‘They don’t build them like they used to’ is a common phrase when people look at classic cars. And to be fair, for the most part, that’s actually for the better. Modern cars are more reliable and generally built to higher quality standards. However, for a small handful of vintage luxury cars, the expression still applies. And one of the best examples is the Mercedes 600 ‘Grosser.’
The Mercedes 600: when the well-heeled—and some dictators—wanted the very best
The S-Class is often considered to be Mercedes-Benz’s flagship model. Whether you’re talking about the third-gen W140 from the ‘90s, its W126 predecessor, or the modern model, the S-Class stands at the pinnacle. But in the ‘60s and ‘70s, even the S-Class had to play second fiddle to the Mercedes 600 ‘Grosser.’
The 1963-1981 Mercedes 600, aka the W100, was at one point one of the most luxurious cars in the world, Autoblog reports. And as such, it ferried around some very prominent individuals. A few were successful entertainers and actors, such as Jack Nicholson and Elvis Presley, Petrolicious and The Drive report. John Lennon owned a Mercedes 600, as did George Harrison, Road & Track reports.
Not all Mercedes 600 Grosser owners were as beloved, though. The classic luxury sedan has a reputation as “the dictator’s steed,” especially in long-wheelbase Pullman form, R&T reports. Saddam Hussein, Chairman Mao, Kim Jong-il, Nicolae Ceauşescu, and Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi all owned 600s, GQ reports. Interestingly, so did the Vatican at one point, Petrolicious reports.
So, what made this sedan so desirable as a status symbol? Partially its name; ‘Grosser’ is German for ‘big.’ And even by modern standards, the 600 is fairly large. It’s 30” longer than an H1 Hummer, CarThrottle reports, and about 10” longer than the three-row Toyota Sequoia. Even the 600’s hood ornament and badges are larger than on ‘regular’ Mercedes models.
Another motivating factor was the price. Back in 1963, a Mercedes 600 Pullman cost roughly $18k, Heacock Classic reports. That’s the modern equivalent of $154,700. And at the time, that was more than a Rolls-Royce cost, Jay Leno claims.
But people wanted the 600 Grosser mostly because, for the time, it was an extremely advanced luxury car.
Road & Track says the 600 Grosser “is the only cost-no-object Mercedes ever built,” and it has the luxury to match
Daimler’s own literature describes the 600 Grosser as “the Super Mercedes.” And considering what it offered back in 1963, the moniker is arguably deserved.
The Mercedes 600 was the German automaker’s first V8-powered car, Hagerty reports. Under the hood is a 6.3-liter fuel-injected (a rarity at the time) V8 rated at 250 hp linked to a four-speed automatic. And despite the 600’s size, it has enough power to go 0-60 mph in less than 10 seconds, Bonhams reports. Plus, it can comfortably cruise at triple-digit speeds, Petrolicious reports. Little wonder AMG used the V8 in the 300SEL 6.3.
But more impressive than the Mercedes 600 Grosser’s engine is its technology. This super sedan, in the ‘60s, offered adjustable air suspension, four-wheel disc brakes, multi-zone climate control, and power-operated windows, seats, locks, sunroof, and even trunk lid, Autoweek reports. Only instead of electricity, the windows, seats, trunk, and door locks work via hydraulics, Car and Driver explains. That’s because, at the time, electric motors weren’t powerful or compact enough to be practical.
And these were just the ‘standard’ features. 600 Grosser buyers could order their cars with refrigerated storage compartments, pipe holders, and minibars, Hagerty and RM Sotheby’s report. A few even had built-in phones. Plus, Mercedes also offered the 600 in convertible Landaulet form, MotorTrend reports. And every single trim piece is handmade, R&T reports.
Driving a Mercedes 600 leaves you “enthralled by your own importance,” Car and Driver reports. Its chassis is extremely stiff for the time, but “it is the most comfortable, easy-handling car,” owner Jay Leno claims. The quality of the wood and leather inside is exquisite. In short, it’s a superlative classic luxury experience.
Be prepared to pay a gross sum to get behind the wheel
Unfortunately, and perhaps inevitably, that level of complexity and luxury comes at a price. The hydraulic system is kept at 3200 psi, and leaks can remove fingers, R&T reports. It also makes the 600 Grosser extremely difficult and expensive to restore. If you can’t repair the window switch, the new part costs $11k, R&T reports.
Plus, these cars are rare. Mercedes only made 2677 600 Grossers, with most of them being the standard-wheelbase models. Of those 2677, only 428 cars are Pullman limos, and only 59 are Landaulets, MT reports. Such rarity explains why a 1966 600 Pullman went for $346,000 at a 2020 RM Sotheby’s auction.
But even in SWB form, well-maintained Mercedes 600s are expensive. A good-condition example can easily go for $100k on Bring a Trailer; more if it has a celebrity owner. Elvis’s 600, for instance, went for $288,888 on BaT.
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