It’s big, it’s beautiful and has the finest champagne-glass holders of any car in the world. Hugh Warrender drives a Maybach to the Hurley wedding of the century
Today, by the time you reach the rarefied heights of a luxury saloon car, or limousine even, the field of choices becomes as thin as the air you breathe at such an altitude. Strewn across the path of progress, all-but-forgotten names such as Duesenberg, Riley and Talbot have been left behind like road-kill.
Sitting side-by-side on the throne of modern auto-Valhalla, we have the Rolls Royce and the Bentley. In attendance (and, appropriately, German, just like our own royals) we have the Mercedes S-Class and the Audi A8. The Lexus makes an appearance as a visiting dignitary from Japan. But the real pretender to the throne is much less familiar within British shores, and goes by the name of the Maybach.
Maybach certainly has the pedigree to be a real contender. The name first emerged alongside Daimler at the Paris Exhibition of 1889, and is credited with having been the inspiration for the birth of the French automobile industry. If you can forgive this fact, its history thereafter until the time of Herr Maybach Jr’s retirement after the war is as illustrious as any of the greats.
The Maybach Type 12 of 1929 was the first car with a V12 engine, and designed in conjunction with the Maybach family’s partner Count Zeppelin (for whom the company made engines to power his infamous flying dirigibles), the Maybach type Zeppelin DS7 was a legend in its own time.
Always closely associated with Mercedes from its very beginning, the Maybach brand lay dormant on the shelves of Daimler-Chrysler’s storeroom until 2003 and the release of the Maybach 62.
If you have not heard of it until now, it probably means you don’t spend enough time with German industrialists, Russian oligarchs or the occasional football legend. As of yet, there aren’t very many in the UK, where Bentley’s recent run of genius has all but squeezed out the competition – but on a rainy Saturday morning in March, there is one of them, a sleek black Maybach 62, pulled up outside my front door in Chelsea.
We are going to put the Maybach through its paces in the most agreeable of circumstances, as we are leaving for Sudeley Castle to attend the wedding of Elizabeth Hurley, to her annoyingly nice, charming and (so my wife tells me) devilishly handsome Arun Nayar. Even more thrilled is my four-year old daughter, whose role as bridesmaid to Elizabeth and Arun has briefly been overshadowed by her amazement at the beast of a vehicle that is blocking up our leafy street.
I decide that this is either an early sign of petrolhead tendencies, or more worryingly a natural comfort with objects that are the pinnacle of luxury and refinement. The latter is confirmed when her frisson for the car is superseded by her excitement at wearing the Versace couture dress that Elizabeth has chosen for her female attendant munchkins: ‘Daddy, can ALL my dresses come from Versace?’ It’s definitely time to go.
The first thing you notice about a Maybach is that it is really, really big. And while many big luxury cars have a delicacy to their presentation, the Maybach is unapologetically macho. So perhaps I should be forgiven for having assumed that the back seat would seat three people, one of which would be my munchkin.
The spacious back seat has a fixed central unit in which I observe the first examples of the cunning and sleek design details that set this car apart from its S-Class cousins. The seats, which can be reclined and manipulated like a first-class airline seat, are sumptuous, but can be no more than two in the back.
As a motoring correspondent who knows not his big-end from his cam-shaft, cup holders are an important part of my assessment of a car, and the Maybach has got the ‘Rolls Royce’ (if you will) of cup holders. Within this central unit, a gun-metal magnetic pad holds the chromed champagne glasses in place with self-opening claws completing its grasp on the base, all of which recedes at a languorous pace into the walnut-faced casing with soft-touch perfection.
Around all this, meticulously designed compartments encase a fridge, controls for the superlative entertainment system (all the toys), and miscellaneous luxury items.
I am snapped out of my reverie by my wife’s machine-gun voice issuing a stampede of expletives. We were to be four in the car – and only three places to sit. There would have been four were it not for the fact that the nice people at Maybach had provided me with a driver for the weekend – not so much a kindness as a necessity, since with the car’s £299,000 price tag none of the insurance companies I know have been prepared to cover me, even for the weekend.
With the nanny following behind in our own car, we take to the M40 on the silky-smooth glide offered up by the Maybach’s solid suspension. I allayed my green conscience at having not one but two gas-guzzling automobeasts on this trip with a comforting thought.
Many luxury saloon cars can be armour-plated and attack-proofed, but almost always weigh so much after the conversion that achieving more than a mile or two to the gallon is a pipe dream. Not so the Maybach, it’s light-weight chassis providing a much less thirsty ride for the eco-minded Mafia boss in need of getting some hasty distance between him and his prey.
Our driver’s great charm is matched only by his girth, and this proved a problem for the Maybach. Caveat emptor plus-sized drivers, the Maybach cockpit is less Junkers, more Messerschmitt (although I am reliably informed that the smaller but sportier 570 model’s is more accommodating).
Amid all the precision and perfection both inside and out, you can’t help but feel from time to time that the Maybach is just a Mercedes S-Class on steroids. Once behind the wheel, it is the familiarity of the controls’ layout and the soft ride on the road that lulls you into a false sense of security, belying the fact that you are in control of a car whose dimensions are 6.2 metres long and almost two metres wide.
We settle into our ride down the M40 with ease, each of us playing with all the toys in turn. My wife finds the perfectly chilled bottle of champagne tucked inside the partition’s fridge, cleverly resting on a frame that angles the neck of the bottle upwards to prevent spillage.
The 5.5 litre, 500bhp V12 engine barely registers any effort as we gobble up the motorway section of the drive and turn off on to the A40. My daughter struggles against her seatbelt, the temptation of spreading out on the vast expanse of the cabin’s floor being too great. Thankfully my wife mastered the built-in DVD system quickly and Barbie Cinderella keeps her quiet the whole way (my daughter, that is).
Up front, I am all too aware that I have drawn the short straw, somewhat cramped in a cabin where legroom is limited and the seats can only recline so far until stopped by the fixed panel that isolates the back seats. I realise now that in practice, this is a car for only two passengers. And you would have to hope that they don’t want to show each other any affection, as a foot’s width of central divider in the back seat puts pay to any possibility of physical contact.
Coming off the A40, we turn on to the small country road leading to the idyllic vale that Sudeley Castle has occupied for more than 700 years. Far from being too wide, I am pleased to discover, the Maybach handles the winding bends with no sick-making lurches. For the first time I feel that sense of grandeur and pride that a truly luxurious vehicle should give you, and I am reminded of the line from Lolita where Humbert Humbert describes how he is overcome by ‘the logic of passion’. While there is passion in the Maybach, it is delivered in an imposingly efficient, logical manner that could only hail from Germany.
There is no question that we have taken the wrong route, as the tiny lane that leads to the entrance of Sudeley Castle is lined with hordes of paparazzi cars, continuing for almost a mile. The Maybach slithers alongside them until we reach the baying crowd of cameras, TV crews and assorted well-wishers that has already gathered, even with more than four hours to go before the wedding actually begins. Had we been in a Mercedes or a BMW we would probably have passed by without notice, but the Maybach’s imposing bulk commands attention and the presumption of celebrity or power.
The press make a bee-line for its darkened windows, like iron filings to a magnet, their lenses like limpets on the glass. we fight our way through to the press-free sanctuary that lies beyond the gates and I see the look in the paparazzi’e eyes. It’s the only thing that I can say is in any way green about the Maybach – theirs and everyone else’s envy of those inside.