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Motoring: Mercedes Benz 600 Grosser - 1963

What did Elvis Presley, the Pope, the Sultan of Brunei, Mao Tse-Tung and Idi Amin have in common? They all owned examples of the Mercedes Benz 600 Grosser, built between 1963 and 1981. A worthy successor to the "Grosser Type 770K", built exclusively for Nazi leaders during the late 1930s, the 600 caused an enormous sensation when it was introduced at the 1963 Frankfurt Auto Show. Not since the pre-war days had such a superlative automobile design by a major manufacturer been unveiled to an astonished public. Immediately compared to Bugatti's fabled Royale and the vaunted Rolls Royce Phantom, Mercedes' 600 was truly to become the marque's flagship for decades.

"In the great tradition of the world's oldest, most experienced manufacturer of fine motorcars, the Grand Mercedes will establish new and higher standards than ever in automotive engineering and excellence." Thus read the brochure for this, the grand daddy of stretched limos - the original and the best. "Peerless in performance, this noble car incorporates every conceivable feature important to passenger comfort and safety. It is the ultimate automobile in luxury, elegance and technical perfection, designed for the elite among the world's most discriminating and influential people."

The 600 was unlike any other car built. Its four-wheel independent and height-adjustable suspension provided an uncompromised smooth ride for passengers under virtually all road conditions. Settings for the hydraulic shock absorbers could be varied from soft to firm via a three-position lever on the steering column. Should road conditions demand extra ground clearance, the car could be raised two inches. A pneumatic air bag system kept the car level no matter what the load. The cars were equipped with a vast array of special convenience features such as central vacuum locking for doors and boot. Hydraulics opened and closed the boot lid, the power windows, the limousine divider window, the sunroof, the fuel filler door and the Landaulet's top.

The 600's heating and ventilation system included a climate control which could be set individually for front and back compartments. The usual radio had a remote control unit in the rear allowing the passenger to set the stations and volume. An intercom was also installed, and the front and rear seats were hydraulically operated. Thirteen interior lights kept things well illuminated. To discreetly shield diffident occupants from the stares of the hoi-polloi, all 600's had rear and side curtains. One of the car's most noted innovations was its remote-adjustable exterior rear-view mirrors, common today but a first in 1963.

Available between 1964 and 1972, there were two basic types of the Mercedes-Benz 600 on offer: the 5-6 seat Sedan, with a wheelbase of 126" (3,200 mm), which could be supplied with a central division; and the Seven Passenger Limousine, wheelbase 153.3" (3,900 mm), with central division and a choice of either four doors with two backward-facing seats in the rear, or six doors with two forward-facing folding seats in the rear. According to the sales brochure, the two latter choices were offered "principally to meet the needs of heads of state, industry and other people of eminence having considerable public responsibilities". So there - drool in envy, the rest of you!

Mere mortals could only stare and dream at the sight of one of these behemoths, probably trying to guess which celebrity was riding in the back seat behind drawn curtains. Naturally, the mystique created by the preferential use of the "Grosser Mercedes" in the field of diplomacy and politics led to a certain demand for the model among ultra-rich private citizens. A grand total of 2,677 examples of the model were hand-crafted during the 18 years of production, and Mercedes reportedly lost money on every one of them.

The Grosser was called the Pullman in Britain but used its German moniker in other markets. A few hundred of the 600 Series made it to Australia's shores and a large proportion of them were the 6 door Grosser. They had a mixed clientele from business executives to diplomats and hire car companies where they were in big demand for weddings.

Wheel base 153.3 ins. = 3,900 mm
Overall length 246 ins. = 6,240 mm
Height 60 ins. = 1,500 mm + increase by 2.0 ins. = 50 mm
Engine: Cylinders: 8
Bore/stroke: 4.06/3.74 ins. = 103/95 mm
386.26 cu. ins. = 6,329 cm3
Power: 250 HP at 4,000 r.p.m.
Transmission: DB automatic four
Maximum speed 125 m.p.h. = 200 km/h
Acceleration from 0-62.1 m.p.h. (100 km/h) 9.7 sec.
Tank capacity
29.6 gals. = 112 ltr.
Reserve 5.0 gals. = 19 ltr.
Vehicle weight 5,820 lbs. = 2,640 kg

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