the best architecture of the 1960s, combining form and function to impress with elegance but without opulence. The materials are the best, the design is the most refined, the detail is exquisite.

Mercedes 600: A triumph of design

El Mercedes-Benz 600 (W100) it was drawn by Paul Bracq, who had first designed the coupé and cabriolet versions of the W111 'Colas'. Stylish and quite expensive cars that still turn heads in Hollywood today. Furthermore, he was also responsible for the W113 'Pagoda' from 1963, the W108/109 S-klasse from 1965 and finally the W114/5 “Beirut Taxi” before leaving for BMW. In fact, Mercedes never recovered the elegance that Bracq brought to its product line during the 1960s. A circumstance taken advantage of by BMW, creating a strong rival offer for the star brand during the XNUMXs.

Like the Pagoda and the Colas, the lines of the 600 de Bracq have not aged significantly. Generous glass space gives its design a lightness that belies its size and weight, aided by an abundance of tastefully applied chrome trim to stretch the car's profile. As it was, with the 600 he achieved the impossible: making a huge limousine look proportionate, stylish and modern. To understand how difficult this is to achieve, one need only compare a 600 to its contemporaries Rolls-Royce Phantom or Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham. Beyond its rivals of the time, and if we look for current examples of how a limousine should not be made, we can highlight the Rolls-Royce Phamton VII or VIII as well as its own -and barely achieved- Mercedes Maybach 57/62.

Also, a triumph of technology

El Mercedes-Benz 600 It was not only stunning to look at, it also brought an engineering conception as modern as rival Rolls-Royce was old. The supervisor of the technical project was nothing more and nothing less than Rudi Uhlenhaut, responsible for the legendary silver arrows from the 50s. Thus, the heart of the car was a new 8-litre V6,3: the M100. Thanks to its relatively simple design with a single overhead camshaft, Bosch fuel injection and dry sump lubrication, the M100 generated a conservative 250bhp. Enough to move around 2.500 kilos (3000 in long chassis) of the Mercedes-Benz 600 with unusual agility for a car of its class.

Regarding the assembly, each M100 engine was built by hand and subjected to six hours of checks on a test bench before being installed. All this to efficiently and smoothly propel its limousine ride, based on an ingenious pneumatic suspension system capable of making the car an extremely comfortable vehicle.

Furthermore, the Mercedes 600 It featured an extremely complex high-pressure hydraulic system. Engineered with never-before-seen tolerance measurements to control systems like windows, seats, sunroof, trunk lid, auto-closing doors and more. If such luxuries still delight the modern eye, the effect on a 1960s viewer had to be incredible. All with the best quality finishes without sacrificing functionality, finishing off a multitude of details with wood, leather and chrome.

This unit equips a central glass so that passengers of the rear seats can be isolated from the front cabin. There are different Blaupunkt radio systems for the front and rear, still having been produced at a time when most European cars did not have a radio. All switches are very solid. The rear seats slide back and forth as well as up and down thanks to hydraulic operation.

model options

El Mercedes 600 W100 Grosser It was built between 1963 and 1982 and, from the beginning, it had a long list of artists who contributed to its glamour: Three of the four Beatles, Elvis Presley, David Bowie, Eric Clapton, Aristotle Onassis, Coco Chanel, Hugh Hefner, Liv Taylor… They all had a 600.

Although the original specification hardly changed during production, there were what in music would be called “variations on the theme”. The basic model -like the example that we bring you today- is the short wheelbase or Short Wheelbase. That is, a 4-door sedan with a wheelbase of 3.200 mm and a total length of 5.540 mm. In contrast, a SEAT/FIAT 600 was 3.000mm to 3.322mm long. From this saloon they were built 2.190 copies, intended primarily for private owners and drivers.

Versions of the W100 with other chassis lengths - all fitted with a center split - were also produced for the chauffeur-driven market. These had a wheelbase of 3.900 mm to give a total length of 6.240 mm. Long wheelbase models or Long Wheelbase (LWB) could be configured Buses -limousine- 4 or 6 doors. In them the rear compartment was equipped with two additional folding seats. With these specifications were built 429 units, often for formal or state use by rulers usually without democratic credentials.

And is that the Grosser 600 In the 70s it earned the nickname of the Mercedes of dictators, used by tyrants like François Duvalier. "Papa Doc" Idi Amin or Jean-Bèdel Bokassa. In addition, the highest hierarchies of the communist bloc also seemed to love this car, so Brezhnev, Mao, Ceausescu, Tito and the North Korean family saga had several Mercedes-Benz 600.

Finally, 59 copies were bodied as in version Laudlet, fitted with a fabric convertible top for the rear. Two of them were supplied to the Vatican, being perfect for parades and other public manifestations of spiritual power.

Driving the 600 in modern times

El Mercedes-Benz 600 it still has a great presence, which is very useful in the current traffic conditions. Other drivers give you space, perhaps fearing the consequences of getting too close. Also, the excellent vantage point and 360-degree vision shrinks the car around you. Being more manageable than it might seem since, according to modern standards, it is not as wide with its 1.950 mm compared to, for example, 1.850 mm of a Qashqai.

Equipped with PAS, automatic transmission and powerful brakes, the general feeling of driving is not scary. Although the length of the car and its weight should always be remembered. The engine is brimming with torque, pushing quite a bit from low revs. Regarding parking maneuvers, these must be planned.

The four-speed automatic transmission Mercedes 600 W100 it is logically slower than a modern unit, but thanks to its great torque gear changes are infrequent. In this way, driving is very comfortable: Very smooth thanks to the way in which the pneumatic suspension filters any irregularity in the road surface and very fluid due to the mechanical abundance. However, cornering presents more of a challenge due to weight transfer and sway, which are responsible for limiting dynamic behavior. Regarding the brakes, these are very good, but the driver must remember that there is a lot of metal to stop in an emergency.

There is nothing better than driving through the city into a moving piece of modern art. And it is that this was a car built by top artists and engineers without limitations. A car where technique and aesthetics were the protagonists and that, to this day, has not lost any of its ability to impress in every way.

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Written by The Escudería

'La Escudería' is the first Hispanic digital magazine dedicated to Vintage Vehicles. We give all kinds of machinery that moves by itself: From cars to tractors, from motorcycles to buses and trucks, preferably powered by fossil fuels ...

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