Waking a Giant – Getting a Dormant Long-wheelbase 600 Pullman Back on the Road

Guy Lewis
At the 2014 Concours d’Elegance of America at St. John’s, a dark-blue behemoth with parchment interior caught the eyes of spectators on the field. As the owner of this 600 Long-wheelbase Mercedes-Benz limousine, I was happy to tell admirers the story of the car’s journey to the field.

Waking a Giant
 
Getting a dormant long-wheelbase 600 Pullman back on the road
 
Article by Guy Lewis, Images Stuart Doane

 
 
At the 2014 Concours d’Elegance of America at St. John’s, a dark-blue behemoth with parchment interior caught the eyes of spectators on the field. As the car’s owner, I was happy to tell admirers the story of the car’s journey to the field.

Who, they must have wondered, would buy a 32-year-old car with a mere 10,000 original miles on the odometer – sitting mostly dormant for at least eight years – and then fire it up and drive it from New York to Miami? No one in his right mind, you answer? What if I told you the car was an ultra-rare 1972 Mercedes-Benz 600 Pullman? Before you call the men in white jackets, let me explain.

I have always been a huge 600 fan. To me, the 600 represents the pinnacle of style, luxury and engineering. Only 2,677 units were built during the production run from August 1963 through June 1981; the short-wheelbase four-door model or the long-wheelbase model, nearly 20 feet long and available in a six-door limousine or four-door executive body style.

With styling by Paul Bracq and Bruno Sacco, engineering that was the best available in all respects for a 6.3-liter engine powering the 5,500-pound car to a top speed of 127 miles per hour, and the interior incorporating every possible luxury amenity conceivable, Mercedes knew from the outset that it would lose money on the 600. Success, however, would be measured by the car’s clientele, leaders in every field – Pope Paul VI, Queen Elizabeth II, Aristotle Onassis, and Elvis Presley – and affirmed the company’s achievement.

Of course, collectors and restorers today recognize the cars are a maintenance nightmare; parts are ridiculously expensive and difficult, if not impossible, to obtain; the hydraulic system is complicated beyond description; and only a handful of mechanics in the country have the knowledge needed to work on these cars.

I was no stranger to these impressive and awe-inspiring vehicles. I had already owned two: a 1972 papyrus-white short wheelbase with cognac-leather interior that I bought from an ad in The Star, and another short-wheelbase model in rare moss green with red leather. I came to know restorer Stuart Doane, who worked on both of these cars. The white 600 took class honors at Amelia Island and the green 600 won a coveted Lion Award at the 2013 St. John’s concours.

As I was enjoying my two short-wheelbase cars, I started thinking about how exciting it would be to own one of the great versions, a long-wheelbase model like those built for royalty. Searching diligently, I found a 10,000-mile four-door long-wheelbase example that had been in storage for many years in New York. It was dark blue with parchment interior, executive-style opposing seats and sunroof in the rear.

The low mileage and incredible originality of this example made it doubly desirable. Though it might take some work to bring it back to its original appearance, it would not require full restoration or the frustrating and expensive search for special parts that had gone missing on so many examples. On the basis of the previous owner’s reputation in the small world of 600 owners, I bought the car sight unseen.

I immediately called Stuart. Now a close friend, he had recently opened a new shop, Doane MotorWerks, near Chattanooga, Tennessee, to do restorations on 600s and other exotic motorcars. My plan was to trailer the car to Miami and drive it for a while to decide what to do with it next.
 
Stuart had a different plan. He understood using a trailer might be sensible, but he knew of the excellent original condition of the car and suggested that he pick it up in New York and drive it the 850 miles to his shop, then repair whatever needed attention. After that, we could drive the remaining 800 miles together to my home in Miami. He thought it would be good for the car to stretch its legs before we did any work; I worried it might pull a muscle or worse. Based on his confidence in the car, I gave him the green light; he packed what looked like a surgical bag of tools and assembled an emergency kit of hydraulic fluid, belts, hoses and various 600 parts. Looking like a MASH doctor dropping into a war zone, he retrieved the car from longterm storage, checked it over, added some fluids and aired up the 10-year-old Michelins.

Not surprisingly, he ran into one problem on the trip to Chattanooga – the fuel system – which required frequent changes of fuel filters, including two that were delivered to a truck stop in Virginia by Crossroads Mercedes-Benz of Roanoke. Everything else was great, and he texted me a picture of the car’s speedometer indicating 95 miles per hour on the interstate.

At his shop, Stuart completely rebuilt the fuel and brake systems and did other routine maintenance. With me in the driver’s seat this time, we drove the remaining distance to Miami with absolutely no issues in 12 hours of cruising at 75 miles per hour.

We continued our restoration work in Miami, renewing the rear compartment with matching leather from one of the national suppliers, getting the paintwork redone by a well-known local shop, and sending the bumpers and a number of other chrome pieces out for replating.

After the paint and chrome work, the car returned to Stuart’s shop, this time via enclosed trailer, to redo the engine compartment, the one weak link in the car. He disassembled the entire engine compartment to replace, replate, rebuild or repair virtually every component. Now the engine compartment is a highlight of the car.

It had been our hope to complete the LWB long before the 2014 Concours d’Elegance of America at St. John’s in Michigan, which seemed like a fitting locale for the 600’s debut 40 years after the car was produced. But, as in so many of the reality restoration shows you see on TV, we worked on the car up until the very last second. I was literally strapping her down in the trailer as Stuart applied engine-bay stickers.  

On the St. John’s field, she was a big hit. Most people had never seen a 600 in person, let alone a long-wheelbase executive model such as this. I’m pleased to say she won a class award and we felt like captains of industry or heads of state as we drove the 600 along the Concours of America receiving line with American flags proudly flying on the fenders.
 

The power and the glory: Has there ever been a more compelling way for kings, heads of state and captains of industry to arrive somewhere than in a Mercedes-Benz 600 Pullman? My own example was in storage for many years in New York state before Stuart Doane and I woke it up. It was dark blue with parchment interior, executive-style opposing seats and pennant staffs on the front fenders. Perfect.
 

The restored passenger and driver compartments with glowing wood, gleaming chrome and beautiful new parchment leather covering the seats.

The 600 LWB Pullman is subtle and restrained, in keeping with its role as a tasteful conveyance fit for royalty.

The Pullman is massive, at nearly 20 feet long, but so deftly proportioned by the gifted Paul Bracq that it always appears stately rather than ponderous, no matter the viewing angle.



Although the 600 ran well from the first, Stuart Doane went through the massive 6.3-liter engine completely while also directing the overall restoration process of rebuilding, refurbishing, replating and repainting.



A sample of the hundreds of original small parts and fasteners Doane removed from the 600, sent out to be replated in cadmium, and reinstalled.



Because the Pullman was in such good original condition, we were able to refurbish and rebuild everything without having to resort to buying rare and prohibitively expensive replacement parts.



Unveiled to the public at the Concours d’Elegance of America at St. John’s, the elegant LWB 600 was a big hit with the crowds and also won a class award. Hail to the Chief!
 
 

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