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Mercedes-Benz 600 (1963-1981)

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The greatest saloon ever made is uniquely rewarding - and costly.

It sounds glib, but the Mercedes 600 really did live up to its ‘world’s most luxurious limousine’ tag; not just at the time of its introduction in 1963, but right through to the end of production in 1981. And, to be fair, there still aren’t many cars that can even come close.

Propelled by Mercedes-Benz’s first V8 engine, a 6.3-litre, 250bhp marvel of engineering, the shortwheelbase version of the 600 could top 125mph. Even the longwheelbase model – the legendary Pullman – could boast 120mph, despite its 2640kg weight.

How could a 1960s car weigh this much? Easy, once you consider the driver-adjustable self-levelling air suspension and the high-pressure hydraulic system used to self-close not just the boot but the doors, too, as well as to adjust the seats and power the windows, the air-con flaps, the glass central divider, the sunroof and the damper control!

The Pullmans could be ordered with either four or six doors, while there were also a few Landaulets built, with a convertible top over the rear passenger compartment.

No two Pullmans were the same, with options that could include a bar, fridge, TV, armour-plating... you get the idea – and so did film stars, royalty, world leaders and dictators.


MARKET VIEW

True Specialists for the Mercedes 600 are few and far between. In Germany, Kienle Automobiltechnik is king; in the UK, 600 owners usually go to Iain Tyrrell of Cheshire Classic Cars.

‘The 600 is a wonderfully rewarding model to own,’ says Iain. The short-wheelbase cars range from £45,000-50,000 when they’re in good, useable condition, up to £100,000 for the very best.

‘A good Pullman starts at £70,000 and goes up to £130,000, with a premium for the six-door. But you won’t find a Landaulet in useable condition for less than £300,000, and a great one can easily fetch £600,000 to £800,000.

‘The Landaulet that sold at auction last year needed a complete restoration and was estimated at £40,000 to £60,000, but it went for £200,000. Yet even with a £300,000 rebuild the economics work out.’


IN A NUTSHELL

When these cars go wrong, they’re often laid up for years – but almost always under cover. This, combined with the high-quality steel used, means that rot isn’t the major problem. However, it won’t hurt to check the front floors, bulkhead and leading edges of the sills, just in case. In extreme cases front inner wings rust, too.

The M100 engine is near-indestructible, but long storage with old engine oil can allow the acidic hydrocarbons in the lubricant to eat into the big-end and main bearing shells, calling for a rebuild. Fuel injection is troublefree but water pumps can cost £3000-plus to fix. The transmission is extremely tough.

It’s the hydraulic system that causes the most trouble. The pump, unique to the 600, wears and becomes noisy; a replacement is £20,000, but they can be reconditioned for around £3000. An accumulator stores pressure; if it’s OK it should be possible to operate a window up and down 30 times after the engine has been switched off. Pipes can develop leaks anywhere around the car.

The air suspension uses three heightcontrol valves: two at the front, one at the back. If they’re in good condition, the car will remain at correct height for up to eight weeks. If it sinks within hours of the vehicle’s use, they need replacing, at £1800 each.

Airbags crack and develop leaks, but they’re a service item and relatively easily replaced. The air compressor is extremely reliable, and air system parts are shared with the 3.5 and 6.3 SE L and the 300SE range.

Interiors were often velour and PVC, and prone to scruffiness, so many have been retrimmed in leather. Not cheap! There are swathes of wood panels, too, and of course these are expensive to recondition.


CONCLUSION

What an utterly unique proposition a Mercedes 600 is. There’s nothing truly comparable – they’re fast, they handle well when set up correctly, they’re genuinely enjoyable to drive – and they have road presence like no other car.

Under the skin they’re equally unique. If the hydraulic system isn’t enough for you, then how about the brake servo working off the air pressure of the suspension, or the engine water pump that’s driven via a torque converter by the engine oil? Nothing is simple and, as specialist Iain Tyrrell points out, everything is expensive.

‘If there’s just one thing to say about the 600,’ explains Iain, ‘it’s that regular use and maintenance are paramount.’

As you’ll have seen, a 600 can’t be run or rebuilt on anything less than an extravagant budget, and unfortunately that has left the short-wheelbase models out in the cold to some extent, as costs far outstrip values at the moment. But as Pullman prices climb, the short-wheelbase cars should gain status.


MODEL HISTORY
1963
The 600 ‘Grosser’ Mercedes (model name W100) is launched in two lengths: five/six-seater with 3200mm wheelbase and seven/ eight-seater with 3900mm wheelbase. Four- and six-door versions of Pullman available.
1965 Landaulet version with convertible rear passenger compartment is introduced.
1966 Instrument binnacle styling changed to less attractive vinylor leather-trimmed version. Hubcap design changed.
1968 Hydraulically powered selfclosing door mechanisms deleted (buyers now prefer cars without self-closers, for reliability).
1971 Minor facelift: climate control improved, interior door handle design changed.
1981 Production ceases after 2190 SWB limousines, 423 Pullmans and 59 Landaulets built. At least two two-door coupes also thought to have been made.


SPECIFICATIONS

Engine: 6329cc all-alloy V8, Bosch mechanical fuel injection
Power:250bhp @ 4000rpm
Torque: 434lb ft @ 3000rpm
Transmission: Four-speed auto, limited-slip differential
Suspension: Self-levelling air suspension, adjustable damping, torsion bar stabilisers, rear swing-axle
Brakes: Discs all round, servo-assisted
Weight: 2640kg
Performance: Top speed 120mph; 0-60mph 9.0sec


CLUBS

The Mercedes-Benz Club
www.mercedes-benz-club.co.uk

The International M-100 Group
www.m-100.cc

Mercedes-Benz Club America
www.mbca.org


THANKS TO

Iain Tyrrell
Cheshire Classic Cars

Chester, UK
+44 (0)1244 529500
www.cheshireclassiccars.co.uk

Marc Kienle
Kienle Automobiltechnik

Heimerdingen, Germany
+49 7152 52827
www.kienle.com

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