Daimler-Benz, having withdrawn (one hopes temporarily) from racing, embarked on a luxury-car project as a prestige engineering exercise. The result was the 6.3 litre V8 Mercedes-Benz 600, with hydraulic main services and self levelling, variable-height pneumatic suspension. So much interest was shown in this great car that it was put into production over two years ago and very soon was selling at the rate of 50 a month.
I was anxious to try this ultimate in Mercedes and suggested going to Stuttgart to sample one. But it eluded me until just before this year’s Motor Show, and then I had it for only 30 hours, although in that time, taking normal meals, having a night’s sleep, doing some office work and other business, I was able to drive it for 530 miles. This is altogether an insufficient distance in which to fully comprehend this very complicated and specialised motor-car. But after a most enthralling spell with it—I had the “sporting short-chassis -version,” as distinct from the long wheelbase Pullman limousine—both in London in the wet after dark and covering 350 miles in daylight on dry fast roads, I can say unhesitatingly, with the proviso that I have had only the briefest ‘experience of the Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow, that the Mercedes-Benz 600 is the finest luxury car I have driven. In case anyone thinks this is W. B Continental-car bias, I would add that an American monthly, after comparative tests of six of the World’s top-class automobiles, remarked that ” The Mercedes-Benz 600 proved to our complete satisfaction that it is the best car in the World and that a German motor paper said ” it is unquestionably the most advanced of cars:”
Certainly every other car seems unsophisticated beside the 600. The hydraulic system which enables the driver to lock all four doors by depressing his sill door-lock, which allows the driver’s door key to lock every door. close the scuttle ventilator flap, and lock boot and fuel-filler flap, which provides adjustment of the separate from seats forward and backwards, for squab rake and up and down from a single knob, and provides for adjustment of the back seat. sets new standards of comfort and convenience. The luggage boot lid both rises and closes by operating the catch there are electric window lifts, every form of interior lighting, an easily adjustable steering column, multiple horns, an outside-air-temperature dial to warn of ice on the autobahn and, another sophisticated safety feature, internal adjustment of the exterior mirrors. There are curtains for the back window, but these have to be drawn manually.
Couple this with the silent, smooth fuel-injection V8 engine with its two generators, the most up-to-date all-independent suspension, with ride-control and the means of elevating the whole car 40 mm. to protect it from rough surfaces, the servo-assisted brakes, the automatic transmission with hold positions for 2nd and 3rd gears, and the size and impeccable finish of this lavishly-equipped car and you have the ultimate in luxury motoring.
What is even more impressive is the handling and braking of this 2.5-ton car. Both are out of this world. The 600 can be cornered at sports-car speeds, or faster, with little roll, absolute certainty, and no noise or other distractions. Its power steering, geared just over 3.5-turns, lock-to-lock, but feeling rather lower geared due to the big steering wheel, is light but not absurdly so and has the accuracy of the best manual steering, with the proviso that towards full lock there is a slight loss of positive feel. The turning circle is commendably small for a car of 10 ft. 6 in. wheel base. The brakes are so powerful you tend to back off at first for normal stops; they are completely untemperamental. quiet, light, and fade-free even with smoke pouring from the discs. There is a foot parking-brake to please American purchasers but it releases automatically as a gear is selected.
The Mercedes-Benz 600 will go to 100 m.p.h. on any convenient stretch of English road, and it accelerates very swiftly indeed, with scarcely any lag on kick-down on the accelerator, this needing heavy pressure over the final range of the pedal. The ventilation is such that all windows and the 0.25-lights (which are opened or shut by simple push-pull levers) are normally kept shut, when the car is very quiet indeed, only a modicum of road noise from the 9.00 x 15 Fulda “Diadem” nylon whitewall tyres and a Subdued whine rather like an underground train gaining speed as the DB 4-speed transmission takes itself out of low gear, intruding. Because the window lifts are hydraulic, not electric these, too, are silent. If a sliding roof is fitted, this, also, is hydraulically actuated; the car I drove had a Motorola radio, with autommcaerial retraction. The doors shut more easily and quietly than those of a Silver Shadow.
I do not propose to discuss the 600 in detail—in interior arrangoments, facia layout, extreme comfort of its seats, safety-padding discreet walnut trim, etc: it follows traditional Mercedes-Benz practice, so that the MOTOR SPORT full road-test report of the 300 SE, published in August 1964, goes over substantially the same ground. The 600 showed 45 lb/sq. in. oil pressure. 180F water heat. Its fuel warning light came in purposefully, without a preliminary wink, alter about 180 miles from having the 24.6gaIlon took filled. The 9.0 to 1 c.r, seemed suited to premium petrol. There are glass deflectors inside the body, enabling the back windows to be lowered without draughts, lead-rests for the back seats are available, and the low level ol the 600 makes entry and exit supremely easy, aided by various, rigid hand-grips. To the right of the steering column is the DB multiple-purpose stalk, controlling turn indicators, 2-speed wipers. washers and lamp flasher. The foot dimmer button is set slightly too tar to the right.
Using the gear holds, the engine can be taken up to 4,800 rpm. the tachometer starts at “3”, reads to 6,000r.p.m; automatic change-up out of third happens at about 70 m.p.h.
No car is really perfect—the suspension of the 600 gives an exceptionally good ride but you can feel the big wheels rising and falling, although the damping is excellent, so that humpbridges, etc. do not catch it out. The luggage boot is surprisingly small for a car of this type and the spare wheel, partially sprung to aid its removal, is mounted vertically on the o/s. There is too much plated beading round the wheel arches, although I think the single headlamps are preferable to dual lamps.
Top speed?—Mercedes, who make no mystery about horsepower (300 at 4,100 r.p.m.) claim a cool 125 m.p.h.
The Mercedes-Benz 600 impresses most when it is taken fast through dense traffic or hurled round corners—it feels no bigger than a 300SE and handles superbly. Otherwise, it is so light to drive, so predictably automatic, so smooth and quiet, that like other great cars, its very great merit is rather masked by its imperturbability.
But all the old allure that lies behind the 3-pointed star is there! As a schoolboy I was intrigued by the great 32/220 and 38/250 Mercedes-Benz sports cars which departed from the London showrooms bound for far-flung destinations all over Europe. Today Mercedes-Benz (Gt. Britain) Ltd. run a school for owners and chauffeurs of 600s at their ultra-modern Brentford premises; I was shown a 6-door limousine ordered by a Sultan, who had sent not only his chauffeur but his A.D.C. to this school—which is something Rolls-Royce have had for years, of course.
Already 30 discerning motorists have bought 600s in this country, representing a turnover for the British concessionaires in the region of £270,000 on this one model alone. They will be glad to sell you a saloon for £8,926, a limousine for £9,994, and try, wherever possible, to get a Reg. No. incorporating the numerals ” 600.” The car is available in any finish, metallic or otherwise, can be had with leather, cloth, velour or bedford cord upholstery and with choice of walnut, lined walnut, macassar or palisander trim. If you invest your money thus you will own the most advanced motor-car in the world, a splendid example of Daimler-Benz engineering at its highest pinnacle.