When a big brand drops a particularly outlandish offering on the public, we’re always treated to a bombastic release in the blogosphere.
Mercedes-Benz, however, has taken presentation-drama to a whole new level with the psych-up video they’be just dropped, featuring the new G63 AMG 6X6, which I actually caught on the YouTube channel of Russian car site “AutoReview.ru“.
No, “6×6″ doesn’t refer to the size of the ute-style cargo bed. Though that feature alone would have been enough to render this one of the coolest things to ever leave Mr. Källenius‘s island of Misfit Mercs.
It has tons of power, tons of weight (Four. Four tons.) and five locking differentials. That’s like… way more than the usual (one or two).
If you really want to know how pathetic it makes your 4Runner look, the MSN Auto story is actually quite informative.
If you just want to see this monster guzzle fuel like Early Times whiskey and make a proper ruckus in Sheikh Mohammed’s backyard, you need only scroll down and click play:
My favorite scenes were 1:14, 2:16, and 3:12. But you’re probably going to want to bookmark it right now. In that folder you keep hidden from your wife.
Can’t get enough?
Here’s a quick clip of the military version traversing Australia with some more familiar four-wheeled friends.
Merc’s internationally-prevalent off roader known as the G-Class, G-Wagen, or “Geländewagen” to traditionalists has carried pretty much the same look since it’s design was suggested to Mercedes by the Shah of Iran in 1979.
Oh yes, I had to cross-check that Wikipedia entry with the boys over at TopGear.com… but I have verified that is indeed the true origin of this riotously aggressive looking 4×4.
In most of the world, the G-Class can be found in several engine/wheelbase/appointment levels. If you don’t mind an older one with cloth seats and a smaller powerplant, a ‘wagen can be a legitimate option for those needing a dependable and capable 4×4.
Here in the US, Mercedes would have us believe that only the 500+ and AMG levels exist. Combine that with limited shipment counts and you’ll be able to work out why many of us seeking luxury off-roaders have to stick with Land Rovers, which are much cheaper and easier to find.
I’ve sat in brand-new G55’s at the Mercedes store before, but when I saw this 2002 model waiting in line to be auctioned off I saw a unique opportunity to explore a G-Class that had actually been lived in.
This blue breadbox had over a hundred k on the clock, gnarly-soggy carpeting in the cargo area, and a host of MILs on the dash, but the interior and exterior were in fairly good knick.
Sitting at the helm and pushing all the buttons, moving the truck around a bit in the lane, and catching myself in the mirror, I could definitely see myself importing an old diesel G-Wagen and outfitting it as my vehicle of choice for long range expeditions. For a diehard Land Rover fan that’s saying a lot, but this Benz ticked all the boxes.
It’s got an imposing exterior presence, excellent visibility from the cockpit, ample cargo room and a rough-n-tumble military surplus shape.
Plus the three-pointed-star in the grille says “Pardon me, peasant” almost as well as the raised-letter RANGE ROVER stamp on that vehicle’s bonnet. Main difference being… the Mercedes might actually, you know. Work.
Time to hit eBay…
Spotted this W111 on Craigslist and upon realizing it was just down the street, I couldn’t help but have a look. Huge bench seat, accented fintails, lovely curved glass and a grille that says “pull over, peasant” make this chassis one of my all-time favoritie Mercs, and high on my list of next potential projects.
Though the body on this one looks decent from ten feet away, those ominous freckles of rust hint at substantial rot underneath. The blacktop on which the car was parked was too hot to crawl on and properly inspect the underbody, but just a glance at the front arches revealed some pretty gnarly through-body deterioration. But even the holes in the floor (which I found after lifting up the carpet) wouldn’t have deterred me off this car completely… it fired up without much coaxing and was probably tidy enough to pass state inspection with a minimal palm-greasing.
The problem lied in the paperwork. From the look of the license plate sticker the car hadn’t been registered since 1972, and as there was no title present getting a fresh set of plates from the death-grip clutches of the heinous Mass DMV would be almost as difficult as completing the restoration. So alas, this car may be condemned to RIP (Rot In Place) unless somebody can brave the bureaucratic bastion and get some tags on this lovely car. Or hey, maybe the seller will just find the damn title…
The last leg of the ride, New York to Boston, was a well-worn path I had driven many times living in the Northeast. Compared to the nation-spanning conquest we had just completed, it felt like a ride up the block.
I took the wheel with my knees as I wolfed a breakfast sandwich from one hand and sipped lava-hot coffee from the other after a Dunkin’ Donuts stop I demanded. I delegated horn-honking and finger-giving to Birdie who was reading me the GPS’s instructions from the passenger seat.
Try as I might to convince him the drive wheels were in the wrong place he seemed happy with it. I asked him how awesome a light bar would look on Birdie’s ML and he shrugged as she rolled her eyes. Maybe they’ll be convinced when I get that Jurassic Park paintscheme on there…
The last stop before our final destination was Mike’s Pastry- an exceptional canoli purveyor and Boston institution. Bringing home a take from Mike’s for my family would win me some points right off the bat.
Just over an hour later we were pulling into my parent’s lawn. I had been dreaming of ripping a big, ignorant donut to announce my arrival but I aborted when I realized dad had just put down grass seed. I’d need to stay in his good graces a little longer if I expected him to let me use his tools.
A couple days of showing Jess around the North Shore and she was on a plane back to LA. I was left with a very tired SUV that was clamoring for a detailing and an oil change.
Thus concluded the longest and somehow most incident-free land expedition I’d accomplished yet. I don’t care if it was build in ‘Bama or Bremen, those boys at Benz know what they’re doing. Forget selling this rig, I’m adding it to the fleet!
The End • ML Across America
My friend Molly works at an animal ER in town, and met up with us around midnight to show us a few bars. I didn’t expect much on a Sunday night, but the local law enforcement certainly did. As we made our way back to the cars after last call we must have passed twenty Interceptors holding down Capitol Street containing what could only have been an invisible riot.
Talk about a sea change- it doesn’t get much more American than waking up in West Virginia and wrapping up in a Jersey City highrise overlooking New York’s skyline.
Birdie’s friend Brad brought us over the river (actually under it, on a subterranean commuter train) and to a kickass place in the East Village simply called “Frank Restaurant.”
The $4 ATM charge was well worth the experience of great food, stylish atmosphere and a surprisingly impressive wine list.
Actually, I shouldn’t have been surprised because rich hipsters love places like this.
Back at Brad’s apartment the nighttime view from the living room was downright inspiring. In the garage the car once again got to rub shoulders (er, fenders) with M3’s and AMG Merc’s… all of which were undoubtedly jealous of our humble ML’s epic expedition.
Even though we still had a couple hundred miles ahead of us, seeing the Atlantic meant we pretty well had this trip in the bag. And despite a few trying moments on those empty highways, we had had smooth sailing from one ocean to another.
The beads, the booze, the boobs; all tossed in your face like pennies into a fountain.
Unfortunately we were doused in rain as much as debauchery, but a little weather never hurt- uh, nevermind.
We started our experience by ticking off the boxes we knew we had to- streetcar ride (I resisted the urge to try Brando’s bawl), coffee and beignets (say “ben-yay”) at Café Du Monde and a self-guided tour of the French Quarter.
We met up with Cliff again and he showed us his lab in what was, as our cab driver warned en route, “not a good neighborhood to be going to.”
The facility took me back to senior year of college… red dust on everything, tiny fragments in plastic bags, dudes in black t-shirts scribbling notes. Good times.
“You get used to stuff like that living around here,” said Cliff, in his perpetually unfazed Louisiana drawl.
Lunch was, of course, fried shrimp on a sub- which they call a “Po’ Boy” for reasons I never learned. What I didn’t expect was that it was served at a Chinese restaurant. That also sold cereal. “The Chinese setup shop here, and figured out what people wanted to eat,” explained our host. “I guess they stuck with the dragon décor just ‘cuz.”
He also introduced us to a new genre of city dwellers referred to by contributing members of society as “gutter punks.” The gutter punks are part hipster, part flower-child, rolled in under a motif of homeless. They invariably have lots of tattoos, a dog, and rancid hair. Curiously they seem to disappear in bad weather suggesting a “homeless by choice” scenario, which earns them scorn from both sides of the poverty line.
After sharing that cultural gem with us Cliff had to get back to work, so Jess and I were on our own again for sight seeing.
Instead of aquatic creatures, these bowls contained vodka, light rum, 151, amaretto, triple sec, gin, a dash of grenadine and few sneezes of juice.
Despite the fact that this unique container included a necklace-string, by the vendor’s own admission it was not up to the task of supporting the beverage’s weight.
“Hold the bowl from the bottom, don’t wear it around your neck. Because then you’ll be wearing it all over your shirt.”
Based on the jet-exhaust smell the elixir was emitting, I had a feeling it wasn’t going to matter.
Drinking from a fishbowl full of liquor while strolling down Bourbon is perfectly acceptable, almost expected if you’re from out of town. But the practice felt decidedly more embarrassing when we crossed the line out of tourist town and into the abutting residential areas.
Just walkin’. Sucking down a gallon of liquor. Don’t worry about it.
We circled back and landed at another weird restaurant for dinner. I couldn’t resist a menu item called the “Dead Cajun”- a fried burger (yep) injected with cheese and jalapeños, toped with fried onions, fried fries and what I’m pretty sure was just fried lard. Jess Instragramed a picture of it while I called my mum to tell her I loved her before committing to what would surely lead to a heart attack.
To my left a few fellows were cheering on a March Madness NCAA game. Out the window to my right, a woman in sequined sweatpants was beckoning pedestrians to enter a building with the text “LIVE SEX SHOW” over the door in, you guess it, flickering neon. Instead of windows the building had TV monitors looping content that I gathered was taking place inside.
You’d think I would have lost my appetite, but I was starting to get used to the spectacle that is New Orleans.
In case you’re wondering, yes there is an Uptown where locals go. It’s chock full of its own great nightlife and reminds you that NOLA does in fact have residents. But if you’re in town for one night, that’s not where you’re going to end up.
Despite having come across favorable weather for the first time since L.A., an unlimited supply of lattes could not have kept me awake on I-20. In fact, I’m pretty sure we didn’t pass a commercial establishment on this road that would know what the hell a latte is.
We stopped in a town called Tatum to stretch our legs and refuel the Benz. I poured out of the car and tripped to the fuel bowser.
INSERT CARD OR PAY INSIDE.
ADD CAR WASH?
ADD HOT DOG TO YOUR PURCHASE FOR $.99?
ADD GIANT SLURPEE TO YOUR PURCHASE FOR $1.99?
CASH OR CARD?
CREDIT OR DEBIT?
ERROR PLEASE PAY INSIDE
By about the third question on this SAT-level refuel I had had a feeling that I was going to be lured/forced into this sketchy establishment somehow.
I kicked down the sliding door and was overcome with the smell of chemical-based floor cleaner, fried food and little hint of stale fart.
Fluorescent lights flickered overhead while a few ancient corndogs rolled lazily on a heater looking about as enticing the idea of Kimbo Slice babysitting your kids.
But all was forgiven when I made eyes on the Hostess Fruit Pies, and soon enough we were on our way with a full fuel tank and high-fructose corn syrup in my gullet.
I had eaten the whole Pie before I realized my debit card was still sitting on the counter, now almost a hundred miles behind us.
“Hey Birdie, how much money you got?”
Luckily her cousins were buying dinner in Dallas that night, so I thought I’d be able to refrain from racking up international charges on my Australian debit card for at least a few more days.
Sadly I could only hold on to that dream until we discovered Elm Street- the Dallas nightlife hub locally known as “Deep Ellum” which I learned later referred to the phonetic spelling of “Deep Elm” when read with a southern drawl.
With the famous last words; “Cheapest single-malt you got with two ice cubes in it,” out came the Commonwealth MasterCard, $7 transaction fees be damned.
The Dallas nightlife might have been one of the biggest surprises of the entire expedition. Blocks and blocks of bars and music venues are packed into the Deep Ellum district. It has the gritty-warehouses-converted-to-party-spot vibe and therefore was crawling with hipsters (I didn’t think they knew Texas existed). Even downtown had a few good places that were kind enough to oblige us with service moments before last call. The Texans sure know how to party.
The lack of a Chuck Norris sighting and the pungent odor of our hotel room were really the only negs of the Dallas stop. Yee-haw.
Back on the main street I detected a strong concentration of old hippies as we passed more than two art galleries with hand-painted signs. My suspicions were confirmed when the guy running the coffee shop was rocking round specs and an Indiana Jones hat. At least he was kind enough to recommend a place for breakfast.
Westbound again we took US-180 towards Texas. Kind of.
I was at the helm and kept the revs high enough to keep myself interested, which meant another workout for the 4×4’s well-exercised suspension. Sway bars creaked as I loaded the left, powered on, braked, loaded the right, powered on again… and carried on for another hour or so until, as if by divine intervention, somebody ironed out the road and we were gunbarrel straight again.
The Merc settled out of the last corner and I put the hammer down. The usually subtle V6 made itself known with a kitten-roar as the MPG gauge plunged into single digits and the rev counter surged. Tunnel vision set in and we figured out about how quickly the SUV could travel before its drag coefficient got the better of it.
Despite the throat-clearing I allowed our engine, the ride to Roswell seemed to take forever and a half… an annoyance amplified by the disappointment that occurred at not seeing a single alien in the entire ten hour period we spent in town.
Which is, by the way, well worth skipping next time you’re passing through the region.
Kicked off our first morning outside California with a tour of Mesa, AZ courtesy of my uncle Bob. The place is pretty much exclusively populated with massive mansions and gated communities… all of which had just had a brown/tan/reddish brown paint bomb dropped on them from 32,000 feet. At least that was the case on the side of the highway we saw.
The city abuts national park land, so suburbia backs right up to wide open desert. It’s bordered on the other side by golf courses, and everything gazes westward at the Phoenix skyline.
I was pretty eager to get on the road, because one of the free maps we snagged from AAA in Los Angeles laid out a spiderweb of dirt roads all over this state, and I was keen to see Birdie’s skills on wheels when conditions get primitive and there’s no Starbucks for 1,000 miles. Well, maybe 100 miles.
We deviated from the main highway shortly after leaving Mesa and proceeded down US-76 which, despite being a state highway, is a long and lonely dirt track. Beyond ruts, puddles, blind corners, and oft-flooded dips, there ain’t much out there.
I wasn’t exaggerating when I described it as “lonely.” In about three hours we passed one other truck, three dogs, and about a million cacti (Which were, much to Birdie’s amusement, dusted with snow). Somewhere during hour two it occurred to me that I hadn’t checked to see if the Benz was carrying a jack- or even a spare tire for that matter. Naturally this was a concern I dared not voice, for fear of jinxing the integrity of our Michelin Latitude HP’s.
Thankfully, the issue didn’t come up. Birdie took to the dirt like a regular Colin McRae (RIP), skipping the ML over loose granular like the world’s biggest flatstone on a halcyon lake. The amber “/!\” light flashed in the speedometer as the 4ETS worked up a sweat pushing power to the tracting wheels to keep the car in motion.
We cleared the dirt without injury or damage and if that weren’t enough good luck for the day, the trail intersected with the main road at a Dairy Queen/western novelty store.
The car was now sporting a healthy dose of mud splatter, and I was confident our off-road street cred had increased substantially (from zero).
We spent the rest of the day on main roads and wound up in Silver City, New Mexico.
When we arrived it was dark, snowy, and miserable. We had some apprehensions but didn’t want to drag ass another 100 miles to the next settlement, so we shacked up at the Motel 6.
In another brilliant stroke of luck the previous occupant of our room had left three microwavable dinners in our minifridge.
“Hell yeah, free dinner!”
We dined on Stouffer’s finest and headed back into town. You don’t come to a weird, creepy looking place like this and not hit the bar.
We took two laps down the main drag and settled on a place called Buffalo Bar- The only place open.
Turned out to be a good call, because as soon as I crossed the threshold I worked out that I was the least badass bloke in there.
Two enormous country boys were holding down the bar, while a Boss Hog lookalike was orbiting the pool table with a bolo tie around his neck and a shortbarrel shotgun slung over his back.
I went for a Bud Light and Birdie braved the cocktail menu. The bolo guy, a sophisticatedly-haggard looking gentleman in maybe his 60’s, sauntered over to order something similar. The drink came back, he dropped his firearm on the bar next to me and returned to his pool game.
With facial scars, toothpick hanging off his lip and a cowboy hat arresting a greasy flow of grey hair he was easily the most interesting feature of the Buffalo Bar. I couldn’t help but overhear his discourse with one of the other patrons; it sounded like they were trying to complete some kind of transaction. Regardless, it was the old man’s response that was priceless; “I only deal in guns and gold,” he grumbled in a Jeff-Bridges-in-True-Grit voice. Which was of course, exactly how I had hoped he’d talk.
The bartender seemed to transcend the stereotype though, with an orderly appearance and understandable dialect. He was even kind enough to send us off with a six pack of “to-go” beers (Motel 6 minibar was out of Bombay Sapphire).
Two nights in L.A. gave us enough time to see some old friends, get a few maps, and hit Sprinkles in 90210. I also convinced Birdie to do my laundry- it was an easy sell when she realized the alternative was to be trapped in her SUV with my unlaundered ski socks for two weeks.
We made it out of la la land by mid-morning and rode through torrential, seat-heater blasting, latte-fogging-my-window, rain for a couple hours.
It cleared up by the time we hit the desert, and when signs for Joshua Tree National Park made themselves apparent we veered off the highway and headed into the bush.
Turns out “the Tree” is a hopelessly inadequate moniker… because of trees, there are a shitload.
The moment you pass into National Park land the scenery goes full Dr. Seuss. The surface is a patchwork of coarse sand and rocks punctuated by monolithic heaps of smooth stones the size of our Mercedes. And between those commanding bouldermounds are hundreds of strange little trees that bear resemblance to an inverted cross-section of a human lung.
Thanks to the brochure we acquired in exchange for paying the park’s road toll I was able to identify these as,
wait for it;
Boom, box ticked.
These weird plants aren’t really trees- they’re Yucca Brevifolia, which is a derivative of agave (the stuff you get tequila from). I’m guessing because they taste as gross as they look, the name “yucca” comes from the reaction of pioneers who tried to eat it.
You’re probably thinking; “Yucca Brevifolia has such a nice ring to it, why change the name to ‘Joshua Tree’”?
The answer to that is decidedly less exciting than I had hoped. The Mormons, in their infinite desert-crossing wisdom, reckoned the weirdly shaped tree looked like the biblical figure Joshua with his arms outstretched in prayer. Of course it does.
The only biblical figure I’d ever heard of is Jesus, so I’m gonna have to take the National Park Service’s word for that one.
Semantics aside the park really is spectacular, and even has a few 4WD-only routes for stalwart adventurers. The ML did fine in loose sand and soldiered down miles of track without a complaint, even with the road tires it was wearing. In fact, the ride was smooth enough for me to wolf the rest of our Sprinkles cupcake cache while at the helm.
Having popped out at the eastern end of the Tree, we linked up with US-10 again and dropped the hammer across the barren wasteland of southeastern California and western Arizona to the city of Mesa, AZ where my aunt and uncle were staying at their place.
Third night of travel and we had only made it one state over… but we hadn’t broken anything. Chalk it up to good luck so far.