Don't Call It a Comeback

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People of substance have long gone to great lengths to make auspicious entrances. Alexander the Great had his elephants. The Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I may never have conducted a triumphal equine procession, but he did commission a 177-foot-long depiction of one. And in the modern era, potentates, pontiffs, and pop stars have used large and luxurious motorcars to impress their public.

Perhaps no automobile marque has served this purpose more than Mercedes-Benz. In the 1920s, it produced the 630, an example of which served as transport for German President Paul von Hindenburg. Pope Pius XI, Japan’s Emperor Hirohito, and von Hindenburg rode in Mercedes-Benz 770s, which the company produced in the 1930s and early 1940s.

In 1951, as Germany’s economy recovered from World War II, Mercedes-Benz introduced the glorious Type 300, which became known as the Adenauer because Konrad Adenauer, the first chancellor of West Germany, used a variety of closed- and open-top models to travel to state affairs. Mercedes-Benz followed the Type 300 with the Type 600, which it produced from 1963 until 1981. The Pullman-length version remains the brand’s most famous limousine. It seems that everybody who was anybody during that era had a 600. Aristotle Onassis, Hugh Hefner, Elvis Presley, Fidel Castro, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, and Kim Jong Il all appreciated the comfort and status conferred by the stately 600.

When the 600 went out of production in 1981, it left a void in Mercedes-Benz’s luxury lineup, in the United States at least. The company made a handful of S-Class-based Pullman sedans, but they were never officially imported to this country. Mercedes-Benz did not have a limousine-class sedan to compete with Rolls-Royce and Bentley until 2002, when its parent company, Daimler, resurrected Maybach, a luxury-car brand that had been dormant since World War II. Daimler produced two versions of the Maybach: the long-wheelbase 62 and 57. (The numbers represented the cars’ lengths in decimeters.) Prices for the various variants and special editions ranged from about $350,000 to more than $1 million. Daimler expected to sell 2,000 Maybachs a year, half to U.S. customers. But the Great Recession tempered the demand for an über-luxury limousine, and when the final Maybach rolled off the assembly line at the end of 2012, the company had produced fewer than 3,000 total units. 

Now the Maybach is back. Again. Sort of. In April, Mercedes-Benz launched a car that by its name, and its purpose—though not its $189,350 starting price—evokes the 600 and the Maybachs of the recent and distant pasts. The Mercedes-Maybach S600 also marks the launch of a new brand.

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