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Autos: End of the Line

Patrick C. Paternie

The vehicle is an ultraluxury automobile that is 6.2 meters long, powered by a 12-cylinder engine, costs several hundred thousand dollars, and is constructed at the Mercedes-Benz factory in Sindelfingen, Germany. And it is not the Maybach, the new top-of-the-line 155-mph first-class cabin, but rather the V-12 S600 Pullman. This car is not merely an S-Class that has been stretched by welding in a 1-meter center section. The limited edition, seven-passenger vehicle, built by Mercedes’ in-house tuner AMG, features a body shell with a roof that has been raised and rear doors and sides that have been reshaped from the original S-Class design.

The Pullman name, which has been attached to limited- production Mercedes-Benz limousines since 1928, pays homage to the opulent Pullman Palace railroad sleeping cars that were designed and manufactured by American George Mortimer Pullman in the 1860s. The most famous of the Mercedes Pullman limos are the 600 grosser, or grand, models that were offered from 1964 through 1980. Before the introduction of luxury SUVs, a Pullman was the preferred mode of transport for heads of state, celebrities, and other VIPs.

The S600 Pullman, along with its V-8-powered sibling, the S500 Pullman, has been part of the Mercedes catalog since the 2000 model year, but as a consequence of the Maybach’s reintroduction in 2003 (the model had been last produced in 1941), Mercedes will cease S-Class Pullman production this year. The two vehicles occupy similar market niches, and the Pullman, which is not sold in the United States, could have siphoned off Maybach sales, although Wayne Killen, Maybach brand manager, says the new VIP hauler targets an even more upscale clientele. "They’re similar customers, but the Maybach is definitely a higher market," Killen says.

The Maybach may be more luxurious, but the S-Class Pullman is more exclusive. Only 271 Pullmans were built last year, while 1,000 Maybach models will be constructed this year. Where the Maybach has two first-class rear passenger seats, the current Pullman’s leather-lined rear compartment has two rows of full-size seats that face each other and can accommodate as many as five passengers. Amenities such as TV monitors, wood-paneled tray tables, and a two-bottle Champagne cooler are available in the passenger compartment, as is a full line of multimedia and office communication equipment. The Maybach, however, has the advantage under the hood. It features a 543-hp twin-turbo V-12, while the S600 Pullman sports a normally aspirated 367-hp V-12, and the S500 Pullman has a 302-hp V-8.

Yet one S500 Pullman customer, an American real estate developer, wanted to improve his machine. Brabus North America, the U.S. arm of the Mercedes aftermarket firm, increased displacement to 6.1 liters, turning the engine into a 426-hp block. The company also removed the rear-facing seats and installed a pop-up 42-inch plasma screen, a DVD changer, two additional phones, and navigation screens.

The owner, who usually rides in the rear cabin, invites clients to visit development sites in his tuned-up S500. He takes digital photos of the sites, then uploads the images into a computer and onto the plasma screen, enabling his clients to study the shots while his driver whisks them off to the next site. Unlike a Maybach owner, he can boast that his car is truly one of a kind.

Mercedes-Benz, www.mbusa.com; Brabus North America, 949.797.0177, www.brabus-usa.com

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