Mercedes 600 Pullman
The rolling republic
When you think of a state limousine, the black Mercedes 600 from the legendary W 100 series usually comes to mind. For more than 25 years, the luxury car was the perfect vehicle when Germany welcomed state guests. The 600 has lost none of its fascination.
In the post-war period, Germany tried more than ever to be a reliable partner for other countries. That applied not only to economic, domestic and foreign policy, but also to the choice of the presidential limousine. From 1965 to the early 1990s, the federal government only allowed its state guests the best of the best – the legendary Mercedes 600 Pullman. “For a long time, the 600 was probably the best car in the world,” said Peter Schellhammer, who was responsible for the Mercedes 600 at Daimler at the time, “a total of 2,677 models of the 600 were produced. 428 of them were delivered as Pullman and 59 as Landaulet.”
However, the two state limousines of the federal government were unique. Painted black and heavily armored, they are evidence of an ambitious and anything but pompous Federal Republic to this day. The Mercedes 600 was as perfect a match for the Federal Republic of Germany as the Villa Hammerschmidt, Bonn as the federal capital or the four occupying powers. When a state visit was due, the Foreign Office approached Daimler’s corporate headquarters in Stuttgart. They willingly provided the two elite twins along with the driver and technical staff. For many state guests, the former driver Wolfgang Wöstendieck and his Mercedes 600 Pullman with the authentic S – VC 600 license plate were as firmly connected to Germany as Helmut Schmidt, Willy Brandt or Hans-Dietrich Genscher. Because even if political currents exchanged people and officials over the years, Wöstendieck and his black 600 were ready for safe transport on almost every visit.
Mostly it went from Cologne-Bonn Airport to Bonn, to the villa and consulate district Bad Godesberg or to the guest house on the Petersberg. Wolfgang Wöstendieck has traveled the routes countless times during his 116 state visits; knew Bonn’s settlements and the winding driveway to Petersberg almost as well as his wife. Mostly he drove at a slow gallop, because the escort, protocol and the 4.5 tons empty weight gave the black 600’s thirst for action a firm corset. Special tires and the heavy armor of the two state limousines ensured that the terrific limousine performance of the early 1960s became a matter of the hub in the tank version. “The longer distances were mostly flown anyway. We mostly only drove a few kilometers – only to wait a long time again,” the gray-haired limousine driver once reported to the German government. It never got tricky on his journeys: “But when Brezhnev was there, there was a flat tire near Gymnich. Brezhnev was brought into the second vehicle, the standards were changed and after 67 seconds we were able to continue.” When Prince Philipp was being chauffeured two days later, he only looked at the tires and asked Wöstendieck mischievously: “Are the tires okay?”
As much as Wolfgang Wöstendieck was connected to the valance of the state limousine at the time, Peter Schellhammer also felt closely interwoven with the technology and history of the automotive legend of the W 100 series. He delivered hundreds of exclusive models to sheikhs in the Middle East, princes in mini-states and custom-made products to particularly elite customers – worldwide from 1963 to the end of production in 1981. Because the 600 was never something for everyone, even as a street model. The long versions, which were available with four and six doors, were particularly popular. Noble guests did not enjoy the visual protection of darkened windows, as they do today, but instead used gray curtains to protect themselves from prying eyes. But all too often the privacy screen was folded neatly and you could enjoy both sides of the panes in and out. In order to be particularly advantageous for photographers and curious glances, not only were the two state limousines equipped with orange-colored lights in the headliner, which gave off a particularly warm light. While it is almost formidable to travel behind the wheel, it looks very different behind the wheel, especially with the long versions with the partition. There are comfortable armchairs covered with leather or flocked velor, but not much legroom. On the center console and in the rear: one to three telephone receivers.
The innumerable optional extras of the 6.24 meter long Mercedes 600 Pullman are impressive even by today’s standards. The two air conditioning systems, window lifters, partition, sliding roof or seat adjustment were not operated electrically via the switches, as is generally the case today, but via additional comfort hydraulics. “Almost everything on the 600 was controlled via the comfort hydraulics,” said Peter Schellhammer at the time, “including the flap control of the air conditioning.” Entry into the world of the beautiful and the rich cost 56,000 D-Marks when the market opened in spring 1964; the long version was at least 63,500 Deutschmarks. With a few exceptions, almost every car was made to order. Special requests such as special upholstery, an electric razor in the center armrest or a minibar were therefore the order of the day. “Most of the 600s were black or dark blue,” said Peter Schellhammer, “but in the USA there were many versions in white or silver.” The development of the 600 under the direction of Dr. Ing. Fritz Nallinger lasted from 1956 to 1963. The aim was to build a “large, travel and representation car” that would simply become the best car of all time.
At the start of sales in 1964, the motorization of the Mercedes 600 was also something of an automotive wonder of the world for many. A mighty eight-cylinder worked under the long bonnet of all body variants, which, thanks to a 6.3 liter displacement, developed 184 kW / 250 hp and 510 Newton meters of torque. A pioneering four-speed automatic transmission, the automatic parking brake and the litter-like air suspension ensured that ordinary passengers and illustrious state guests could travel in a manner that was appropriate and particularly comfortable. Not entirely unimportant for normal customers: the 2.6-tonne 600 made a top speed of 207 km / h and 0 to 100 km / h in just under ten seconds. At the time, this was of no importance to Wolfgang Wöstendieck. State guests such as Charles de Gaulle, John Paul II, the Emperor of Japan or King Hussein of Jordan were chauffeured as if on a magic carpet. In return, the two armored state limousines of the Federal Republic not only had standard holders, but also a creeper.