Road & Track, July, 1965
IF YOU PAID for a new Mercedes 600 in dollar bills (new dollar bills, naturally), the stack would be slightly taller than basketball player Wilt Chamberlain. If you made a normal down payment and financed your purchase of a Mercedes 600 for the usual 3-year period, your car payments would run about $490 per month. If, instead of buying a Mercedes 600, you invested the same amount of money in other cars you could get a Lincoln Continental, a Buick Riviera, two Pontiac GTOs and still have enough change left over for two and a half or three Volkswagens. The Mercedes 600 is not an ordinary car.
The Mercedes 600 was first introduced to the public at the Frankfurt International Motor Show in the fall of 1963. The factory's announcement said, "The new car takes up the pre-war tradition of the company which was to have at least one model which would be included whenever ultra-prestige cars were considered." The list price of the sedan is $20,500, which makes it the most expensive standard model automobile now in production. A limousine version, called the Pullman, starts at $23,500. Seatbelts are included in the list price but air conditioning is $1766 extra on this model.
Known in Germany as Der Grosser Mercedes (translated as "The Grand Mercedes" for the English-speaking market), it is comparable in size to the other luxury cars in the market, as can be seen in the chart on page 65. The appearance of the 600 bears a strong family resemblance to the smaller, more familiar models in the Mercedes line. The proportions of the 600 have been carefully blended and its large dimensions become obvious only when you are close to it. Then you comprehend that it is a tall car by present standards (59.5 in. in height compared with 54.2 for the Continental), that the hood line is way up in the air and that the tires, 9.00-15, are larger than any other standard passenger car tires on the market. Its sheer bulk is imposing and because the mind's eye is not accustomed to such grand dimensions, it takes a while to encompass it in the mind ... like a statue that is larger than life. Or a cathedral.
We consulted several design and styling experts about the overall impression made by the 600 and though they all admitted to being impressed, they also agreed that it would not satisfy them if they were to buy a car for $20,000. In general, they thought it "lacked a sense of style." That seems a good description. It is obviously strong, for example. It is immensely solid. And durable. Its stolidity is unrelieved, however, and nowhere is there anything that could be described as subtle. It is a thoroughly no-nonsense sort of car. One could hardly imagine a seduction scene played in it, for instance. Rape, maybe, but not seduction.
Mechanically, the 600 is fascinating. There are not only innumerable mechanical and engineering features to quicken the pulse of the appreciative but there are also accessories in plenitude adding to the driver's convenience and the passengers' comfort. The suspension, for example, is adjustable by the driver for both up-and-down and for ride firmness. The doors are power assisted so they require no more than a one-finger shove to open or close. The trunk lid is also power operated. The front seats, which are individual, are power operated and are adjustable not only fore-and-aft and up-and-down, but also for lay-down. The back seats, less sophisticated, go only fore-and-aft, but this also makes the back incline to a more supine angle. All the doors, the trunk, and the door to the gas filler cap lock automatically when the driver's door is locked from either inside or out. The steering wheel is adjustable for reach. The ventilator door in the cowl is power operated. The accessory lights and windshield wipers operate on the press-on-press-off principle. The interior lights are actuated by opening the doors and operate on a delayed-action switch so that you are not immediately plunged into darkness when the doors are slammed. Invisible wires imbedded in the glass assure that the rear window shall ever remain frost free. The antenna goes up when the Becker Grand Prix AM-FM-LW radio is turned on. And comes down when it is turned off. In every intimate place you look, whether under the car or into the slots where the trunk hinges fit, there is an orderly array of lines and tubes and fittings that are marching off to attend to all these far-flung duties. Looking at these and contemplating the multiplicity of pumps and accessory drives in the engine compartment, we concluded that it's a nice car to play with but that we wouldn't want to have to repair the plumbing. Or even think about it.
The engine of the 600, an appropriate size, is a 6.3-liter V-8 with single overhead camshaft on each bank and Bosch fuel injection. Completely smooth at anything above a too-slow idle, the engine is comparatively slow-turning as it develops its maximum torque, 434 lb-ft, at 3000 rpm and its maximum horsepower, 300, at 4100. The automatic transmission, controlled by a lever on the column, is a 4-speed made by Daimler-Benz. Reading across the indicator dial, which is located at the bottom of the tachometer face, is "P-R-0-4-3-2." As in the typical automatic, the driver selects the top gear he wishes to use or to shift down to, but with the 600 he has more gears to select. In addition, the M-B unit is completely positive in action (no torque converter) and the gears are engaged at all times (except at idle or when shifting, of course). It is a superior automatic by any standards and, in contrast to the typical American unit, gives the driver the feeling that he is in control of the transmission rather than at its mercy.
Driving The Grand Mercedes is not so much of an exotic experience as one might think. The driver enters and sits down, much as in any car, except that the 600 is a bit easier to get into than a typically low-slung American sedan. The driver's seat is 20 in. off the ground in the 600, whereas it is about 16 in. from the road in a typical General Motors product. Once established in the seat, thanks to the almost infinite amount of adjustment possible, nearly any driver can select a suitable driving position. The scats themselves are firmly padded, a good combination of springing and sponging, we thought, and superbly comfortable.
To get underway, you take the key, an implement of appropriately grand proportions, insert it and twist it in a clock-wise direction. This actuates the automatic mixture control, which decides what blend of fuel and air to inject into the cylinders, and twirls the starter so that the engine lights off with a gentle phrummm. There is, at the same moment, a twitch at the steering wheel telling you the power steering is at work. The needle in the oil pressure gauge flicks to the top of the dial, the warning lights go out and when you move the gear selector from "P," you automatically release the parking brake.
If, from a standing start, you tromp the throttle pedal to the floor, there's a great cloud emitted from the dual exhausts (chromed tips, naturally) and you are launched at a rate sufficient to carry you through the standing quarter in 17.2 sec. This doesn't impress you, you say? Have you considered that this is quicker than you can snap off a quarter in a standard Alfa 1600 Spider, a stock MG-B, a Volvo P-1800, a Porsche 356-C, the latest TR-4A, or a Sunbeam Alpine Mark IV? Comparisons of this sort are admittedly inappropriate but do dramatically illustrate that the Mercedes 600 is no slugabed.
On the highway, the 600 will undoubtedly cruise with any traffic likely to be encountered in this or any other country. And it will do this cruising in complete comfort and relative silence, and the occupants will have a far greater than average feeling of security, Much of this feeling of confidence in the car comes from the suspension, as you can cruise at high speed over typically undulating highway surfaces and not experience the slightest uneasiness. The Rolls-Royce has this same well controlled ride (except in a crosswind) and it is in this area that the American luxury cars fall far short as they tend to set up that great Detroit wallow on any road surface that is less than perfect. Around town, where a typical thank-you-ma’am double bump makes most American sedans bounce wildly, the suspension of the 600 soaks it up without the least discomfort to the occupants. This is a most remarkably effective suspension system.
Also contributing to the comfort and security of the driver and passengers are the brakes of the 600. It is equipped with great beefy discs all around and the brake line system is completely duplicated to avoid even the remotest possibility of failure. The brakes are power-assisted, progressive in action and offer good "feel" to keep the driver in touch with what is going on. There is a bit of pad squeal but it is difficult to imagine that this would bother even the most finicky of owners.
Because the 600 is a very expensive car, it should be as nearly perfect as a car can be. In all honesty, we found nothing to criticize about the way it performed its mechanical functions as an automobile. However, we did note some minor points that do detract from the car's perfection so far as the American driver is concerned. First, we like seat belts and are accustomed to their use. Our test car had belts but as they bad neither retractors nor holders, they were prone to get mixed up under the seats and become smeared with grease from the seat tracks.
We also found that the air conditioning left something to be desired. The mechanism emitted the necessary quantities of refrigerated air but was excessively noisy when turned up to anything more than the gentlest zephyr, and in the front seat we found it impossible to avoid a direct cold blast no matter how the vanes were adjusted. The outlet console for the air conditioning in the front is suspended from the instrument panel and although it is trimmed in matching veneer, it does appear to be tacked on rather than engineered into the car. All this seems hardly appropriate for a car of this price and compared with American luxury cars, or even the medium-priced sedans, where there are a larger number of outlets which can be individually controlled, the Mercedes 600's air conditioning seems crude.
It seemed to us too that the placement of the accessory controls and switches was unnecessarily random. Nothing seemed to have a reason for being where it was, there was no convenience grouping, and even the driver's ash tray, located in the door, would be consistently unhandy for a right-handed smoker.
All in all, however, the Mercedes 600 is a grand motorcar. Every automobile is essentially a specialized machine designed to perform a specific function. All succeed or fail in direct relationship to how well they fulfill this function and must be evaluated in light of these standards. By these criteria, the 600 scores very high. The Mercedes 600 comes close to fulfilling its role with perfection, perhaps closer than any other car we have ever tested.