Mercedes’ ultra-luxury 600-Series sedan and limousine were born in 1963, though the tradition of a factory-built flagship suitable for Heads of State and Captains of Industry alike goes back to the 770 Grosser of the 1930s. The 770 was one of the most technologically advanced cars of the 30s, though it gained a reputation for its favor among infamous members of Germany’s ruling party. By the 1950s, Mercedes’ post-war recovery was well underway, and a newfound optimism and demand gave way to a new factory limousine, the 300 “Adenauer.” The elegant Adenauer served as the company flagship from 1951(W186) through 1963 (W189).
The Grosser Mercedes moniker was revived in 1963 with the introduction of the W100 – officially called the 600. In the spirit of the pre-war 770, Mercedes-Benz engineers threw everything they had at the 600. It was one of the most sophisticated automobiles of the era and stands as one of the most meticulously engineered cars of all time. Unlike a body-on-frame Cadillac or Rolls-Royce, the 600 used advanced unitary construction that was so strong that the roof could be lopped off for landaulet versions without the need for additional bracing. A complex but ingenious hydraulic system operating at 150-bar (2,176 psi) powered the suspension as well as the window lifts, power seats, sunroof, and even the trunk closure. Without a suitable engine in their portfolio, the new M100 V8 was developed from scratch to power the 600. With 6.3-liters capacity and Bosch fuel-injection, the M100 was a beast – making 250 horsepower and 370 ft-lbs of torque. It was enough to allow the 6,100 pound Mercedes to hassle a Porsche 911 T in a straight line.
The 600 quickly became the ultimate status symbol for the famous and the infamous – with Elvis Presley, and Coco Chanel joined by the likes of Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein and Fidel Castro as 600 owners. Limited production lasted from 1964-1981 with a total of 2,677 built, in all configurations, from SWB sedan to the range-topping Pullman Landaulet. Of the 600 family, the sleeper of the group is the short-wheelbase four-door sedan, as presented here. All of the expected luxuries are there, and they make for surprisingly good driver’s cars thanks to that sophisticated suspension and glorious, torque-laden 6.3 liter M100 V8.
This 1968 600 SWB Sedan is a particularly fine example that has been treated to extensive, professional care in the hands of its past owners. It is accompanied by an impressive stack of paperwork that documents the maintenance and essential, specialized upgrades it has received in recent years. This 600 is a very well-optioned car, finished as-delivered in Anthracite (code DB172) over a lovely tan leather interior and equipped as original with European headlamps, Bosch fog lamps, and a sunroof. The body is in very good condition and the doors shut with the vault-like precision expected of a 600. The paintwork is said to be mostly original and while some minor crazing is apparent upon close inspection, it remains glossy and attractive. The chrome and brightwork are similarly good, and is straight and largely original with a light care-worn appearance.
Interior appointments include a cooled compartment between the front seats, complete with shot glasses and a thermos, as well as rear picnic trays, ivory steering wheel, power adjustable rear seats and rear privacy curtains. The tan leather has mellowed nicely, appearing well cared-for and in very sound condition. Extensive woodwork adorns the dash, windscreen frame, door caps, and picnic tables and it presents in excellent condition overall, with only some fading visible at the base of the windscreen. Updates include a modern radio and rebuilt window switches on all four doors. Original handbooks are included along with the 600-specific toolkit and very rare factory hydraulic service kit.
Accompanying this car is a large stack of receipts documenting the extensive care it has received in the hands of its previous owners, including one former president of the Gullwing Owner’s Club. The hydraulic system has been comprehensively rebuilt, the heating and air conditioning fully sorted, and brakes rebuilt. All of the work was carried out by the W100 experts Star Motors of Endicott, New York. The no-expense-spared service continued with Karl Middelhauve-developed upgrades to the ignition system (a fully-engineered EFI with modified intake) and a Middelhauve-designed front subframe to accommodate W140-type hydraulic engine mounts. The engine was removed and resealed as part of the service as well. The big V8 presents in a tidy, unrestored manner that is reflective of the regular care and maintenance. The suspension has been serviced with new bushes as needed, and the ancillary hydraulics rebuilt with new window lift cylinders, new trunk actuator, upgraded billet-type switches for all four doors, and a rebuilt pump and actuator. Over $100,000 was spent on these services and upgrades between 2001 and 2011, and the car has continued to be well-maintained by its current enthusiastic owner.
Driving a Mercedes-Benz 600 is an experience unto itself, delivering astonishing levels of performance even by today’s standards. Built in very limited numbers for an elite clientele, very few have survived in such fine original condition, and fewer still have been as lavishly maintained as this exceptional example. The 600 stands today as one of the most luxurious, stately, and imposing of all post-war automobiles and is quite simply one of Mercedes-Benz’s finest achievements.