If you have been keeping tabs on Mercedes-Benz and its coveted performance division, AMG, you know the company is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2017. Mercedes-AMG has been celebrating in a big way, most notably with the arrival of the ridiculously awesome Project One.
Mercedes-AMG didn’t just come out of thin air. In fact, it has origins dating back to the late 1960s. What started life as an engineering firm specializing in building racing engines eventually evolved to become Mercedes-Benz’s official tuning division, similarly to BMW M and Audi S/RS.
AMG started life in 1967, as “AMG Motorenbau und Entwicklungsgesellschaft mbH” (AMG Engine Production and Development, Ltd.). It was conceived by two former Mercedes-Benz engineers, Hans Werner Aufrecht and Erhard Melcer. The A and M correlate to the two engineers’ surnames while the G stands for Grossaspach, or Aufrecht’s birth town.
Most of their iconic efforts involved producing racing engines for Mercedes-Benz’s motorsports efforts. It wasn’t until 1993 that Mercedes-Benz and AMG ramped up efforts to feature AMG-modified vehicles in Daimler-Benz’s dealership network. And in 1999, Mercedes-Benz purchased a controlling stake in AMG, officially incorporating the firm into the automaker’s portfolio.
So we put together a quick list of the top five most iconic AMG cars from its entire history, basically the cars that truly helped make AMG what it is today.
Mercedes-Benz 300SEL 6.3 and the “Red Pig”
The original 1968 300SEL isn’t an AMG-badged model, but it was the launching point for the Mercedes-AMG brand. It is the main platform that facilitated Mercedes’ first efforts with AMG Engine Production and Development, Ltd. The car itself was conceived by Mercedes engineer at-the-time, Erich Waxenberger in 1966 as a private venture. The premise was simple. Waxenberger took the powerful 6.3L “M100” V8 from the ultra-luxurious 600 limousine and shoehorned the motor into Paul Bracq’s big-body SEL from the time. The result was something that nobody had ever seen before, offering sports-car performance in the big, unassuming body of Mercedes’ latest flagship model, helping to define the term “sleeper.” Furthermore, Waxenberger met with Aufrecht in 1967 following Aufrecht’s new establishment. The two worked together to bore and stroke the M100 V8 from 6.3-liter to 6.8-liter so that the 300SEL could perform in the European Touring Car Championship. This created the famous “Red Pig,” which spearheaded Mercedes’ motorsports efforts through the early 1970s. Altogether, this premise set the stage for many AMG models over the years, even new ones today, with the 63 moniker paying tribute to this very car, the 300SEL 6.3.
Mercedes-Benz 300 E AMG “Hammer”
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Mercedes-Benz and AMG shifted its rooted focus on motorsports to accessorizing and upgrading Mercedes-Benz vehicles, unofficially. Some of these accessorized Mercedes cars from the era are some of the most sought after in terms of collectability. But one truly stands out for the era. Based on the W124 E-Class sedan from 1985 to 1996, the AMG “Hammer” featured an AMG-tuned V8 from the larger S-Class and SL class models.
The earlier cars displaced 5.6-liter, but with other modifications such as a 32-valve cylinder head with dual-overhead camshafts over the stock V8’s 5.0-liter displacement and 16-valve single-overhead arrangement of the “500” models from the time, power jumped from around 230 horsepower to over 360. The AMG Hammer took the title as the world’s fastest passenger sedan at the time, with some claiming the Hammer was faster than a Lamborghini Countach from 60 to 120 mph. Later cars had engines enlarged to as much as a 6.0 liter in displacement, being based off the Mercedes-upgraded M117 V8 that went into the “560” models of the time. The Hammer was also made available in coupe and wagon form, based on correlating E-Class models. This is also around the same time when Mercedes-Benz and AMG worked on various W201 touring cars for the historically famous Deutsche Tourenwagen Meistershaft (DTM, or German Touring Car Championship). With all the wins the W201 DTM cars piled up, this prompted BMW to come up with their own competitor — the venerable E30 M3.
Mercedes-Benz C36 AMG
Because AMG’s work with tuning Mercedes cars impressed the automaker so much, Daimler-Benz AG signed a contract with AMG to officially work together. The agreement not only helped root Mercedes’ and AMG’s official relationship, it opened AMG to Mercedes-Benz’s extensive dealership network, allowing AMG cars to officially be sold with dealer and factory backing. This 1995 Mercedes-Benz C36 AMG is the first official Mercedes-Benz AMG car to be sold to the public. Featuring an upgraded M104 naturally aspirated inline-six — what is regarded as Mercedes’ best six-cylinder ever made — displacement jumped from the standard 3.2 liters to 3.6 liters, as did power from 221 hp to around 280. It also featured iconic AMG “Monoblock II” wheels in 17-inch diameter, a subtle lowering aero kit, and AMG-tuned suspension and steering.
Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR
The CLK GTR is perhaps one of Mercedes-Benz and AMG’s greatest. Built by Mercedes-AMG, it was conceived as a participant of the new FIA GT Championship series in 1997, the same series that gave birth to the McLaren F1 GTR and Porsche 911 GT1. With bodywork made entirely of carbon fiber, it also featured a racing-fettered M120 V12 engine from the S600 sedan of the time. While it didn’t particularly shine, it still managed to wow anyone who laid their eyes on one. Particularly, 25 road-going versions of the CLK GTR were commissioned as part of the FIA GT1 class’s homologation requirements. The series was canceled for 1999, but Mercedes insisted on delivering on their promise. As a result, AMG built these road-going CLK GTRs right in their Affalterbach factory. It took the Guinness Book of World Records title as the most expensive production car ever built at the time, ringing in the invoice at $1,547,620. In 2017 money, that’s close to $2,324,905.
Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG
A cultivation of evolution from all of the previous cars in this list is the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG. Although it is fairly recent, it still takes our pick as one of the greatest AMG cars of all time for it is the first supercar automobile developed and designed completely from scratch by Mercedes-AMG. As a spiritual tribute to the legendary 300SL Gullwing and a successor to the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren, it was assembled mostly by hand, featuring a bespoke chassis and aluminum body produced by Magna Steyr in Austria. The bodies were then transferred to Sindelfingen, Germany, while the 6.2-liter naturally-aspirated M159 V8 was hand-assembled in Affalterbach. It serves up 563 hp and 479 pound-feet of torque for a 0-to-60 time of just 3.7 seconds. Jeremy Clarkson went on to call it the “greatest car in the world” in his Top Gear review.
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