From the moment Hans Werner Aufrecht and Erhard Melcher began fiddling with Mercedes cars in their covert backyard workshop, AMG has produced some real barnstormers in its existence. Throughout its 50-year history, AMG has made driving performance an integral component of its DNA.
In this special feature, we celebrate some of the wildest Mercedes cars to have received the AMG touch. It is a list many publications have attempted compile; we don’t claim ours to be definitive, but we’d like to think that there are a couple of obscure cars in here that might surprise even the most ardent Mercedes and AMG fans.
A few greats had to be excluded from this list, but some are too iconic for us not to pay tribute to. The cars are arranged in rough chronological order of their introduction. We hope you enjoy reading through this list as much as we enjoyed compiling it.
1. Mercedes-Benz 300SEL 6.8 Red Pig – The car that put AMG on the world map is appropriately large, ridiculously powerful, and unashamedly loud. The Mercedes-Benz S-Class of the 1960s was predominantly powered by six-cylinder engines, but an innovative Daimler engineer by the name of Erich Waxenbager took crammed the M100 V8 into the W109’s engine bay to create the 300SEL 6.3. AMG then went a step further by enlarging the engine to displace 6.8 litres and sent it to compete in the 24 Hours Spa endurance race. The car’s massive weight gave it unfeasible appetites for fuel and tyres, but its brutal straight line pace helped power it to a surprise second-placed finish ahead of other cars that were purpose-built for endurance racing.
2. Mercedes-Benz 230 AMG (W110) – During the early years, AMG’s modus operandi was to take in standard Mercedes-Benz vehicles and upgrade them according to customer requests. One of their earliest commercial efforts was this W110 Mercedes-Benz 230. The standard 2.3-litre M180 inline-six engine was upgraded inside out with practically all-new internals to raise outputs from 120 to 185hp. The chassis too was accordingly beefed up to cope with the increased performance – uprated brakes, lowered suspension, and Bilstein gas shock absorbers among the upgraded items.
3. Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9 AMG (W116) – Most Mercedes enthusiasts would know about the the W116 450 SEL 6.9, but there exists also an AMG-fettled version that sees the standard version’s outputs of 286hp bumped up to 346hp. To put some perspective into that figure, the Ferrari Daytona that was in production at the time, made 352hp from its 4.4-litre V12.
3. Mercedes-Benz 450SLC Mampe – After the Red Pig, the 450 SLC Mampe is perhaps the next most recognizable icon of AMG’s early motorsport forays. Its racing career lasted only five races, but its distinctive appearance lives long in the hearts of its fans. The car was sponsored by German liquor manufacturer Mampe, who used it to promote the Lufthansa Cocktails that were being served in the airline’s flights. It was powered by a 4.5-litre V8 producing between 380 and 520hp; more remarkably, the car’s power was channelled to the road via a three-speed automatic transmission, just like the old Red Pig.
4. Mercedes-Benz 280CE 5.0 (W123) – The 2.8-litre six-cylinder 280E was the most powerful petrol variant of the W123 E-Class family from 1976 to 1985. AMG offered three stages of performance upgrades adding varying amounts of horsepower to the M110 six-pot, ranging from 10 to 45hp. Those who want even more will be offered the option to shoe-horn the 5.0-litre M117 V8 in there to propel the 280CE 5.0, otherwise known as the AMG 500CE, to a heady top speed of 235km/h.
5. Mercedes-Benz AMG MB100D – Whilst Mercedes-AMG has unequivocally rejected the prospect of diesel-powered models in the foreseeable future, the company actually has some experience working on such powertrains in the past. Not satisfied with working on just passenger cars, AMG engineers even fiddled with the MB100D van, distant predecessor of today’s V-Class. The MB100D AMG was powered by an uprated 2.4-litre turbodiesel that produced 100PS and 193Nm.
6. Mercedes-Benz 300E AMG (W124) a.k.a. The Hammer – The highly-respected W124 was often lauded for its reliability and build quality, but performance is not often considered to be its key strengths; that is, unless one talks about the 300E AMG or better known as The Hammer. Claimed to be the world’s fastest production sedan at the time, the Hammer continued AMG's fine tradition of bristling V8 muscle under the hood which, depending on model year, displaced 5.0, 5.6, or 6.0 litres.
The Hammer is not to be confused with the 500E, which was also a V8-powered high-performance variant of the W124 E-Class. The 500E was the product of a special collaboration with Porsche and was actually powered by the newer 5.0-litre M119 V8 as opposed to the Hammer’s older M117 powerplant. Toward the end of the W124’s model life cycle, AMG rolled out the E60 AMG powered by a 6.0-litre version of the M119 engine.
7. Mercedes-Benz SL73 AMG – The popular R129 SL-Class roadster had a number of AMG versions, but the craziest one among them has to be the 7.3-litre V12 SL 73 AMG. Shared with none other than the Pagani Zonda, the M120 V12 engine produced 525hp and 750Nm, propelling the SL 73 from rest to 100km/h in 4.8 seconds and capable of topping 300km/h at full pelt.
8. Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR – As the touring car series halted in 1996, AMG had to quickly look for a new arena to hone its motorsports pedigree. With nothing but a clean slate as late as December 1996, AMG committed to race in the FIA GT Championship that was going to flag off in April 1997. In just 128 days, AMG successfully built and designed the CLK GTR from scratch. The car turned out to be not only good enough to race; it outright won the championship in its debut season and retaining it the following year. Despite carrying the CLK name, the GTR had nothing in common with the road car other than sharing its light clusters and window lines. Powering the car was a 6.0-litre V12 tuned to produce 600hp and 700Nm. Removal of the GT1 class from the championship from 1999 onwards cut the GTR’s racing career short, however, though Mercedes still went ahead and built 25 roadgoing units of the car.
9. Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG (W204) – The big engine in a small car template maxed out. AMG somehow found a way to squeeze its bulging 6.2-litre M156 V8 into an engine bay that otherwise accommodated nothing larger than a 3.5-litre V6. Available in sedan, coupe, and estate bodystyles, the C63 overwhelmed the competition with sheer brute force, churning out 457hp and 600Nm in its initial guises with later versions pushing the envelope as far as 517hp and 620Nm.
10. Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG – Succeeding one of either the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren or the legendary 300SL Gullwing are tall enough orders on their own; accomplishing both tasks in the same car takes some doing, but if any company is to manage an undertaking of such audacity, it had to be AMG. Strictly speaking, although the CLK GTR was AMG’s first vehicle developed from ground up, the SLS is the first one engineered for non-limited series production. Production of the SLS ended in 2015 without any direct replacement in sight, further enhancing its status as a future classic.
What do you think of our list? We welcome you to share with us any greats that you feel we've missed out in the comments section!