The 600 Grosser has an umbilical attachment to supreme luxury, film stars and state leaders. We sample a perfect example of this luxury limousine outside George.
Words: Wilhelm Lutjeharms
Images: Charles Russell
The first time I walked into this kind collectors' garage, I felt like – pardon the cliché – a kid in a candy shop. What greeted me was the combination of some of the most spectacular models from Mercedes-Benz’s history. The owner’s spectrum of cars spanned approximately five decades of Stuttgart’s finest.
In the one corner of this garage, this champagne-gold 600 Grosser drew my attention: I immediately strolled over to have a closer look. During the visit the dashboard was in pieces, as the complicated on-board pressure systems needed some attention.
Although Grossers need some level of attention on a regular basis, this Grosser is looking and working perfectly this early summer’s morning, more than a year after I had laid my eyes on it for the first time.
It is times like these that you have to be grateful to collectors who maintain and run these cars, regardless of the costs, as sometimes a car’s value won’t increase at the same rate as the cost of keeping them the road.
The champagne hue, with a slight metallic twist, is obviously not the original colour (although a similar colour was available at the time), but I don’t think I’ve seen a colour on a Grosser that suits it better than this. It contributes to the grandiose aura and respect this car commands from those in its vicinity from every possible angle. It is certainly a softer and more inviting colour than the usual black and white we see on these Grossers.
Walking around the car I remember some interesting facts about Grossers. At the front, the 600’s three-pointed-star ornament is about 20% bigger than the hood ornament which was fitted to other Benz derivatives of the same period. This is also the case for rear badge. It makes sense, especially since on the massive car, a standard badge would’ve been swallowed up by the amount of bodywork.
The Grosser had already been restored when the owner bought it, so he only had to maintain it. “You have to get used to the car, its quirks and you also have to gain confidence in driving it,” he remarks. With so many picturesque towns and scenic landscapes in the vicinity of George, it is understandable that he takes it on round trips of up to 120 km.
We based ourselves at a lookout point, as the first rays of the sun started peaking over the mountaintops. The sleek design of the Grosser is a visual element we won’t easily see on any modern Mercedes-Benz model any time soon. It becomes obvious when the car is looked at from the side. The narrow bonnet line runs almost parallel to the ground, which is also the case at the rear with the boot line. It is a thin and elegant design. Paul Bracq, who penned the lines of the Grosser, also designed the W108/109, W111 and W114/115 and iconic Pagoda. Interestingly, he went on to help design France’s highspeed TGV passenger train.
It is the interior of the car where you want to spend – understandably – the most time. To say it is spacious will be an understatement of note. When behind the wheel, I feel as if I’m seated in the outer corner of a room. The view through the windscreen is near-perfect. The A-pillars are thin, while the wrap-around windscreen allows unobtrusive views to the entire front of the car. You need to get used to the huge frontal extremity of the car though. You also try to visualise the number of bodyguards who walked in front of Grossers over the course of time, the number of flags which had been attached at the front corners, the waves from VIPs from the rear seats to the gaping (or furious) populace.
There were different trim levels and options for the 600 when it was in production. This car, for instance, features the solid divider that gives the passenger(s) in the rear the opportunity to hydraulically lift the glass window by simply pushing a switch. The divider fulfils more than this simple duty though. Below the divider there are two veneer-covered pull-out tables. Between these are the controls for the radio, and below this a cooled cupboard that can house two bottles of Moët & Chandon... or Sauvignon Blanc, depending on your preference.
Should the rear seat passengers need more legroom, or want to recline, the entire rear bench can be moved fore or aft, again by simply pressing a single button.
Grossers were available with either leather or velour seats. This car features the springy velour seats. You don’t as much sit on them, as become absorbed by them, encapsulating you in utter comfort. Leather might look neater and cleaner, but for ultimate comfort there can’t be many other pews from this era with the same level of cozyness and comfort.
As if the cabin isn’t airy enough, there is also a huge sunroof. As we open it, the interior is drenched in sunlight, with a slight breeze entering the cabin.
The car truly is about the person seated in the rear, but sadly they will never know what an experience they are missing by not being at the helm of this ship.
As the road curves its way around the mountain, higher and higher towards the top, the 600 takes all the corners in its stride, much to my surprise. This mountain pass is no Alpine road with tight and narrow corners, but rather a flowing pass of well-sighted and open corners.
Tipping the scales at nearly 2,5 tonnes, the 600 is undoubtedly a heavyweight. But once you have turned the steering wheel – with a level of enthusiasm – into a turn, the 600’s weight leans to the outer side, followed by a level and settled feel throughout the rest of the corner. It is as if the suspension and tyres are happy with this input, although I wouldn’t want to push it any further. Before entering a corner you can simply touch the brake pedal, as it is extremely sensitive and strong. It quickly scrubs off your desired level of speed with an encouraging level of sophistication.
Press the throttle pedal down, and once the rev needle – situated between the two big dials – passes the 3 000rpm mark, the strong V8 engine sound becomes truly recognisable. Watch the needle go to around 3 600rpm before the next gear is selected in a perfect shift that doesn’t disturb the passengers in any which way.
After a few corners of such enthusiastic driving behaviour, I decreased my right foot’s effort on the throttle pedal. It was as if the 600 Grosser had a medicinal effect on its driver. It soothes your thoughts and relaxes the muscles. It is then that I realised how much head and shoulder room I had. At six foot one I require quite a bit of room.
On a rural road I settle down to a slow 80kph cruise. I look down at the rev counter, ticking over at 2 200rpm. Working the column shifter is so easy, and makes me wonder why Mercedes-Benz ever did away with it, only to reintroduce it recently. As the power steering assists the driver in an extreme way, the wheel can be turned with minimal effort by the tips of your fingers. The result is that I soon put my left arm on the armrest built into the door card, and use my right arm to steer this limousine down the road.
As we head back to town with the owner, the reality of owning such a car comes to light. As can be expected its has an über-wholesome appetite for fuel. Still, what an extraordinary car it was back in the day, and what an extraordinary car it is even today. It was a technological marvel in Mercedes-Benz’s history. Today, the latest S-Class fulfils a similar role. Here’s to the next generation of deluxe driving!
Mercedes-Benz 600 (W100)
Engine: M100 6,332 cc, V8
Power: 184 kW @ 4 000rpm
Torque: 500 Nm @ 2 800rpm
Transmission: 4-speed auto, RWD
Weight: 2 475kg
0-100 km/h: 9.7 seconds
Top speed: 204 km/h
Years produced: 1964 – 1981