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The Curious History of the Mercedes Red Baron

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Even for a car, this thing is well-traveled.

Mercedes-Benz 600 S Pullman, Black rather than red like the 1972 Red Baron
Kind of like this one, but red.
Photo: Pedro Ribeiro Simões via Flickr

Some cars are iconic. The DeLorean from Back to the Future. The Ecto-1 from Ghostbusters. The eponymous Herbie from The Love Bug series. The one thing all of these vehicles have in common is that the general public knows and associates them with their respective properties instantly. But behind the scenes, one particular car has managed to fly under the radar despite being a consistent presence in the spotlight.

That car is the Red Baron: the one and only Mercedes-Benz 600 Pullman ever painted Signal Red.

The Baron’s legend begins in Germany in 1973, when it was delivered to Charles Schultz, the creator of the Peanuts comics and the first in a long line of celebrities and dignitaries to grace its seats. After he finished touring Europe, the car was shipped to the United States, where it was modified with DOT-compliant features.

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The next year, the Red Baron was sold to Barron Hilton — of hotel fame — in Las Vegas, Nevada. Throughout its 15-year tenure with the Hilton family, while it still sported a vanity plate reading “HILTON 1,” the car was made available to a staggering array of celebrities staying at the Hilton hotel in Las Vegas.

Notable passengers include Elvis Presley, Henry Kissinger, Muhammad Ali, and Jack Nicholson. Nicholson’s time in the Baron was apparently so enjoyable that he eventually purchased his own Classic 600. Never to be eclipsed, Elvis bought two.

Given that cars can’t speak — with the notable exception of KITT from Knight Rider — we’ll sadly never know how the Red Baron felt about its brief appearance in the Joel Schumacher’s much-maligned 1997 film Batman & Robin, during which it served as Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman)’s stylish ride. Its limited screen time is, unsurprisingly, one of the movie’s highlights. Well, other than all of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s wonderfully terrible puns.

Ben Affleck and Ezra Miller standing on either side of a new Mercedes-Benz in the film Justice League
Mercedes has also appeared in more recent Batman films.
Photo: Mercedes-Benz

The vehicle underwent a substantial restoration in the year 2000, during which all of the interior wood, hand-crafted from Macassar Ebony, a rare breed of tree native to Indonesia, was restored to its original 1972 factory appearance. It was also updated with a custom DVD/CD system, just in case any passengers wanted to watch The Shining or feel like Uma Thurman for the duration of their ride.

Cars are built to travel, but even the most seasoned vehicle might have to cede its crown to the Red Baron. It’s legitimately surprising that a car with such a remarkable history has had such limited public awareness. So, if you’re ever cruising around town and see a Mercedes-Benz limousine wearing a color you’ve never seen before, now you’ll know its story.

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Sources: Complex, 2Shores