The “Super Mercedes” Model 600 – the exclusive vehicle for grand representation.’ That was a Press Information headline presenting the Model 600 in 1963. And so that there would be absolutely no doubt as to how it would position itself, the report continued in the same tone:
‘By unveiling the “Super Mercedes” Model 600, Daimler-Benz AG is presenting the vehicle that belongs in the top international league and that has time and again been the subject of discussion in Germany and abroad for many years. Mercedes-Benz is creating a link with the company’s pre-war tradition of being present in the world’s small group of outstanding representative vehicles – in the form of a luxuriously appointed car which offers the highest degree of handling safety.
The company explicitly pointed out that this was not a matter of an existing model being replaced, but that a grand pre-war tradition of famous, large, representative vehicles was being picked up. And the sumptuous brochure which was produced for the launch of the Model 600 also headlined with ‘The Super Mercedes’.
‘One approaches the large black car with awkward timidity. From its external aspect there is no doubt that this is a Mercedes-Benz. Powerful and heavy and perfected right down to the last detail it stands on its huge 9.00 x 15 tyres. And it is scarcely the grandeur of its appearance that really stops one in one’s tracks. Quite simply: it is the knowledge that one is looking at the best, most interesting, most advanced car there has ever been.’ Heinz-Ulrich Wieselmann, editor-in-chief of ‘auto motor und sport’ was not given to such euphoric assessments. The Berlin-born journalist with a loose tongue and a critical pen had not yet had the last word. The talented driver with a penchant for the upper speed echelons described the handling of the vehicle – which weighed in at some three tonnes – as follows: ‘We spoke of the driving characteristics of the “Super Mercedes” with a decidedly sporty driving style and we would expressly like to describe it as excellent. Not a few car manufacturers would give a lot to see their little racers moving through the bends as fast, as effortlessly and as safely as this three-tonner. Ride comfort is absolutely unrivalled.
Head of Passenger Car Design Rudolf Uhlenhaut decided on three main points of focus for a superior, up-to-date representative vehicle back then: maximum passenger comfort, maximum safety and superb performance.
These were basically also the premises under which the predecessor model was developed before the war, but this is often forgotten, in view of the political climate in which many of the vehicles of the time were operating.
The range of bodies available reflected a change in insight amongst those who used representative vehicles from the exclusive segment. In the case of the ‘Super Mercedes’ prior to the Second World War, the emphasis was putting individual people on display, which was reflected in the proportion – 67 per cent – of the total number of vehicles built. After the war this self-promotion aspect, which had above all been popular amongst dictators, increasingly faded into the background as democratic conditions became established. The proportion of open-top vehicles with a landaulet design was only 22 per cent in the post-war period where the ‘Super Mercedes’ was concerned. Only the landaulet on a long wheelbase existed as an open body form of the Model 600, with the exception of a landaulet with a short-wheelbase which was made for Count Berckheim. No cabriolets were built.
Head of Press Arthur Keser invited ten European journalists to Val de Poix in Belgium on 28 August 1963 in order to present the new ‘Super Mercedes’ to them. They were Robert Braunschweig, Bernard Cahier, Piero Casucci, Paul Frère, Hermann Harster, Jacques Ickx, Harry Mundy, Hans Patleich, Heinz-Ulrich Wieselmann and Gordon Wilkins. The Daimler-Benz delegation welcoming them consisted of Fritz Nallinger Rudolf Uhlenhaut, Josef Müller, Karl Wilfert and Arthur Keser. In his introductory talk Uhlenhaut explained the developmental focal points of a superior-class car whose development had begun eight years previously.
Keser was highly satisfied with the response to the presentation. After all, Robert Braunschweig from Bern had made no secret of his opinion when he announced that he had never expected Daimler-Benz to succeed in launching such a car right away. And Briton Harry Mundy explained that for years he had been trying in vain to persuade Rolls-Royce to modernise their vehicles. But they had not heeded his warnings, and now Rolls-Royce had to face up to the fact that Daimler-Benz was bringing to market a car which far exceeded Rolls-Royce’s standards.
In mid-1955, Nallinger laid down the key data of assembly C as the basis for the vehicle, detailing them as follows: ‘This assembly stands for the large touring and representative cars of the future. Its standard specification includes an automatic transmission, power-assisted steering and power-assisted brakes. It has the usual 6 seats. The floor assembly has been designed in such a way that a vehicle with 3 seat rows could also be created by extending the wheelbase if applicable.
Although Nallinger was already speaking in visionary terms in February 1956 of an eight-cylinder all-alloy engine with a displacement of 6 litres, development of the first V8 engine (M 100) for a Mercedes-Benz passenger car began with a displacement of 5 litres. The first specimen was running on the test station by the end of 1959. In two further stages the displacement was increased within a relatively short period of time to 5.8 litres and 6 litres to 6.33 litres in the end, with a final output of 250 hp (183 kW). A crucial factor here was the vehicle’s overall weight, which was repeatedly adjusted upwards during the course of development due to the extended host of equipment. In the case of the first three displacement sizes there were light-alloy crankcases with grey cast iron bushes. For the increase in displacement to 6.33 litres a crankcase made of grey cast iron was necessary, in order to accommodate the bore, which was 3 millimetres larger. In the four-speed automatic transmission the planetary gear set was extended from three to six planetary gears in order to transmit the considerably higher torque.
An interesting and noteworthy anecdote from a historical perspective concerns the fact that in 1956 chief engineer Nallinger was planning to include a V12 engine with a 7.5 litre displacement, deeming it to be a fitting partner for underlining the image of such a large touring and representative car. The installation drawings by engine designer Adolf Wente in 1957 proved that this was more than just a question of ideas being played around with. The 6.4 litre and 6.7 litre V8 engines from Cadillac and Chrysler were a decisive influence on Nallinger’s considerations.
By the end of the 1950s, it no longer sufficed for a ‘Super Mercedes’ to have a large body or display good performance in order to have a USP. More was expected of a Mercedes-Benz. The challenge that company employees in Untertürkheim and Sindelfingen set themselves was practically to make the impossible possible. Werner Breitschwerdt said of the Model 600 when looking back at the end of the 1980s: ‘In those days then we wanted to build a car that could do everything that was possible, and it had to be capable of doing more than all the other cars – for the driver and the front passenger.’ This culminated in concrete demands for ride comfort of the highest calibre unrivalled to this day, and at the same time sporty driving characteristics, a large car and yet playful handling and a luxury vehicle but athletic performance.
The operating comfort was exemplary for the time, because in Sindelfingen they refused to be satisfied with the usual electrically aided assistance functions for the window lift mechanisms or the door strikers. In a competition between electric assistance systems developed by Werner Breitschwerdt and a hydraulic system designed by Ernst Fiala, the latter won the day. Breitschwerdt commented on the matter as follows: ‘The electrical system would not have been able to accommodate the many functions that we wanted to incorporate back then. The problem was space and weight, because, amongst other things, we would have needed a second battery. The advantage of the high-pressure hydraulics system that had been developed was that precisely because of its high pressures it was able to get by with small elements. The hydraulics system was simply smaller, quieter and lighter than electrical systems that existed in those days.
Many parts were specially developed in Sindelfingen, as similar components from the aviation industry proved to be too heavy. The convenience hydraulics system supported or completed these functions: locking the doors (extended central locking); operating the sliding sunroof, operating the windows, operating the partition, operating the boot, operating the heater and vent flaps, front and rear seat adjustment, shock absorber adjustment and release of the parking brake.
A particular focus during development of the new ‘Super Mercedes’ under Uhlenhaut’s leadership was on combining comfort with safe, sporty handling. The amalgamation of the air suspension with the front wishbones and the single-joint swing axle with additional lowered thrust arms with braking torque support and two cross struts and double suspension in conjunction with the adjustable shock absorbers resulted in euphoric reviews for the driving characteristics. In 1965 Reinhard Seiffert wrote of the ride comfort in the ‘Motor Revue’: ‘Ride comfort which undoubtedly optimises everything previously attained in automotive technology has been achieved.’ And of the handling safety: ‘The over-used word “adhesion” is entirely appropriate here, for the handling is completely neutral and remains so during fast cornering – up to a stage when at the rear there is perhaps somewhat less lateral stability than at the front, so that a slight decline in the wonderfully direct and sensitive steering allows safe control of the vehicle. But this is definitely not the norm. One can drive the 600 like a sports car on mountain passes without experiencing such phenomena – a well-driven sports car will then have trouble keeping up.
And in the end there is in actual fact nothing more and nothing less than the best car in the world, which is the conclusion drawn by the American magazine ‘Car and Driver’ following a comparison test also involving Cadillac and Rolls-Royce models, and as Reinhard Seiffert sums up with ironic understatement in ‘auto motor und sport’ in his test in 1966: ‘That one can – even when assessing cars – use such a vehicle as a point of orientation is a ray of hope in view of the general trend towards mediocrity. It is by no means exaggerated to expect from all cars as much comfort and operability as the 600 offers. They can probably never be too good, as even the 600 is, as we discovered following three weeks of everyday use, is just about good enough.
The engineers took particular care over the braking system. At the front and rear the ‘Super Mercedes’ of the post-war period had dual-circuit disc brakes, with two brake callipers for each of the front 291-millimetre discs. The 9.00 x 15 diagonal tyres were specially designed for the Model 600 by the tyre manufacturers Fulda and Continental.
Right from the outset the saloon bodies were available with the usual wheelbase of 3200 millimetres, the Pullman saloon with 3900 millimetres. They were later joined by the landaulet and Pullman saloon body variants with six doors. Two special designs were the landaulet with a short wheelbase for Count Berckheim and the Pope’s vehicle, also a landaulet, but this time with a long wheelbase.
It was astonishing that the Model 600, as sharp-edged as it appeared, had a Cd value of 0.458. By way of comparison: the Model 230 SL with a hardtop had a cd value of 0.515 and a Model 190 SL with a hardtop a cd value of 0.461.
The M 100 engine was also used in the S-Class, first of all in the Mercedes-Benz 300 SEL 6.3 (W 108), with no change to the output. Then in 1975 the Model 450 SEL 6.9 (W 116) made its debut with an engine whose displacement had been brought up to 6.9 litres and which now developed 286 hp (210 kW). This stage of evolution was also tested in the Model 600 – there is known to have been one test vehicle –, but in its case its displacement remained at 6.3 litres until manufacturing finished.
With a production period of 18 years between 1963 and 1981, the Model 600, alongside the SL of the 107 model series, is one of the vehicles that was made for the longest amount of uninterrupted time at Mercedes-Benz. Production was divided up into the following units:
The USA was the largest customer, buying 743 vehicles.
Next came Germany with 589, France with 151 and Great Britain with 126.
The two-door coupé built in Sindelfingen in 1965 was a special case. It was intended to be a test vehicle for looking into the possibility of a large coupé, which had been on the agenda all along as a successor to the 300 Sc (W 188 II). Today this coupé is privately owned and remains a one-off.
Source: Daimler AG