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When you sit in a Maybach, you don’t just enter a car. It’s a ride into a hallowed history

If you believe you need a Maybach, you should spring out a bit to send your driver to a training school in Germany. Mercedes-Benz holds such classes for drivers.

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It is not a good time to be an oligarch, particularly a Russian oligarch. They’re taking away your football clubs, your luxury yachts and even stopping your private jets from flying over most of the world. Heck, you can’t even trust those who are your own, they could try and poison you. But with a shrug and sigh, and hoping that you have some business interests in metals or energy that the Western world actually needs and won’t sanction you for, you could climb into your car, tell your chauffeur to go one of your many seafront villas where you can drown your sorrows with a few glasses of Veuve Clicquot 2012. These are hard times after all, and you wouldn’t want to be opening the 1990’s stuff.

But what set of wheels would you travel to your villa in. Of course, the Ferrari and the Lamborghini can make appearances. But right now, you’ve had a rough day trying to protect your financial assets and you don’t have a pretty young former gymnast wrapped around you. You’re just tired, and won’t mind listening to some music. Preferably some heavy metal. Just because you’re an oligarch doesn’t mean you can’t have a diverse taste in music. You even paid for an American Pop Diva to fly down and perform at your daughter’s wedding after all. But no, right now, you want some Metallica. But while getting your shoulders massaged. I mean, you could have your own masseuse but you know, these irritating road safety rules that insist that everybody must wear a seatbelt all the time are a bit frustrating. And really, this isn’t the time or place to deal with a gendarme. Not that you’ll deal with the gendarmes, but you’d want to spare your Spetsnaz-trained bodyguard from trouble.

So, what would you want to be driven in? Well, a Maybach of course. What is a Maybach, you, a member of the proletariat might ask? Well, let’s start with a bit of automotive history.

Mercedes-Maybach GLS 600 4MATIC

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Maybach: the history under the hood

As Mercedes-Benz never fails to remind us, Karl Benz invented the ‘motorcar’ as we know it today. If you’ve never been to the fantastic Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart, one of two outstanding automotive museums in that city (the other being the Porsche Museum), you’ll read up about Benz, and his wife Bertha who was actually the first human being to take a motorcar on a ‘long drive’. Then, there is Gottlieb Daimler, after all the company is called ‘Daimler-Benz’, although even as the Museum’s historians themselves acknowledge, the two gentlemen never actually met.

Anyway, there was a third guy, Wilhlem Maybach. Maybach actually worked with Daimler, an engine designer whose skills led to massive improvements in the internal combustion engine. In fact, he designed the engines that were fitted in the sportcars of Bohemian aristocrat Emil Jellinek, who named the cars he drove after his daughter. You might have heard of her — Mercedes.

As the engines became more efficient, friction between Daimler and Maybach made their partnership untenable and the latter ventured out on his own, continuing to develop engines. Wilhelm Maybach and his son Karl, who took over the business after the former’s death in 1929, continued to build engines. Maybach engines powered the giant Zeppelins of the late-1920s and the Wehrmacht armoured division in World War 2 – fitted in Panther, Tiger I and Tiger II tanks.

Long story short, following the war, Maybach eventually came under the control of the company that carried Daimler’s name and they renamed Maybach as MTU Friedrichshafen. Today, MTU is the world’s leading manufacturer of large marine engines, but in 2001 the company was bought out completely by British aerospace and marine engine manufacturer Rolls-Royce (not Rolls-Royce cars, which is owned by BMW). But Mercedes-Benz retained the Maybach brand in 2002, they tried to create an uber-luxury car brand using Maybach. This had followed Mercedes’ German rivals BMW picking up Rolls-Royce cars and Volkswagen picking up Bentley.

The first generation of Maybachs were extremely luxurious, based on Mercedes-Benz class-leading S-Class sedan that had been lengthened even more and significantly re-engineered. But well, it really didn’t make a splash. There were several reasons for that, the biggest being that the launch followed the first dot-com bust. Mercedes-Benz’ attempts to create a new Maybach brand had failed and the experiment was withdrawn in 2011. That was not the end of the story though. The company decided that instead of making a dedicated new car, they would luxurify the S-Class and stick the ‘Double M’ badge on the car. So, the very top of the range S-Class would become a Mercedes-Maybach.

Here is the thing, the standard S-Class or the GLS isn’t what you’d describe as ‘unluxurious’; the sedan is a favourite of despots, democrats, dictators and directors across the world. And it has been like this since the 1960s when Mercedes-Benz produced the 600, called the Grosser, translated as the ‘Grand’ in English. It was a car used by the likes of Idi Amin, Mubutu Sese-Seko King Fahd, the Shah of Iran as well as German Chancellors and various members of European royalty.

Today, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class remains the top choice, not just in sanction-hit North Korea but also in India. The Mercedes-Benz S-Class in fully-protected ‘Guard’ configuration was acquired by the SPG as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s next set of wheels recently. But not just the PM, the S-Class is also the vehicle used by the government to ferry top guests around. Notice the car that Wang Yi was ferried in after he landed? An S-Class. But not just any S-Class, all these cars are Maybach’s. Equipped with seats that are supremely comfortable and can recline almost fully flat and motors that can give you a multi-point massage with heating and an utterly brilliant Burmester audio system.


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But how is it from behind the wheels?

To be sure, I was driving the Mercedes-Maybach GLS 600, which is based on the Mercedes-Benz GLS sports-utility vehicle. I have driven the GLS before, but the Maybach GLS is far more daunting to drive, it has a special paint job, much more chrome and costs 2.5 times as much, which makes it a mere Rs 2.5 crore. At 5.2m long and 2m wide, it is massive and you understand what the master of the Ever Given must have felt like in the Suez Canal— as you maneuver your way through the city. Make no mistakes, if you find the space to ‘put the pedal to the metal’ as the saying goes, it will stun you at just how the vehicle defies physical conventions. For a three-ton car — the weight of an adult Indian rhinoceros — to achieve speeds exceeding 100 kmph is remarkable. It can go onward to a top speed of 250 kilometers per hour, but what is remarkable is how quickly it gets there. It can go from a standing start to a 100 kmph per hour in under five seconds. It surely isn’t economical when it does something like that, but because buyers of the Maybach are important people, like oligarchs, they might need to power out of sticky situations or even be rushed to a hospital in case an attempt has been made to poison them.

Mercedes-Maybach GLS 600 4MATIC

Frankly, driving the Mercedes-Maybach GLS 600 4MATIC was not an exercise that one really enjoyed. It costs more than some South Delhi apartments, was possibly bigger than 1BHK’s in Dadar and I should have been wearing a uniform while behind the wheels. In fact, if you are the sort of person who believes they need such a vehicle, you should probably spring out a bit to send your driver to training school in Germany — Mercedes-Benz holds such classes for drivers. But if you are sitting in the back, this is a different vehicle altogether, a car you can literally sit back, relax and not be bothered by the swarming masses of 100cc commuter motorcycles that fill the roads like mosquitoes fill the air in summer. Let the seat massage you and the music soothe you while the animated multi-colour LED lights inside assuage your mood.

This is not a car for the common man, this is not even a car for uncommon men. This is a car for the creme de la creme, this is a car whose very appearance is a sign that whoever comes out of the back is better than you — but only if you, the observer, knows that this is a Maybach. Because to the untrained eye, this is a Mercedes-Benz. And that, in itself, is this car’s greatest asset.

@kushanmitra is an automotive journalist based in New Delhi. Views are personal.

(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)

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