The new Maybach 57 and 62 uber-sedans went on sale in Europe in October of last year, with right-hand-drive markets and the U.S. having to wait until the summer of this year. In the meantime, DaimlerChrysler is ramping up its discrete marketing drive to increase awareness of the marque's heritage among prospective customers.
In the run up to the relaunch of this great marque, I've had close contact with the Maybach Club in Germany. Apart from meeting some very interesting individuals who own and live the 1930s automotive dream, I've also had the privilege of experiencing the marque first hand as backseat passenger in two of the best Maybach DS 8 Zeppelins in existence.
At the 1999 Maybach Club/Mercedes Kompressor Club joint meeting in Badenweiler, I rode in the black 1933 DS 8 Zeppelin of Maybach Club president, Hon. Konsul Hermann Sieger. This, in fact, is one of the classic Maybach cars featured in the new Maybach sales brochure. The other is his son's 1936 six-cylinder SW 38.
The 2000 meeting was held in Friedrichsruhe, and this time I had the privilege of riding with Eberhard Layher in his equally imposing 1938 Maybach DS 8/8L Zeppelin Landaulett seven-seater.
Also black, this car normally resides in the nearby Auto & Technik Museum Sinsheim, owned by Eberhard and his son, Hermann. They recently opened a second museum in nearby Speyer with a greater bias towards aviation, so Sinsheim remains the largest auto museum in Europe (european car, 9-2000). It's worth a visit if you're touring near Stuttgart and want to see a fine collection of classic Maybach and Mercedes-Benz cars among others, plus steam trains, military vehicles, aircraft and even submarines. An enormous I-MAX screen is also on site, and model car collectors will find a good selection at the shop in the Sinsheim Museum.
Ironically, the many kilometers I did in the back seats of these two magnificent cars gave me a good idea of just how hard it is to drive the 1930's finest uber-sedan. As experienced as Konsul Sieger's and Herr Layher's drivers are, even from the opulent rear compartment it was obvious the steering is very heavy. In the hot summer's weather, the drivers were working up a sweat keeping a steady pace along demanding country roads with steep gradients and tight corners. In town, steering these enormous vehicles through today's crowded streets, strewn with many times more cars and street furniture than in their heyday, seemed like any driver's nightmare.
Synchromesh was non-existent in these cars, and vague steering meant that cutting accurate lines through tight bends was taxing work. Mind you, considering the few other cars on the road in the 1930s, it probably did not much matter then.
A Maybach Zeppelin is worth $1.45 million today, so it wouldn't have been polite to ask one of these gentlemen for a test drive. However, the Mercedes-Benz Classic division acquired a 1932 DS 8 Zeppelin of its own last year and set about restoring it to perfection. When they asked me if I'd like to drive it, it took all of a nanosecond to say "yes, please."
My very own Maybach driving experience began when I was picked up from my hotel in Stuttgart and driven through the town to the Mercedes-Benz Classic Center in Fellbach.
People are almost always fascinated by classic cars, and while pedestrians stop and stare, other drivers usually give way. Whatever its body style, the Maybach Zeppelin is a huge car, towering over other vehicles on the road. Perhaps its sheer size and mass acted as a deterrent once I'd begun to poke its long snout across a junction.
Sitting so high up is always a blessing in traffic. The view forward over the long prow is both commanding and imperious. To drive or ride in this car makes the statement that you're king of the road. With the enormous soft top folded down for al fresco motoring, the view directly to the rear is non-existent, however, and you have to rely on the side mirrors in traffic. Getting out first to check clearances is important when reversing into a parking space!
I was curious about the soft-top folding arrangement, as this was by far the largest one I'd ever seen. According to our driver, it takes a full five minutes to put up or down, or around three minutes if you have a helper. But even three minutes is an eternity when a heavy shower catches you unaware. Parked up in front of the classic center, I had the chance to look at the controls in detail and get as much information as I required to drive the Maybach properly.
In the course of the initial walk-around, it became obvious that many of the refinements I take for granted in modern cars are nothing new. Indeed, in the early days of the motorcar, inventors seemed to be hard at work making life easy for the motorist.
It is hard enough jacking up a modern family car by the side of the road when you have a puncture, but imagine trying to change the wheel on a 5,070-lb Maybach Zeppelin! Actually, it was not that big a deal, for the maker thoughtfully provided an engine-powered hydraulic jack for each wheel, the next best thing to the air jacks you see on modern racing cars. Inflating the tires the hard way with a foot pump was obviously regarded with equal disdain, as a mechanical air pump was also provided.
The long lever on the floor, which at first glance appears to be the gearshift lever, is in fact the selector for high and low ratios and reverse. The "Noiseless Gearbox," as the DS8's transmission was known, had four forward gears on this model but five on later cars. It also had two drive ratios, the lower one being used to help the car negotiate very steep ramps or hills. This, in effect, gave the car a total of eight forward speeds.
Unlike some early cars, which had their throttle in between the brake and clutch pedals, the Maybach has its three foot pedals in the order we recognize today. Like a modern racing sequential gearbox, though, you only need the clutch to start the car, and then again when you come to a halt. And just to endorse how car makers have come full circle with Tiptronic S steering wheel-mounted gearshift systems, you select the forward gears on this state-of-the-art 1930s limo with steering wheel hub-mounted levers.
For first gear, move both levers down. The left-hand lever is slid upwards to find second. Third gear requires outstretched fingers to turn both levers anti-clockwise through 90 degrees, and top gear is selected by moving the left-hand lever upwards again.
This is an intensely mechanical car to drive. The first thing I learned was that the steering is really, really heavy at low speeds. It is at least twice as heavy as a Ferrari Daytona or Lada Niva at parking speeds and very under-geared, so you need to be going very slowly indeed if you need a lot of lock.
Once you understand that you need to synchronize forward motion with the inherently slow rate of turn, the correct mindset snaps into place. That means if you want to go around a 90-degree bend in town, you have to get down to near walking pace to make the turn. It frustrates the hell out of sales reps in a hurry behind you, but that's the nature of the beast.
The other major control that needs understanding is the gearshift mechanism. While modern electronics match revs and generally do all the housekeeping, you need a good deal of mechanical sympathy to operate the Maybach's non-synchromesh gearbox if you are to avoid finding a boxful of neutrals with each shift.
You have to lift the throttle slightly when selecting a higher ratio and apply moderate throttle when downshifting to match revs, as the selector shaft will not engage until the incoming gear and clutch are rotating at synchronized speeds. Sometimes this means lifting off the throttle completely and waiting for the distinctive mechanical "clunk" that indicates the ratio is engaged. This is both felt and heard, but once you know how to "feel" the engagement points, you can make pretty seamless shifts. People who already complain about the Alfa Romeo Selespeed or Mercedes-Benz Sequentronic manu-matics would hate this gearbox. The 8.0-liter V12 motor delivers 200 bhp, and the thought that this 2,300kg car could get up to 100 mph but did not corner or stop very well at all by modern standards is a daunting one indeed. In practice, the enormous drum brakes are surprisingly powerful and bring this leviathan to a pretty convincing halt with little drama. The handbrake operates on all four wheels, as it needs to secure this heavy car convincingly on a slope.
Once on the fly, the steering lightens up considerably, and I was happy to cruise at around 70 mph on the autobahn and then on some open cross-country roads with little effort. Only on tighter country roads and through small villages did I really have to plan maneuvers that included significant steering input and gearchanging.
If you've been in various cars from this period, you'll recognize that the Maybach rides very well, whether you're sitting in the front or rear seats. It is, of course, no match for a modern car in this respect, but it was the equal of any Rolls-Royce or Bugatti limousine from this era.
The wood, chrome, cloth and leather-clad interior was considered sumptuous in the 1930s but at the same time simple. Its wooden dashboard, for instance, was far from as opulent as some of the big Mercedes-Benz cars that were its direct competitors in the marketplace. Frankly, the mother of pearl instrument panel inserts on the dashboards of some 1930s Mercedes-Benz cars had no peers at any price.
So what does today's public think of the 1932 uber-limousine? Many people stopped to look and ask questions during our photo shoot. One honeymooning Italian couple complete with video man in tow asked if they could be filmed in the car. "Magnifico! Bella macchina!" was their impression.
Ironically, a middle-aged German couple initially awed by the Maybach's sheer size asked if it was an American car. "Nein, ist Deutsche. Ist der alte Maybach," I replied. "Ah, Maybach. Genau," they said, as their faces lit up with recognition of this famous name from the past. So the message is getting through after all.
The Car; The Owner
This Maybach Zeppelin DS8 was first bought in 1932 by the Hotel Seelisberg at the Thuner See in Switzerland. Its primary role was guest transportation from the train station to the hotel. Unfortunately, access is by a narrow and winding road with steep gradients, and after a couple of years, when the hotel driver retired, nobody else was found who was able to drive the Maybach in these demanding conditions.
The car then went into storage and was largely forgotten until 1959, when it was sold to an industrialist who lived in the Winterthur/Zurich area. This gentleman had been looking for a good, low-mileage Maybach Zeppelin and lovingly maintained the car in original condition for 40 years.
He sold it to the Mercedes-Benz Museum in 1999, and the car spent a year undergoing restoration at the Mercedes-Benz Classic Center in Fellbach before proudly taking its place in the Collection in August 2000.
Maybach supplied rolling chassis to a number of fine German coachbuilders, and "Spohn" in Ravensburg built this car's coachwork. It was originally painted Maroon Red with black mudguards and running boards, with a dark blue canvas hood. As part of the restoration work, it was re-painted in cream, the new Maybach corporate color, and the mudguards and running boards were painted dark blue to match the soft-top. The interior was re-trimmed in the original tan leather.
Now in the loving possession of its third and likely last owner, the car's odometer read 82,325km from new on the day I drove it.--IK
Maybach's Illustrious History
At the turn of the Century, two young engineers, Wilhelm Maybach and Gottlieb Daimler, got together to build the first motorcycle and the first Daimler car. Soon after, in 1900, the pair constructed the Mercedes Simplex, the first modern car. That makes the connection between Maybach and Daimler as old as the history of the motorcar.
In 1909, Maybach's son, Karl, started to design and build engines for the Zeppelin airships and for aircraft. His automobile engines were very good and he tried to sell them to other car makers, but without success. It was this which prompted him to turn his hand to building his own cars as well. He started his new project with a determination to make the very best cars of the era. By the time production ceased in 1940, around 2,300 cars had left the Friedrichhafen works.
Pandering to wealthy individuals, often with input from the clients themselves, each of these cars was a work of art in itself. In those days, most manufacturers supplied engines and chassis, and the client could then commission coachbuilders to make special bodies and interiors. A handful of the distinguished coachbuilders who made bodies for Maybach were Christian Auer, Joseph Neuss and Hermann Spohn. Their company badges can be found on the car bodies.
It was just like bespoke tailoring and, at the luxury end of the market, bespoke automobiles were like haute couture. Having your car built for you was like having an architect design you a house.
Certainly the price was commensurate with the idea. In the 1930s, a top-of-the-range Maybach Zeppelin was in the price range of a house with a large garden in an exclusive part of town. That has not changed today, as only around 150 Maybachs survive. Today, a Zeppelin in good condition is worth around one million U.S. dollars.
The oldest known Maybach, the Type W5, resides in the Auto + Technik Museum in Sinsheim, Germany, along with some younger Maybachs. Together they make up the largest Maybach collection in the world. The second largest is the Musee Nationale d'Automobiles in Mulhouse, France.
The Maybach Club was established in 1966, and the first president was Count Wolff Metternich, who now shares the honorary presidency with Mrs. Ingrid Schmid-Maybach, granddaughter of Karl Maybach. The current club president is Konsul Hermann Sieger, whose very original 1933 Maybach Zeppelin is shown in the photos.
Maybach cars were very sophisticated for their time. I went for a ride in Konsul Sieger's Zeppelin and was impressed with the interior space and the quality of the hand-made fittings. This huge car, the flagship of the Maybach range, had a 7922cc V12 engine producing 200 bhp at 3000 rpm. The gearbox had five forward speeds, but as there was a low-ratio transfer box for use in hilly terrain, the car effectively had ten forward speeds.
The Zeppelin is a huge car, towering over other vehicles on the road, both period and modern. The view from its drivers seat is both commanding and imperious. To drive or ride in this car is to make the statement that you are king of the road.
The legacy of the illustrious Maybach company will now be handed down in time 62 years after the last car left the factory. It is fitting that as Wilhelm Maybach and Gottlieb Daimler created the first car together, their timeline should now be picked up to produce the finest luxury car the modern world has ever seen.--IK