The heart and soul of every high performance vehicle by Mercedes-AMG is its engine. Every working day, AMG’s cherished engine builders clock in for duty at three different locations across Germany – Affalterbach, Mannheim, and Kolleda - to painstakingly hand-assemble each engine that goes into every Mercedes-AMG vehicle.
The ‘One Man One Engine’ philosophy is more than just a marketing tagline for Mercedes-AMG; it is a statement of passion by the company that harks back to the spirit of its maverick founders – Hans Werner Aufrecht and Erhard Melcher – two former Daimler engineers who invested their own time and passion to build Mercedes race engines even after the factory itself withdrew from racing.
Every day, AMG’s engine builders channel that same passion that had motivated the company’s founding fathers half a century earlier, in the process producing some of the finest engines ever to have graced any automobile.
Whilst AMG is commonly regarded as a tuner for high-performance Mercedes engines, it is, in reality, the lead developer of V8 engines for Daimler AG. It’s a subtle difference in words, but in practice, it means AMG actually designs and builds engines from scratch as opposed to merely fiddle with existing powertrains.
The most famous of AMG’s three facilities, Affalterbach, houses 1,500 employees, including personnel in the design studio, maintenance shop, prototyping, and, of course, the hallowed engine builders – the men and women whose signatures adorn the top of every Mercedes-AMG powertrain; and who put their sweat, blood, and tears when crafting these engines by their hands.
“You’ll never have this somewhere else. No other companies do this ‘one man one engine’ system. It makes some people proud to work on these engines, because you get a special feeling for the engine,” says Oliver Weidenmüller, one of the privileged few men and women who build AMG V8s for a living.
The 36-year-old’s passion for cars was fuelled from his teenage years, during which he started fixing cars beginning with changing tyres before advancing to brakes and subsequently fiddling with engines. “Like normal kids,” he recounts.
To be precise, AMG engines are handcrafted rather than handmade. The engine builders do not, for example, cast the engine block and pistons themselves; they don’t even rotate a screwdriver – not manually, anyway.
Even though the actual work is facilitated by powered tools, the engine builder plays an important role in personally operating those tools in the correct order and pays meticulous attention to ensure that every engine is assembled to the exacting standards demanded by AMG and its clientele. Once production of an engine starts, the builder follows the engine every step of the way until it is signed off. The builder assumes full responsibility on all aspects of the engine’s construction.
It goes without saying that technical competency and experience is a significant pre-requisite before one signs up as an AMG engine builder – Weidenmuller himself had prior experience as a Mercedes-Benz plant engineer in Stuttgart.
Personality traits are prioritized too; even though each engine builder is technically responsible for one engine at a time, teamwork is heavily emphasized in the day-to-day operation of the plant. Every detected fault is meticulously scrutinized upon by no fewer than two pairs of eyes to ensure that no same mistake is ever repeated.
“It’s not a factory here; it’s more a big family who knows each other, and the whole team, the spirit of AMG, what we have here, makes you feel really good,” recounts Weidenmüller on the atmosphere that faces him every day at work.
On job training for an AMG engine builder starts with six weeks of training for new recruits during which they work on the assembly line whilst supervised by a mentor. They are also required to undergo a three-week training programme for every new engine model that comes their way.
“We all want to uphold AMG’s standards. We all want the same quality. Everybody is trained on the same level and taught on the same level, so everybody has the same standards of working,” says Weidenmüller.
A native of Stuttgart, Weidenmüller’s other interest besides cars are extreme sports, with skydiving being one of his favourite hobbies. On days which he takes leave from work to jump of planes, whatever engine that he happens to be working on at the time will be sealed until he returns to complete its assembly.
Weidenmüller’s job of building engines for AMG is a dream of many petrol heads, including a number of us here at this office. Through our brief chat with him, we come to appreciate that behind every signature stamped on a Mercedes-AMG engine, is an actual person with a life to live and stories to tell. Many of them probably face the same daily challenges of working life as we do.
In an age where machines virtually guarantee far more rapid production of engines, Mercedes-AMG’s persistence in the ‘one man one engine’ formula keeps the human touch well and truly alive. No doubt robots can help produce greater numbers, but intangible qualities such as drive, passion, and determination can neither be synthesized nor replicated.
The ‘one man one engine’ philosophy plays a role far greater than just marketing speak or to keep people like Oliver Weidenmüller on the AMG payroll. It demonstrates the continued mastery of man over machine, whilst keeping alive the relentless spirit and passion that served as the driving force of Hans Aufrecht and Erhard Melcher fifty years ago.