WAY UP There's nothing like a 1500-mile journey nearly straight north in the dead of win
None of this was ever supposed to happen. Not the Mercedes-Benz G65 AMG, and certainly not a five-day road trip from Copenhagen, Denmark, to the Swedish Arctic Circle with 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Justin Bell and little old me. A generation ago, Lamborghini dropped the Countach's V-12 engine into a failed military vehicle and called the result the LM002. The Sant'Agata concern sold 328 of them in an 8-year period. Very few OEMs have bothered with a 12-cylinder SUV since then. Audi had its special-order-only Q7 V-12 TDI (now out of production), and BMW once shoehorned its LMS 6.0-liter V-12 into an X5 as a publicity stunt. Recently, Bentley and Lamborghini have been toying with the idea of selling 12-cylinder SUVs -- the W-12-powered Bentley EXP 9F and the Aventador-engined Lamborghini Urus -- and both may have been green-lighted for production by the time you read this. Or not. AMG reportedly hemmed and hawed for years over the decision to build the 612-hp, 6.0-liter twin-turbo V-12 brute. When it finally did, the thinking was that AMG would sell around 500 units in 10 years. More than 400 were sold in the first six months.
"The Germans don't want you driving the G65," I'm informed by a Mercedes-Benz North America PR honcho. "They think you'll be upset by the poor gas mileage and would rather you went in a G63." The G63 AMG is the 5.5-liter, twin-turbo V-8 version of the G-Wagen that's actually sold here in the States, another reason they didn't want an American journalist in said ultra-rare truck. The G65 is not sold here because Mercedes felt the cost and complication of certifying one for U.S. roads (i.e., crash testing) weren't worth the hassle. Though in light of how the big G is selling around the world, I'm sure they're rethinking that strategy now, because, holy cash cow, Batman. The Gelaende-wagen, more commonly called the G-Class, first showed up in 1979. Meanwhile, the big, twin-turbo M285 engine is already in production for use in AMGs such as the S65, CL65, and SL65. The beauty part is that the base price for the G65 is [euro]220,000 ($292,000). Adjusted for taxes and so forth, a U.S.-spec G65 would likely cost about $225,000.
Another reason for the reluctance to let moi have at the baddest production G-Wagen the world has ever seen is that Mercedes-Benz has exactly one G65 press car in its stable, and you're looking at it. After much haggling (fine, begging), it was agreed that I could drive the Big Daddy G.
DEEP SOUTH Even though it's the farthest point south we experienced, Copenhagen's canal
Why Sweden? A few months ago, while riding around in a prototype version of the new E63 AMG S Model 4Matic, AMG CEO Ola Kallenius offered me the chance to visit AMG's Winter Driving Academy on a frozen lake near the town of Arjeplog in Sweden. Hey, it's good to know the king. While that sounded like loads of fun, I told Ola it would be even better if we could drive up to his lake. Of course, we would need something sufficiently burly to deal with extreme northern latitudes of Lapland, as well as something luxurious (and, dare I say, decadent) enough for my good buddy and travel companion Justin Bell. The truth is that I've always wanted to do something epic in a G-Wagen, and heading up through the heart of Scandinavia in the dead of winter just made sense. So our trip began in Denmark, the only Scandinavian country I'd previously visited. We quickly learned a couple of things: The first is that, even in late January, the denizens of Copenhagen love riding their bicycles. The second is that Danes seriously admire the G-Wagen, at least compared with their Swedish neighbors. I think a yellow Ferrari would have been less conspicuous. Copenhagen was just our embarkation point, and after a dinner featuring herring five ways, we set off for points farther north.
WE WANT CANDY In Sweden, Swedish Fish are simply called Fish. More important, both Jonn
Copenhagen to Stockholm was by far the least interesting portion of our trip. Justin kept accurately complaining that the weather looked like England: cold, wet, and bleak. Most of that 400-plus-mile day was spent with me explaining the history of the G-Class to Justin, as he'd never so much as been in one before. I've driven a few. Just days before I showed up in Copenhagen, Mercedes let me play around with a G63 AMG (same basic truck, but with the M157 twin-turbo 5.5-liter V-8) in Miami to get familiar. While I was in Miami, Florida experienced its coldest night of the year, and the temperature dropped to 58 degrees. I realized then I'd never driven a G in anything approaching bad conditions, let alone taken one off pavement. Justin added, "I mostly see these in Beverly Hills with mothers dropping their kids off for soccer practice. I always thought their capability was more folklore than truth." I assured him that the military in 35 countries use the G-Wagen, including the U.S. Marines. I also assured him that three locking differentials meant the G65 would essentially turn into a tractor off-road, even with the quilted, two-tone Designo leather and quad sidepipes. But all that good, dirty stuff would have to wait until after Stockholm.
Things finally got a little harsher and weirder once we left Stockholm.
SOCIAL MEDIA The boys met up with a friend from Twitter during an event at Fashion Week
Steinbeck never mentioned how sometimes the best-laid schemes of mice and men actually work out. Trying to be as new-media-savvy as possible, I contacted the people behind Curate Sweden. Each week, the country of Sweden's Twitter account (@Sweden) is handed over to a different citizen. Because the individual Swede gets to do whatever he or she likes with the account, Curate Sweden can't tell him/her what to do, or to help us out in any way. However, I was able to get in touch with a curator named Kristin Zetterlund (@kzetterlund), and she agreed to show Justin and me around Stockholm. Then, just days before we left, Kristin wrote me that the day we were to show up was the end of Fashion Week Stockholm, and she had to cover the shows for work. I contacted Mercedes and asked if they were behind this particular Fashion Week. Yup. Justin and I rolled the dirty G65 up to the front of the posh Berns Hotel, were treated like visiting dignitaries while checking out the latest in Swedish haute couture, and even met up with the lovely Miss Zetterlund. All in all, a picture-perfect night. Angus MacKenzie has a saying: "There's only one vehicle that can pull up to the opera caked in mud: the Range Rover." I'd like to add the G65 to that list. But fashion shows and fine dining were not the reason we brought Big Papa G to Sweden.
THE REAL SWEDEN The farther north we drove, the more spectacular the scenery. Sweden is
Justin had never so much as been in a G-Class before.
So Cool The roads stayed white once we clear Stockholm. While quite pretty, the inside