Vern Parker, The Washington Times
Mercedes-Benz produced the lengthy 600 series sedan in limited numbers from 1963 to 1981. A total of only 2,190 were manufactured during those 18 years, 198 of them in 1970. The 18-foot, 2-inch-long luxury car on which there were no optional extras carried a base price of $25,920.
Who could afford such a luxuriously appointed automobile? Certainly not a young U.S. Army lieutenant named Thomas Marshall. Lt. Marshall could look and dream, however, which is what he did at a Park Avenue showroom in New York City that long-ago day. "It's a car I have always loved," he says. Most of the grand Mercedes-Benz 600s were sold to various governments for their leaders or to people of great wealth such as some movie stars. One such actor was William Holden who had starred in "Stalag 17," "Picnic" and "Bridge on the River Kwai." He purchased one of the early 1970 models in Geneva on Sept. 6, 1969. He had a nearby house and enjoyed his wonderful car for six months on European highways before shipping the car to his California home in Palm Springs. There it stayed for several years.
Mr. Holden liked taking part in rallys. Most rallyists participate in sports cars but he evidently liked to rally in the lap of luxury - his Mercedes-Benz 600. He had a pair of expensive Heuer rally watches installed on a dashboard panel normally occupied by the radio. To further aid in his rallying an altimeter was installed at the hub of the steering wheel, obscuring the three-pointed star emblem.
Mr. Holden then had to find a place for the displaced radio. Between the front seats is a refrigerated console that couldn't be disturbed. Between the console and the dashboard trimmed with heavily grained Macassar wood from Africa, Mr. Holden had an addition built onto the console and covered with the same black leather in which the rest of the car is upholstered. Into this addition he had a Cadillac radio placed.
Mr. Holden died in November 1981 and in August 1996 the handsome silver car was presented at the Cole auction during the Pebble Beach weekend in Monterey, Calif.
By that time the former infantry lieutenant was a retired colonel, and when he saw the Mercedes-Benz 600 on display he thought, "I am going to buy that car." He looked over the specifications to ascertain everything was in order. It still rode on a 126-inch wheelbase and under the hood was the first Mercedes-Benz V-8 engine, a dual-overhead cam 386-cubic- inch (6.3-liter) monster that cranks out 300 horsepower. The muscular engine can propel the 5,430-pound car from 0-to-100 quicker than a sporty little 230SL. Top speed is programmed at 127 mph even though the speedometer tops out at 140 mph.
"I finally bought a used car as a retired colonel that I couldn't afford new as a lieutenant," Col. Marshall says. He carefully went over the car and found it well-cared-for, from the two-tone dual air horns at the front to the spare tire compartment at the rear. In between he found an nonauthentic odometer reading of 54,000 miles. Additionally, he located a thermostat on the dashboard to control the heat in the car.
A map light in the glove compartment door is illuminated when the door is opened. As for the dual air conditioning, Mr. Marshall says, "It's so silent and so unique." Of course, there is a cigarette lighter in each door along with an ashtray. The jambs of all four doors are sparkling stainless steel. The rear window and quarter window on each side can be screened from view by custom-tailored curtains. An unusual touch are the rear-door inside ventilator windows, designed to deflect the wind in the face of the rear-seat passengers. Those same passengers could be reclining since the rear seat is powered to move forward while the top corner was a secured pivot point. Col. Marshall knew the Mercedes-Benz was thoroughly operated by hydraulics, but even he was surprised when confronted by all the hydraulic plumbing. Besides the steering and brakes, hydraulics also operate the windows and self-leveling system to adjust ground clearance. About the only things not hydraulically operated are the wing-vent windows in the front doors. They can be opened by manually pushing forward on the handles. Col. Marshall, now living in McLean, still marvels at the rally clock in the sumptuous car. "What was he thinking?" Col. Marshall asks rhetorically. But Col. Marshall didn't buy his dream car to make it a garage queen. He recently drove his gorgeous car round trip to Florida. While making the 2,000-mile trip he discovered - in comfort - that the powerful engine was loafing along at 3,100 rpm at 70-75 mph while sipping gasoline through fuel-injectors at the rate of 18 mpg. A 24.7-gallon tank gives a range of almost 450 miles, which suits the current owner fine.
It's his dream car, and this time, the dream came true.