It sounds glib, but the Mercedes 600 really did live up to its ‘world’s most luxurious limousine’ tag; not just at the time of its introduction in 1963, but right through to the end of production in 1981. And, to be fair, there still aren’t many cars that can even come close.
What an utterly unique proposition a Mercedes 600 is. There’s nothing truly comparable – they’re fast, they handle well when setup correctly, they’re genuinely enjoyable to drive – and they have road presence like no other car.
Under the skin they’re equally unique. If the hydraulic system isn’t enough for you, then how about the brake servo working off the air pressure of the suspension, or the engine water pump that’s driven via a torque converter by the engine oil?
Which Mercedes 600 to buy?
Propelled by Mercedes-Benz’s first V8 engine, a 6.3-litre, 250bhp marvel of engineering, the short wheelbase version of the 600 could top 125mph. Even the long wheelbase model – the legendary Pullman – could boast 120mph, despite its 2640kg weight.
How could a 1960s car weigh this much? Easy, once you consider the driver-adjustable self-levelling air suspension and the high-pressure hydraulic system used to self-close not just the boot but the doors, too, as well as to adjust the seats and power the windows, the air-con flaps, the glass central divider, the sunroof and the damper control!
The Pullmans could be ordered with either four or six doors, while there were also a few Landaulets built, with a convertible top over the rear passenger compartment. No two Pullmans were the same, with options that could include a bar, fridge, TV, armour-plating... you get the idea – and so did film stars, royalty, world leaders and dictators.
Performance and specs
Engine 6329cc all-alloy V8, Bosch mechanical fuel injection
Power 250bhp @ 4000rpm
Torque 434lb ft @ 3000rpm
Transmission Four-speed auto, limited-slip differential
Top speed 120mph
Dimensions and weight
• When these cars go wrong, they’re often laid up for years – but almost always under cover. This, combined with the high-quality steel used, means that rot isn’t the major problem.
• It won’t hurt to check the front floors, bulkhead and leading edges of the sills, just in case. In extreme cases front inner wings rust, too.
• The M100 engine is near-indestructible, but long storage with old engine oil can allow the acidic hydrocarbons in the lubricant to eat into the big-end and main bearing shells, calling for a rebuild.
• Fuel injection is trouble free but water pumps can cost £3000-plus to fix. The transmission is extremely tough.
• It’s the hydraulic system that causes the most trouble. The pump, unique to the 600, wears and becomes noisy; a replacement is more than £20,000, but they can be reconditioned for around £3000.
• An accumulator stores pressure; if it’s OK it should be possible to operate a window up and down 30 times after the engine has been switched off. Pipes can develop leaks anywhere around the car.
• The air suspension uses three height control valves: two at the front, one at the back. If they’re in good condition, the car will remain at correct height for up to eight weeks. If it sinks within hours of the vehicle’s use, they need replacing, at £1800 each.
• Airbags crack and develop leaks, but they’re a service item and relatively easily replaced. The air compressor is extremely reliable, and air system parts are shared with the 3.5 and 6.3 SE L and the 300SE range.
• Interiors were often velour and PVC, and prone to scruffiness, so many have been retrimmed in leather. Not cheap! There are swathes of wood panels, too, and of course these are expensive to recondition.
1963: The 600 ‘Grosser’ Mercedes (model name W100) is launched in two lengths: five/six-seater with 3200mm wheelbase and seven/ eight-seater with 3900mm wheelbase. Four- and six-door versions of Pullman available.
1965: Landaulet version with convertible rear passenger compartment is introduced.
1966: Instrument binnacle styling changed to less attractive vinylor leather-trimmed version. Hubcap design changed.
1968: Hydraulically powered self closing door mechanisms deleted (buyers now prefer cars without self-closers, for reliability).
1971: Minor facelift: climate control improved, interior door handle design changed.
1981: Production ceases after 2190 SWB limousines, 423 Pullmans and 59 Landaulets built. At least two two-door coupes also thought to have been made.
Owners clubs, forums and websites
• www.mercedes-benz-club.co.uk – The Mercedes-Benz Club UK
• www.m-100.cc – The International M-100 Group
• www.mbca.org – Mercedes-Benz Club America
Summary and prices
Nothing is simple and everything is expensive, while regular use and correct maintenance are paramount. A 600 can’t be run or rebuilt on anything less than an extravagant budget, and unfortunately that has left the short-wheelbase models out in the cold to some extent, as costs far outstrip values at the moment. But as Pullman prices climb, the short-wheelbase cars should gain status.
The short-wheelbase cars range from £45,000-50,000 when they’re in good, useable condition, up to £100,000 for the very best. A good Pullman starts at £70,000 and goes up to £130,000, with a premium for the six-door. But you won’t find a Landaulet in useable condition for less than £300,000, and a great one can easily fetch £600,000 to £800,000.