Choice of the rich and famous

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By Robert Harland

Motoring

Wednesday, May 21, 2014


FERDINAND Marcos had four; John Lennon, Aristotle Onassis, Elvis Presley, Fidel Castro, Pol Pot, Leonid Brezhnev, Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-Il, Emperor Hirohito, Nicolae Ceauescu, Saddam Hussein, Colombian drug dealer Pablo Escobar and French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent had only one each.

Love or loathe these people, they had good taste in cars as they all owned one of the world's most luxurious vehicles, a Mercedes 600 (or in the case of President Marcos, four, including a rare Pullman Landaulet, a 1981 bulletproof and a six-door version.)

At the Frankfurt International Motor Show in 1963, Mercedes-Benz launched an extraordinary limousine - the 600, immediately acclaimed as the 'world's finest automobile.' It came in three variants worldwide - short wheel base, long wheel base and the prestigious Pullman Landaulet.

The Landaulet was such an exclusive car it was never actually included in the 600 catalogue or price listing. Each was individually handcrafted to order, matching the rather unique specifications of its original owner with a cost and level of labor intensity that was usually more often associated with private aircraft.

They also featured a folding convertible top over the rear seat, allowing its passengers to stand before their public during parades and other ceremonial occasions.

Every single part of the 600 was new, including the 6.3 L V8 engine. In view of the important passengers the car would carry, Mercedes didn’t take any chances of a breakdown and installed dual systems throughout the car.

Each vehicle has dual alternators, dual brake systems, and compressors for air conditioning and suspension.

Most amazing of all was the use of hydraulics throughout the vehicle. Everything, from the suspension, to the windows, adjustable seats, glass partition, door locks, trunk lid, sunroof, disc brakes and even the doors, is hydraulically operated, which unlike electric motors, is completely silent, very smooth and fast.

The engine, which developed 300 horsepower, could move the two-ton vehicle up to 210 kph and it could probably cruise all day at that speed.

It was built to go fast and be as solid as a tank, all the while keeping the passengers wrapped in a cocoon of luxurious and exotic wood, leathers, wool and sumptuous fabrics.

Production ended in 1972, though a few were made in the early 80s. Only 2,677 vehicles rolled off the production line.

Considered by many connoisseurs as truly a masterpiece of automotive design and engineering, these extraordinary cars fetch high prices at auction. Prices start at around $120,000 (P5.25 million) for the short wheel base version and can go up as high as $1M (P44 million) for a rare Pullman Landaulet.

The 600 has starred in many TV shows and movies including in James Bond films, most notably as transport of the villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld in On Her Majesty's Secret Service and Diamonds are Forever.

I wonder whatever happened to President Marcos's four 600s? I believe Cory Aquino's government sold off the 70 or so cars assigned to President Marcos. There was keen bidding for the 600s from several overseas businessmen and a Malaysian prince, but I have no idea where they ended up.

The 600 is indeed a beauty and as close to 'timeless' as an automobile could be.

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on May 21, 2014.

Lifestyle

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