Spending time with a R20 million bakkie

Over the years you get used to the idea of driving somebody else’s expensive car, but the sticker price always hovers around the part of you brain responsible for sensible behavior.

I drove my first properly expensive machine at age 25. It was a BMW 760i and it had a V12 engine. I was still young and stupid, so I couldn’t help myself from making chirping noises every single time I accelerated away from a robot, but its R1,5 million sticker price kept me from trying anything more loutish than that.

Since then, I’ve driven a few cars to the value of R4 million each and one that was somewhere in the region of R8 million. It was a Rolls Royce and even then a senior member of the motoring fraternity, who I respect immensely, dared me to see if I could “spin” it. I tried and I did.

For many years I believed that I would never drive anything as expensive again, mostly because we don’t really get cars of that league in SA. All of the hypercars (LaFerrai, 918 and the like) are left-hand drive only and even if one made it to SA, would you let a 31-year old drive it? I sure wouldn’t.

The car you see here needs no introduction. If you’re reading this, you know what it is, but what you might not know is that this G-Class 6×6 carries a sticker price of R13 million. So, for the price of one of these, you could have had a Rolls Royce Phantom and a Ferrari 458, with enough cash left over to run both for a year. You could buy 13 Land Cruisers and start a tour company, or you could build a nice house with three en suite bedrooms and a home theater in Camps Bay. I could go on, but you get the idea.

While I’m used to driving expensive things, I’m not 100% comfortable with the idea of driving around in a car that’s 13 times more expensive than your long-term fleet combined. To make matters worse, this particular G63 6×6 is also a Brabus version, which means that both the power and price increase dramatically above and beyond the R13 million of the standard car. At the current exchange rate, it should cost somewhere in the region of R10 million and that’s before you include import duties… Here’s to hoping the owner is a small, skinny fellow that I could take in a fight, if need be. I’d scrape the car, slap him once and get back in the plane.

Alas, it was not to be, as the owner turned out to be Albê Geldenhuys, founder and owner of the USN brand, supercar enthusiast and a model of physical fitness. Between him and me, owner of a house, Kia Picanto and Peter Stuyvesant enthusiast, the battle would be rather one sided. There would be some klapping, but I’d be boarding the plane in a body bag…

Naturally, I did my homework before experiencing the 6×6 and the one thing that stood out for me is the impressive collection of number related to this car, the most obvious being the fact that it has six wheels instead of the usual four.

The G63 AMG 6×6 is 5875mm long, 2110mm wide, 2210mm high and weighs in at 4105kg. The ground clearance is an awe-inspiring 460mm thanks to a portal axle setup and the wading depth is claimed to be one full metre. As standard, it comes with 37-inch tyres.

The power is split between the wheels in a 30:40:30 split and it has five (yes you read that correctly) locking differentials. It also has an on-board compressor, which allows the driver to inflate/deflate those massive tyres from the comfort of his designer leather seat. It can inflate the tyres from 0,5 bar to 1,8 bar in around 20 seconds, which is 9 minutes and 40 seconds faster than it usually takes at a forecourt.

Problem is, we don’t actually know if all this stuff works and we haven’t seen a proper off-road assessment of the G63 6×6 either. There are a few entertaining videos on YouTube, but no concrete evidence that this car is better than its brothers with lesser wheels. If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say that the 6×6 would really only start shining once you arrived at the ragged edge of what a normal hardcore 4×4 could do. At that point the owner of an AMG 6×6 would simply keep prodding away at the accelerator pedal, leaving everything else behind.

It’s such a pity that we’ll never know, but would you drive this R13 million piece of engineering magnificence into the unknown? I actually would, but not with the owner watching.

To drive it on the road must be a difficult task, but this has nothing to do with the car, which we’ll get to in a moment. First, an observation on supercar ownership, which isn’t as magnificent as you’d think… within the confines of the city.

I’ve driven a few and the overwhelming memory is one of fear that someone else might drive into it. This has nothing to do with SA’s poor road etiquette, but rather the amount of attention a car like this gets. You have people almost leaning out of their windows to see it better, but the worst ones by far are the solitary drivers who attempt to snap a photo from behind the wheel. Once that smartphone appears, all driving ability is blown from the window, leaving you dodging veering drivers who forgot everything they were busy with to focus on something extremely rare and special.

Oddly, you also get the haters, which I’m told is millennial lingo for guys who don’t appreciate a fine piece of kit like the G63 6×6. I’m told it’s because of emissions and fuel consumption, but more likely has something to do with the fact that they can’t have one. Either way, you get the odd snarly stare or snide remark, but, worst-case scenario, you get struck with some sort of liquid. It sounds odd, but it has happened to me before. I don’t recall what I was driving, only that it was a cabriolet. At a set of robots a person actually spat into it. Another journalist friend of mine got hit by a bubblegum slushy while testing an Audi R8…

If it is indeed environmentalists chucking beverages at supercars, I didn’t come across any, but they would have hated this thing.

It’s powered by one of the most magnificent engines we’ve ever come across – the 5,5-litre biturbo V8, which delivers a colossal 400kW and 760Nm of torque. It’s mated to a 7G-Tronic dual-clutch transmission with three driving modes and double-declutching during downshifting. For most this would be enough, but, for Albe, it wasn’t. This Brabus version has an additional 115kW and 200Nm, which means it actually has 515kW and 960Nm of torque.

The first driving mode is called “C”, which I thought stood for comfort, but later found out refers to “controlled efficiency.” Luckily Albe opted to skip the “C” in favour of the “S” for Sport.

The latent performance is evident from the moment you first press the start button. That hand-built AMG engine gives a potent bark and settles down to a quiet, yet ever present rumble. At quarter throttle it rumbles around smoothly, swapping cogs almost unnoticeably. Even though it’s much wider and longer than a standard G-Class, it seems no harder to drive. Parking may become and issue eventually, but I’ve checked the measurements and the approach angle makes it possible to park on top of most hatches and saloons sold in SA.

Within the confines of a city, you can’t exploit the furious horses underneath the bonnet. The crazy antics of the drivers around you make it impossible to floor it, even though you are encouraged by every single one of them to give it some stick.

Like any other supercar, it’s a delight to almost everyone. Enthusiasts know what it is and give it you a knowing nod, while children cheer you on as you drive by. Other bakkie owners, however, force themselves to look in the other direction, but the swift stolen glances in its direction soon reveal that they’re in awe as well, even though they’d never admit it. That’s the point of a car like this. It’s silly, over the top and completely illogical, but it’s also motivating and inspiring all those who see it, except for the slushy wielding hippies, of course.

Once you find a quiet piece of tarmac, you can press that accelerator pedal all the way into the lush carpet and fully experience its vast power reserves. I follow Albe through Stellenbosch in a 177kW Ford Fusion, but he’s constantly pulling away. The G63 may weight over four tons, but you can’t argue with 515kW and 960Nm.

Brabus’ own press material suggests that it’s not all that fast. It takes a relatively leisurely 7,4 seconds to get to 100km/h, which, on paper, is slower than it takes a BMW 320d to do the same.

But – and this is very important – there’s an immense difference between how fast it actually is and how fast it feels. The same can be said of a standard G63.

An SUV like the BMW X5M is impressive, because you get to 100km/h in 4,2 seconds and on to a top-speed of 250km/h. It’s a clinical kind of fast, which is fun, but I much rather prefer the comical AMG way. That’s why I chose the standard G63 AMG as my performance car of the year early in 2015.

With the G63 AMG 6×6, it’s all about the pantomime factor. You step on the throttle and you’re hurled forward on a wave of noise and utter disbelief that a car with six wheels and a body mass of over four tons can move at such a terrifying pace. This Brabus 63 was still in its running in phase, which means Albê still treated it carefully… up to a point. We did a few runs up a pass at speed with Albê behind the wheel, which I’m very thankful for. I was desperately going through a bunch of scenarios in my head, hoping to find one with me possibly behind the wheel of the 6×6. I had to get a feel for it, which wasn’t going to happen with a careful owner behind the wheel. As soon as we turned onto the Helshoogte pass, Albê opened her up.

Like Margaret Thatcher, this lady is definitely not for turning, but in a more literal sense. It’s not a wieldy car by any stretch of the imagination, so you end up braking to a halt for almost every corner, but that’s only half the reason why. The real reason one brakes as much as possible, is so you can start from first and hear that V8 bellow its way through the gearbox again. You simply haven’t lived until you’ve heard an AMG engine at full chat.

From the passenger seat, I get the full Brabus experience. Albê opens the windows, turns the dial to manual mode and proceeds to rush through the gearbox, calling out the speed as we hurl along. He brakes hard for most of the corners while gearing down via the paddles behind the wheels. This action reveals that the brakes are almost as impressive as that monstrous V8 engine, which gives an almighty bark every time Albê touches the paddle on the left. These V8 noises are accompanied by tyre squeal from the 37-inch tyres. It’s impressive and comical in equal measure.

I’ve driven the Helshoogte Pass numerous times in cars ranging from a 5 Series hybrid to an Alfa hot hatch and the Brabus easily matched the speeds those vehicles could do. You just have to trust the engineering and build your way up the confidence ladder. It’s not something you just get in and drive fast from the get go. Which is why I’m so glad Albê was willing to trash it to amuse my photographer and I. No need for me to drive it and possibly damage a multi-million rand machine. Albê had already showed me everything I wanted to know.

It was alarmingly quick, immaculately built and brought traffic to a standstill everywhere it went. It’s also completely pointless and wacky, but to look at it that way would be missing the point of a vehicle like this.

Yes, the world doesn’t need a car like this, but it’s human nature to want a car like it.

Does it really matter what it’s like to drive? All that really matter is that you want it, and that’s it’s a goal to work towards. One of those kids we drove past might even be inspired enough to work his way towards a Mercedes-Benz that drove past him on his way to school one day when he was young. That young guy may be our next finance minister… Crazier things have happened.

Unfortunately, the owners of these vehicles tend not to share them with the world. That much is evident from the stories I was told by a Mercedes representative. Out of the ten G63 6x6s that came to SA, most are to be found in the Stellenbosch area. The chances of you seeing one, however, are minimal. They were handed over to the owners at 12pm one evening, away from any prying eyes. What a pity.

Cars like these are meant to be enjoyed, not only by the driver, but all of us who are lucky enough to encounter it.

If you have R13 million lying around and all of this sounds mighty nice, I have some bad news. The 6×6 project is done and dusted. The last model rolled off the production line in late 2015. Current owners will likely hold onto their vehicles, because their value will only increase in coming years.

What an absolutely delightful thing to experience. I’m not sure we’ll ever see the likes of it again, thanks to emissions laws and such. What an absolute pity.