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A Long-Wheelbase Mercedes 600 Pullman Used by Chinese Bigwigs

European, Lifestyles  /   /  By Jim Motavalli

eBay is currently offering a historic automobile for sale: a low-mileage long-wheelbase 1965 Mercedes-Benz 600 Pullman limousine used by Communist Party leaders in China. The list of passengers included Mao Zedong during his visits to Shanghai.

Mao’s Mercedes would fit in among the many vehicles at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. The museum’s line-up of cars used by political leaders includes:

  • 1942 Lincoln with bulletproof windows ordered for President Franklin Roosevelt the day after Pearl Harbor
  • 1939 Bugatti that was in the collection of the Shah of Iran
  • 1978 Mercedes-Benz 600 Landaulet that once belonged to Saddam Hussein

By the way, in 2016, eBay offered the Cadillac limo used by Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower during his presidential run.

Mercedes 600 Pullman: Made for a Motorcade

The Mercedes limo, codenamed W100, was produced from 1963 to 1981. It was the choice of European heads of state.

Front of Mercedes-Benz 600 Pullman used by Communist Officials

Super-exclusive, it was a Rolls-Royce competitor in its day. The 600 Pullman replaced the so-called “Adenauer” 300 models—so named because German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer liked them. You could consider the Mercedes 600 Pullman, the father of today’s Maybachs.

Mechanically, the 600 used the M-100 6.3-liter V-8 engine, also employed in the 300SEL 6.3. They are massively expensive to restore when allowed to deteriorate, making this very lightly used and well-preserved example (with just 13,164 miles on the odometer) such a find. The Benz’s extremely colorful history only adds to the value.

Mercedes Power Features: Divider Windows and Jump Seats

There’s good news for restorers: The Mercedes 600 Pullman used parts from many contemporary Mercedes-Benz models. A version of the air suspension is found in the 300SE. The motor is shared with the aforementioned 300SEL. Many interior fittings were standard to up-market Benzes.

The Mercedes 600 Pullman sat on air suspension that cushioned the ride for VIP passengers.

The Mercedes 600 Pullman sat on air suspension that cushioned the ride for VIP passengers.

eBay has  600 parts and other period 600 cars. (Michael Jordan’s 1996 Mercedes-Benz S600 Lorinser sold via eBay this past summer.)

These long-wheelbase Pullman models have unique features, such as a powered divider window and two rear jump seats.

Interior of Mercedes 600 Pullman

Interior of Mercedes 600 Pullman. The leather is in good shape.

Only 304 four-door Pullmans were made, sold to heads of state and captains of industry. Rarer still is the six-door version of the Pullman (124 built). And the Landaulet is super-rare, with a convertible roof over the rear passenger area. These were perfect for waving to parade crowds.

Mao’s Mercedes 600 Pullman

In 1965, the Benz 600 Pullman in question was delivered to the Mercedes dealer in Hong Kong, then still under British rule.

Chen Yi made the cover of Time. He was a foreign minister.

Chen Yi made the cover of Time. He was a foreign minister.

From there, it went to Chen Yi, a member of Mao’s inner circle. He had been Mayor of Shanghai but was then vice premier and China’s foreign minister. There’s speculation that the car was a gift from the German government as a favor for starting trade talks.

Before the Cultural Revolution, the Mercedes 600 Pullman was used by Chen Yi in Shanghai and by Mao when he visited the city. But Yi fell afoul of the harsh dictates of the revolutionary period and was accused of disloyalty in 1967. He was cleared in 1969, but by that time, the 600 was in the hands of the Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC Motor).

SAIC is now one of the “Big Four” of Chinese automakers, producing more than 4.5 million cars annually. The company operates joint ventures with GM and Volkswagen. It owns the British marque MG and operates Roewe, a Chinese luxury brand.

The Limo Lands in LA

The 1965 Mercedes-Benz 600 Pullman spent decades in storage. A German Volkswagen engineer named Hans Luwich discovered the languishing 600, bought it, and in 1993 exported it to Germany. It was promptly featured in the pages of leading car magazine Autobild.

Mercedes-Benz 600 Pullman, side view

A Dutch collector then bought the Benz 600, kept it for a while, and sold it to the current owner. He brought it to Los Angeles and into a full service at the local Mercedes Benz Classic Center. The seller states:

“Today, the car remains in highly original, unrestored condition with light patina in all the right places. The opportunity to own a Mercedes Benz 600 Pullman is extremely rare, but one that comes with such a fascinating piece of history in Sino-German diplomacy is truly an opportunity of a lifetime.”

About the Author

Jim Motavalli is a contributor to the New York Times, Barron's, NPR’s Car Talk, and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, among others. He is the author of nine books, including two—Forward Drive and High Voltage—about electric cars and why they’re important. He is a longtime radio host on WPKN-FM, and a public speaker on environmental topics.

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