By Stu Hammel
It is only fitting that owners and admirers of the Mercedes-Benz Grand 600 would be treated to an affair to remember during this the fortieth anniversary year of the commencement of production of these fantastic automobiles. The International M-100 Group, at this year’s Annual Meet known as the “Lode Star Fest - 2003,” presented the largest single gathering of Grand 600 vehicles ever in one location, June 12–14, 2003. A total of thirty-nine Grand 600s were assembled on the turf at the Woxall, Pennsylvania estate of Karl and Ruth Middelhauve. In addition to the short wheelbase 600s present, the collection included two six-door Pullmans, the only 600 hearse to have been produced, as well as one of two 600 coupes that exist in the world. It is believed that there have never as many 600s on hand at any one time in one location even at the factory during the model’s production run.
While the Grand 600 model is the crown jewel of the three Mercedes-Benz models to carry an M-100 engine, the 300SEL 6.3 and the 450SEL 6.9 models were also well represented at this year’s Meet. A total of fifteen 6.3s and seven 6.9s were driven from as far away as Oregon to be shown and raced at the Meet. Of special note was the presence of the only 300SE 6.3 cabriolet, a 300SE 6.3 coupe with computerized fue management system, and a supercharged Grand 600, all of which were produced by Classic Car Restorations.
All told, nearly one hundred-twenty M-100 enthusiasts and family members from near and far converged on Pennsylvania for the largest annual meet of the International M-100 Group in its twelve year history. Nineteen International attendees came from Malaysia, Australia, Germany, Spain, Netherlands, and Ireland. The assembled guests were treated to a full schedule of technical sessions and demonstrations throughout the three-day event.
This year’s event offered all participants the chance to have their cars run on the dyno tester at Second Street Speed Shop in nearby Perkasie, PA. Some excellent data were generated for analysis. However, the heart and soul of the annual event is always the program entitled “Cars on the Lift.” The purpose of this program is to offer each attendee the opportunity to have his or her car inspected by master technician Gary Ensor of Winchester, Kentucky. Gary provided a full safety and preventive maintenance inspection on seventeen vehicles in addition to conducting a live rear brake caliper transplant and complete front brake overhaul on Richard Rose’s fine six-door 600 Pullman.
Technical and educational presentations included an informative demonstration and discussion of Grand 600 hydraulic functions provided by Helmut Schattenkirchner of Munich, Germany. Participants came away with a much clearer understanding of how the hydraulic system operates and how to make simple emergency repairs as needed. Mr. Schattenkirchner, one of the world’s leading experts on the Mercedes hydraulic system who still rebuilds many of the hydraulic components, spent many additional hours with individual attendees answering their specific questions throughout the three-day event.
The latest technological innovations in computerized fuel management systems and their application to M-100 vehicles was the subject of Dale Cherrie’s presentation. Dale’s concepts have been incorporated into several M-100 vehicles to date and have resulted in some impressive improvements in fuel efficiency and motor power. To make this tech session easier to understand, Karl Middelhauve had built an AMG 6.3 engine on a stand running with transmission, steering box, air suspension set-up, and complete instrumentation as well as a computerized fuel management system. Dale explained all engine control functions displayed on a laptop computer.
Drew Tibcken, of Heritage Woodworks, Andrews, North Carolina, presented a workshop on the care and restoration of interior wood in each of the three M-100 models. Drew covered the actual process by which sun-dried, faded, cracked wood is restored to original and show quality levels. Drew’s quality craftsmanship could be found in some of the finest 600s and 6.3s on display in Woxall.
The staff of Extreme Motorsports Painting, of Pottstown, PA, offered an informative presentation on the correct methods to employ in the preparation of the exterior of the automobile for quality painting as well as the painting process itself. Several of the vehicles in attendance at the Meet had actually been painted at Extreme Motorsports and looked fantastic.
Rich Varjan, proprietor of European Transmission Exchange, one of the few transmission specialists in the US skilled in rebuilding the M-100 transmission, explained the intricacies of the transmission as well as its durability. Rich did an outstanding job of making one of the more complicated mechanical components of the M-100 vehicles clearly understandable. The addition of a complete M-100 gearbox on the “operating table” served as an excellent instructional tool. A lively discussion followed Rich’s superb session.
Group member Michael Tovalillo and German guest Uwe Schuler inspected the brake fluid for water content in every M-100 vehicle at the Meet. Only 17 cars had less than 1% water content (good), while another 6 cars were measured at 1% (acceptable). A 2% reading was found in 8 cars, which means fluid should be changed. Eleven cars were at 3%, which is the danger level. Overall, more than half the cars present should have had their brake fluid flushed and changed. Because this is such a critical item in the proper maintenance of M-100 vehicles, this testing service will become a regular feature of future M-100 Meets.
Alderfer Glass Company, from Telford, PA, demonstrated the proper installation of a Grand 600 windshield.
International M-100 Group member Rayland Beurlot discussed ways to improve original M-100 audio systems. As an example, Rayland demonstrated a system that he had created and fitted into his own vehicle. The results were exquisite, with the cosmetics blending well with the original interior as well as producing sound that was exceptional in all respects.
A highlight among the educational sessions was the keynote presentation made by Manfred Pfander, former Grand 600 customer order liaison for Mercedes-Benz in Stuttgart. In his position, Mr. Pfander was responsible for all special equipment orders as requested by purchasers of Grand 600 limousines during their full production run. His presentation gave fascinating insight into the special options that were available as well as some of the special requests and accommodations Mercedes-Benz had been asked to provide for special customers.
One of the fascinations many Meet participants shared was a keen interest in options and special equipment that was available at the time of purchase of these fine vehicles. One such rare accessory was a set of headlight wipers and washers on an interesting 300SEL 6.3 that had just made the trip to the United States from Germany. The unusual operation of the wiper/washers was demonstrated by Konrad Linckh of Born, Germany.
Dan Smith, of Newberg, Oregon kicked off the annual Concours d’Elegance with an excellent discussion of the standards that are applied in Concours automobile judging. Dan’s presentation was a prelude to the People’s Choice judging that took place on the last day of the Meet.
As valuable as all of the technical and educational programs were found to be, the Meet offered a day of excitement at Island Raceway in New Jersey, where the bravest members of the International M-100 Group put their cars through the paces. Quarter-mile time trials were offered the entire day thanks to the generous sponsorship by Neil Dubey of Star Motors, Endicott, NY. The fastest performances in each category were achieved by Dan Smith of Oregon for the fastest 6.3 (nearly breaking the 14 second mark); Brett Stabler of Alabama, for the fastest 6.9; and Anthony Bove of New York, for the fastest Grand 600. It was reported by Dan Smith that Terry Jackson of Dublin, Ireland, had to be the fastest tire changer at the track.
In juxtaposition to the speed that was the topic of conversation throughout the Meet and at the track, we were fortunate enough to have a hot air balloon on the show field on Saturday, providing gentle rides to all takers.
The People’s Choice Concours d’Elegance concluded the scheduled activities of the Meet, with results announced at the conclusion of the traditional German Pig Roast. This year’s winners included Anthony Bove, for the best Grand 600 for his magnificent Anthracite Metallic short wheelbase automobile. The award for top 6.3 went to Dan Smith for the “Silver Bullet,” his stunning silver metallic 6.3 that is as fast as it is good looking. Hanno Schill, of Delaware, took home the honors for the best 6.9 displayed. Special awards were presented to those attendees who drove their cars the longest distance to Woxall. The award for longest distance driven for a 6.3 went to Dan Smith from Newberg, Oregon. Brett Stabler of Alabama took home the 6.9 honors and Albert Plekker of Pittsburgh drove the longest distance in a Grand 600. This year’s Concours d’Elegance concluded with the awarding of the Ladies’ Choice Prize to Albert Plekker for his excellent 600 short wheelbase sedan.
Lode Star Fest 2003 would not have been the same without the wonderful food and drink that nearly overshadowed the cars we all brought to Woxall. Ruth Middelhauve’s home baked cakes and pastries were again the perfect way to top off a thoroughly enjoyable Meet.
The International M-100 Group wishes to dedicate Lode Star Fest 2003 to our friend, Director, and technical wizard, Randy Durrance. His untimely death has touched us all very deeply.
Based on comments made by many participants in this year’s Meet, Lode Star Fest 2003 was an overwhelming success. We now turn our cites to St. Louis, where we will host Lode Star Fest 2004!