There are some cars which are so iconic that they help to define the culture of a given era. Think about the Bugatti Royale, Jaguar E-type, or even the Sierra Cosworth.
These are vehicles that – even at first glance – simply could not have been conceived or built at any other point in time. They are indisputably part of the fabric of a generation, and the same goes for the subject of this post.
If you had to name the most significant car launch of the 1963 Frankfurt motor show, it would be hard to argue against the Porsche 901. This car previewed what we now know (thanks to Peugeot) as the 911 – a moniker that means as much today as it ever has done.
Running an incredibly close second in my opinion – others may say it’s actually the winner – is the Mercedes-Benz 600 (W100). Like the 911, this was not a car that just blended in among the established rivals.
The Frankfurt preview edition of Car and Driver magazine attempted to convey the presence of the car to its readers:
“The overwhelming impression is one of almost suffocating luxury – a 386 cu. in V-8, an all-up weight of nearly three tons, suspension as soft as the glove-leather upholstery.”
The price for such a dramatically well-appointed vehicle was accordingly enormous, with Car and Driver observing, “the price will be so high that the exact figure – say $20,000 – would be academic, meaning only to directors of national budgets”.
The magazine was, of course, entirely accurate. Around 2,700 examples of the 600 were built, and only 428 of these were the ultra-luxurious long-wheelbase Pullman model. The latter was mostly ordered as a four-door limousine, but more than 100 had an extra set of doors, and around 60 were specified with a Landaulet body.
The Pullman is still the epitome of the 600 model. It was the ultimate statement of wealth and power in its era, with owners spanning an unsurprising line-up of oil magnates, world leaders and movie stars. Even more impressive was that the almost every first owner had ordered their car before it had even been unveiled.
The car was a hammer blow to all of its contemporaries. The next time you see a Rolls-Royce Phantom VI, take note of its length. Then consider that the Pullman is 10 inches longer.
It was absolutely packed with technology too – something the S-Class has become renowned for over the years. The 600’s hydraulic set-up controls everything from the seats to the boot lid, and it runs at an astonishing 3200psi. To put that in context: it’s running at a higher pressure than the hydraulic system in most commercial airliners.
The Mercedes was also impeccably crafted – unlike most of today’s limos, every bit of trim (outside and in) was either made or finished by hand.
So Car and Driver wasn’t exaggerating when it summed up the significance of Stuttgart’s latest luxury car:
“Mercedes’ prestigious heavy cruiser sets a new standard where nothing has existed since the era of the Hispano-Suiza, the Duesenberg, the Bugatti Royale or, indeed, Mercedes’ own 770-K of the pre-WW II period.”
The Mercedes 600 Pullman has a reputation of decadence and dominion unmatched by any other car in history. But this doesn’t mean that it commands high six-figure sums.
Almost exactly three times as many Ferrari Daytonas were manufactured than Mercedes Pullmans. Excellent examples of the Ferrari regularly find £200,000+, yet the Mercedes is still averaging under £100,000. Even a well-maintained model from the famous Petersen collection failed to reach six figures in London last year – it was a no-sale after bidding stopped at just £75,000.
All of this gets me thinking that the W100 Pullman might just be the biggest collector car bargain at the moment. The one catch is the cost of maintenance and – heaven forbid – repairs. Many of the switches made for the Pullman are so rare that only Mercedes-Benz can supply them. And some of these will set you back more than £7,000 each.
But don’t let that put you off – buy a decent example and those sorts of costs will be discretionary rather than imperative. And if you’re going to look for a Pullman, why not seek one that’s been cared for but remains unmolested? Ground-up restorations may be the toast of the putting greens at Pebble Beach, but originality is arguably still king under the auction gavel.
I heartily encourage anyone with the means to hop on the Eurotunnel as soon as possible, drive for two hours from Calais to see Dirk, then arrange a swift transfer of funds to keep it that way.