The Mercedes-Benz 600 Limousine made its premiere at the Frankfurt International Motor Show in the fall of 1963. The previous "Grand" Mercedes-Benz were the pre-war 770 models (1930-43), built during a time in automobile history when luxury, power and elegance were at their pinnacle. They were the Daimler-Benz premier product, portraying state of the art of automotive engineering and conceived to transport and coddle dignitaries in opulent style.
The styling of the new 600 was a collaboration of Bruno Sacco and Paul Bracq. Its traditional Mercedes grille and conservative body have stood the test of time, and the car has become one of the most recognized automobile statements of prestige and nobility.
Over the 18-year life span of the model, just 2,677 were built. The most popular 600, the short wheelbase (just over 18 feet in length), sold 2,190 units and accounted for 82% of the total production. The two long-wheelbase models were 20.5 feet in length, and included the four- or six-door Pullman-with room for six to eight passengers-and the rare Landaulet, with a folding rear top section.
All 600s were nearly custom built, with buyers selecting from an extensive list of options. Mercedes-Benz told prospective buyers, "Insofar as it is technically possible, we will accommodate any customer request and strongly recommend discussing your requirements directly with our engineers in Sindelfingen." Each 600 was practically handbuilt by 50 skilled craftsmen and technicians, taking about 55 days to complete.
The 600 was the first production Mercedes-Benz car to be propelled by a V8 engine. The huge 6.3-liter iron block/alloy head, mechanically fuel-injected, 300-hp powerplant could push these three-ton-plus limos to 125-135 mph. Transmission was a four-speed automatic, connected through a three-piece driveshaft to a limited-slip differential.
The 600 had a unit-construction pressed steel chassis/body unit; the trunk lid was the only aluminum body panel. The self-leveling high-pressure air suspension with adjustable ride height had A-arms attached to a sub-frame at the front and a low-pivot swing axle with special anti-brake drive design at rear. The shock absorbers were driver adjustable to suit driving style and road surface. Brakes were four-wheel discs with massive front dual-caliper brakes with air power assist.
To help put in perspective the handling and power capabilities of this massive car, in 1965 a Pullman 600 with six adults on board and Stirling Moss behind the wheel came within five seconds of besting the saloon-car lap record at the Brands Hatch racing circuit. In 1965, Car and Driver magazine stated, "The Mercedes 600 has proved to our complete satisfaction that it is the finest automobile in the world!"
|1969 Mercedes-Benz 600 SWB
|Original List Price:
|Tune Up Cost:
|Chassis Number Location:
|Stamped on right front frame rail
|Engine Number Location:
|Left rear top of block
|Mercedes-Benz Club of America, 1907 Lelaray Street, Colorado Springs, CO 80909-2872
|Rolls-Royce Phantom V, Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud III LWB, Daimler Limo
The car featured here sold for $38,500, including buyer’s premium, at RM’s Amelia Island auction March 8, 2003.
It was presented with a mediocre older repaint with apparent surface flaws, and, except for the hood, decent panel fit. The chrome, leather, carpets, wood and gauges were presentable. The catalog stated this unrestored example had covered what was believed to be 41,000 original miles and had been regularly serviced and maintained. If, and it’s a very big if on any 600, there are not any deferred maintenance issues or mechanical overhauls existing or impending, this was a fair price.
Herein lies the collector’s love-hate relationship with the 600. Almost every one of the 600’s complex, technically sophisticated systems that bring such pleasure in use bring an equivalent or greater amount of financial pain when they finally wear out or die prematurely from lack of use or proper maintenance. Virtually every part on the 600 was built solely for this car, and in small (meaning hugely expensive) numbers. The 6.3-liter engine is nearly the only interchangeable part with other Mercedes, and it is the most bulletproof part of the car.
It takes a true specialist, with first-hand knowledge and experience, to service, repair or restore these machines. For example, the hydraulic system requires a lightweight special-purpose oil, Mercedes part number 100 890 00 11. While this looks somewhat like typical ATF fluid, if ATF is innocently dumped in the hydraulic reservoir-the system that powers the seats, windows, ventilation flaps, sunroof, trunk lid, shocks and, on the early models, the door assists-you’ve just committed a $30,000 faux pas. Typical rebuild costs are: brake system overhaul $25,000, front or rear axle assemblies $12,000 each plus $6,000 for the rest of the air suspension system, driveshaft $7,000. Fully restoring a 600, if you begin with a complete, decent $20,000 “builder,” will set you back at least $150,000.
Prices for the more common SWB 600 have been stable and predictable. Most used-up cars, bought by an unknowing buyer, run $15,000-$25,000. These almost certainly need $30,000 in mechanical repairs just to be reliable drivers; after that, you might be able to sell your $50,000 car for $30,000, a near dot-com special.
Obviously, if you must have a 600, you are better off spending at least $70,000 for a good car with 40,000-50,000 miles that has been maintained, with a thick folder full of documentation. Top-condition SWB 600s will bring well over $100k from savvy buyers who are aware of what it takes to make one right.
As with so many once-top-end cars SCM looks at-such as Ferrari 330 GT 2+2s and Rolls-Royce Silver Shadows-the market value of the cars has declined, but the cost of the service and repair continues to reflect their original premium prices.
If this car runs out okay, and the owner drives it for a year and then sells it without doing anything, he will probably get his money back and have had a good time. But if he comes out one morning and notices the car has adopted a kneeling position at one corner due to the collapse of the air suspension, he should be aware the good times have ended and the fiscal future is bleak.-Scott Featherman
(Thanks to Karl Middelhauve, owner of Classic Car Restoration in Woxall, PA, who has been collecting and restoring 600s for over 40 years. I spent a day at his shop, where he graciously acquainted me with the history, operation, servicing and market transactions of these cars.)