“…I’ll have fine clothes, a big car and then I’ll be, uptown’—Roy Orbison, “Uptown”
If “film noir” ever were an automobile or a person it would most certainly be a black Mercedes 600 and the late Roy Orbison, respectively. Both are quiet, dark and mysterious—with a refined elegance and a compelling nature that lets one know that they are in the presence of greatness.
As Bob Dylan once said: His voice always leaves you muttering to yourself something like, “Man, I don’t believe it”.
It’s been said that from the very beginning, “Crying” is a masterpiece of building up to a grand payoff — just past the song’s halfway point, he’s already teasing the big, big, big moment at the end; the one everyone knows is coming. And, sure enough, those powerhouse notes are mind-blowing in their purity and grandeur. But what separates Orbison from so many other multi-octave-spanning power singers is that he can hit the biggest notes imaginable and still sound unspeakably sad at the same time.
The rightfully called Caruso of Rock (due to his amazing 4 octave range with angelic vibrato delivery) Roy was the maestro of the romantic apocalypse and credited by Rolling Stone for ‘bringing splendor to rock’.
As one commentator who preferred to remain anonymous stated: “Roy was the coolest you’d ever seen, with his operatic range and delivery. He was tortured by soft skin, angora sweaters and beauty and he wrote and sang about tragedy and bliss.”
Similarly, the Mercedes 600 certainly delivered automotive splendor. The 600 (W100) series was the ‘star’ of the Three Pointed Star, and reigned for 17 years as the pinnacle of the Stuttgart’s brand in luxury and elegance. It was rightfully positioned alongside Rolls-Royce as the most prestigious examples of automotive transportation. Accordingly, the biggest stars of entertainment, captains of industry and heads of state (and religions) all preferred 600 liveries.
One such limousine luminary was none other than Elvis Presley who owned a 1969 600 Long Wheel Base Pullman. His fellow Sun Records alumni, Roy Orbison was so impressed with the car that he ordered a ’72 Short Wheel Base (SWB) version, but, unlike Elvis’s silver Merc, Roy’s was triple black—like his signature wardrobe, Gretsch custom guitar and Wayfarers.
As the successor to the W189 “Adenauer”, the W100 was a whole order of magnitude more luxurious and sophisticated—replete with a complex (to be kind) 150-bar (2,176 psi) hydraulic pressure system that powered not only its superb ride quality suspension but also the windows, seats, sunroof, trunk lid, and even automatically closing doors!
The 600’s size, weight (and the pneumatic system) required a significant upgrade in power from the previous model’s 3-litre 6-cyinder M189 engine and thus a new M100 SOHC 6.3 litre fuel-injected 250hp/369ft/lbs. V8 was created for the 600 series cars. A 30-gallon fuel tank assured long driving range for the nearly 6000lb SWB 600 while it’s 4-speed automatic transmission and double-wishbone air suspension and disk brakes assured driving competence and passenger comfort. Remarkably, this impressive German luxury was delivered to customers for half the price of a similarly equipped Rolls-Royce!
Noted Mercedes-Benz collector, Mr. Barry Sohnen, owns a spectacular W189 “Adenauer” and noting that the W100/600 is the successor to the W189, Mr. Sohnen likewise owns this wonderful 600SWB that originally belonged to legendary musician Roy Orbison. The famed, Mercedes-Benz Classic Center of America restored Mr. Sohen’s Adenauer beauty and they just completed the concours-quality restoration of the Orbison car. Thankfully, an opportunity to capture this beautiful 600 at the Classic Center was arranged before its recent delivery to Mr. Sohnen. Such a photographic event as this transcends shutter clicks into a homage to both automotive and musical talent