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by John LeBlanc
Montreal, Quebec – Sometimes I have what my wife refers to as “celebrity dreams”. In these dreams I find myself easily hob-nobbing with a variety of famous folks, as if I was their best friend in the world.
In these dreams I’ve played Gran Turismo at his Monaco apartment with former F1 racing champion Jacques Villeneuve. I’ve had lunch with the right honourable Jean Chretien, when he was in power. And once, when she couldn’t get into a particularly exclusive soiree, I vouched for Her Royal Highness, Queen Elizabeth II, and promptly piggybacked her past the dumbfounded security.
So what do I make of my present situation? Here I am in the back seat of a new Maybach automobile that’s over five metres long. My body at a relaxed angle, head tucked into a pillow that’s attached to the headrest, playing with the dozen or so ambient cabin lights to create whatever mood suits me. The rear curtains are drawn to keep the paparazzi at bay. My very own Personal Liaison Manager, Steve, is explaining that before I don my cordless headphones (to enjoy my favourite DVD via get rolling). And did I need my bottle of Veuve Clicquot (that’s been chilling in the back seat refrigerator) opened?
I pinch myself, and ‘ouch!’ I’m not dreaming (damn!) This is reality. This is not my car. And Steve isn’t exactly mine, either.
“Steve” is Steve Kastner, the Maybach Personal Liaison Manager from Mercedes-Benz Canada. He’s come to Montreal for a few days to give a select number of automotive journalists the rare opportunity for one-on-one demonstrations of the Maybach (say “May-bosh”), these exclusive, expensive, and obviously dreamy, cars you can buy today.
I’m actually coming to my senses in the back of the economy class Maybach 57 ($492,800), not the business class 62 model ($558,400), which is more of a limousine at 6.165 metres in length.
You may have heard of the Maybach. It’s been on the Canadian market about a year now, and is DaimlerChysler’s new-for-2004, ultra-luxury automobile that’s been created to take on the also new-for-2004, and better known, Rolls Royce Phantom.
(The Phantom sits between the two Maybach models in length [5.8-metres], but below them in price [$470,000], and represents the first Rolls Royce released after The BMW Group acquired the British brand in 1998 after a lengthy legal battle with Volkswagen AG).
The Phantom arguably has the edge on the Maybach when it comes to recognition and reputation. Unless you’re a German automobile historian, the Maybach’s past glories are a little less known. Here’s the Cole’s Notes version:
Its founder, Wilhelm Maybach, originally worked with Gottlieb Daimler in developing what many consider the first real car, the “wire-wheel” car presented at the 1889 Paris Exhibition. Out on his own, Maybach built engines for Zeppelin airships. When son Karl took over the family business in 1922, he turned to creating fast,
luxurious automobiles. Along came World War II, and, well, that was it for the double-M-badged cars. (Originally standing for Maybach Motorenbau, the modern logo stands for Maybach Manufaktur).
“Admittedly, Rolls Royce is right up there with Coca-Cola, Nike, and Apple, as one of the most recognized brands in the world. To take them on, we have to find unique ways to gain credibility with potential customers”, explains Mr. Kastner. He should know, having sold Rolls Royces for over twenty years before joining Maybach.
Hence, Mr. Kastner’s role as the Maybach Personal Liaison Manager, which is not dissimilar to an automotive butler.
The Personal Liaison Manager provides assistance as soon as someone is interested in purchasing a Maybach, and is available around the clock giving one-on-one support to a very small circle of customers (Mercedes-Benz will sell only ten to twelve Maybach’s this year in Canada).
Mr. Kastner will walk a customer through the highly personalized commissioning process and ensures their automobile is consummately tailored according to their own wishes.
“Obviously, at this price, our customers demand individualization”, illuminates Mr. Kastner. “To them, each car is a piece of original art that they have a hand in
creating”. Any colour or trim request can be met, at additional cost of course.
Mr. Kastner can also provide a wide range of additional services on demand, ranging from booking a test drive to arranging a trip to view your automobile being born at
the Maybach production facility in Sindelfingen, Germany.
“Basically, I’m “twenty-four-seven”, says Mr. Kastner.
Mr. Kastner’s title on its own, Personal Liaison Manager, is an indication that the process of purchasing a Maybach is a little different than, say, haggling for free
air conditioning on that new Toyota Echo you’ve been eyeing.
“Does anyone ask for discounts?” I ask. “Uh, no”, replies Mr. Kastner, “And air conditioning is standard”.
If you’ve made an enquiry to purchase a Maybach, you’ll receive a formal letter on the company’s own letterhead. Bank transfer information is exchanged, and when you’re ready to have your art, er, automobile commissioned, Maybach would first like a deposit of $65,000, please. (Don’t worry, you Wealthy Barber types, during the six months while your Maybach is being built, your money will be accruing interest in a GIC).
When your Maybach is ready, you get to see Mr. Kastner again. “I can easily spend a whole day with the customer upon delivery”, says Mr. Kastner, who likes to ensure that the customer’s favourite movies and music are set up in the automobile upon delivery.
If you are aware of the Maybach, it’s not because of the flashy magazine or TV ads. “We’re trying to build a community through targeted relationship building”, Mr.
Kastner tells me. “We’ll have special events like autoshows, or auto races, where we’ll invite ten to twenty prospective customers”. Most Maybachs are sold through word of mouth, and over half are bought by existing Mercedes owners who want the biggest, baddest car in the range.
The Maybach’s engine and many of the instruments come from top-of-the-line Mercedes. So why would someone spend more than twice as much for a Maybach 57?
“For one thing”, Mr. Kastner answers, “a Maybach will always have more power. Second, it’s the luxury of space and the overall craftsmanship that’s exemplary”.
Indeed. Even in the smaller Maybach 57, back seat legroom is limousine-like, and all the buttons work well and feel of high quality. The Maybach’s switchgear is either
covered in wood or sculpted in polished chrome instead of the matte-black plastic Mercedes uses. Think of it as an uber S-Class with a built-in art gallery.
Since I have the Maybach 57 at my disposal, the so-called “driver’s car”, Mr. Kastner grants me my wish to take the wheel for a short drive around suburban Pointe Claire, where we take a few pictures and pretend my Loto 649 numbers have come in.
Hidden underneath all of the obvious ostentation is a very big, very powerful, and surprisingly capable automobile. Although the Maybach 57 weighs almost as much as
four Mercedes smart fortwo coupes, under my right foot I have twelve cylinders with two turbos that make 550 horsepower and 664 pound-feet of torque. I don’t try to
match Mercedes’ claim that this automobile will get to 100 km/h in less than five seconds (that’s faster than that Rolls Royce Phantom, for you comparative shoppers at home). When I do stomp on the throttle, however, the surrounding convenience stores and donut shops get awful blurry all of a sudden. I squeak out “Wow” and my
Personal Liaison Manager just smiles.
I eventually get a short blast on Highway 40, try a couple of on and off ramps, test the massive twin calliper brakes, (which have no right stopping a car of this size
in a distance so short) when I realize that assessing the Maybach 57 in real car terms is a bit irrelevant.
Although I could buy a fleet of more than thirty of those Smart cars for the price of one Maybach, none of those Smarts would have twin DVD screens in the back seats.
As I bid Mr. Kastner goodbye, I know the dream is officially over when I fire up my fourteen-year-old Volvo for my drive back home and realize the air conditioning is
on the fritz again.
Can anyone spare $492,000?
Technical Data: 2004 Maybach 57
|Type||four-door, four-passenger limousine|
|Layout||longitudinal front engine/rear-wheel-drive|
|Engine||5.5 litre V12, two turbochargers, 36 valves|
|Horsepower||550 @ 5250 rpm|
|Transmission||5 speed automatic w/Touchshift|
|Curb weight||2735 kg (6029 lb.)|
|Wheelbase||3390 mm (133.5 in.)|
|Length||5728 mm (225.5 in.)|
|Width||1980 mm (80.0 in.)|
|Height||1572 mm (61.9 in.)|
|Trunk capacity||605 litres (21.4 cu. ft.)|
|Fuel consumption||City: 24.5 l/100 km (12 mpg) (Imperial)|
|Hwy: 11.0 l/100 km (26 mpg) (Imperial)|