AMG — Subversive from the Start

June 20, 2022

I’ve got AMG on my mind. First off, today marks the start of the SCM 1000 AMG Invitational organized by Keith Martin and the great team at Sports Car Market magazine. It’s the world’s first AMG-exclusive multi-day driving tour and it’s taking place right here in Oregon. Plus, the Mercedes-AMG F1 team had a strong showing at the Canadian Grand Prix yesterday with a 3-4 finish, showing that they are getting 2022 on track.

All of this focus on AMG got me curious about the three-lettered German outfit. It’s so much more than a badge on a hotted-up sedan. AMG is a genuine startup, born of a passion for racing and a desire to be different. As you’ve already figured out, that’s my kind of story!

Aufrecht (l) and Melchers in AMG's early days.

Back to the Future

It all started at Daimler-Benz proper. Back in the 60s, a pair of engineers named Hans Werner Aufrecht and Erhard Melcher were working in the Development Department at Mercedes-Benz. They were given a task to develop a racing engine for the Mercedes-Benz 300 SE. As a way to improve performance, Melcher had a big idea: let's fit a decade-old fuel injection system from the 300SL Gullwing to the 300 SE’s engine. Going back into the Mercedes vault was a masterstroke. The engine's output went from the stock 170hp to 238hp, a 24 percent power increase! However, the company decided to chop the program.

Aufrecht and Melcher decided to continue their work in their spare time, without the company’s knowledge. They dropped the souped-up 6.3L V8 into a Mercedes 300 SE sedan and took it to the track. Aufrecht and Melcher entered it into the 1965 German Touring Car Series. It won 10 races -- all without factory support. 

With this storming success, demand jumped for their race tuning services. They left Mercedes and in 1967, started AMG Motorenbu und Entwicklungsgesellschaft GmbH (AMG Engine Production and Development, Ltd.). The name is an amalgam of the initials “A” for Aufrecht, “M” for Melcher, and “G” for Großaspach, the town where the company started.

A Pig Is Born

After working mainly for customers for a few years, the pair decided to make a race car out of a damaged Mercedes-Benz 300 SEL. This was an unorthodox idea, to say the least. The 300 SEL is a two-ton executive car, not a sports car, and it's built for luxury rather than performance. They aimed to change that.

Red Pig's engine.

Melcher, who was the technical side of the partnership, worked on turning this docile car into a beast. The first step was to enlarge the engine from its stock 6.3L and open it up to 6.8L. Melcher used his entire bag of tricks: hot cams, reinforced rocker arms, lightened conrods, and new pistons. He overhauled the intake valves, reshaped the combustion chambers, polished and opened up the intake and exhaust manifolds, added a second throttle body, and installed another oil cooler. It was all of his greatest hits, put into one album -- and it worked to the tune of 422hp (up from the 247hp that was stock).

Beyond the powerplant, he upgraded the suspension to be stiffer, added beefier steering arms, and dropped in a robust differential. AMG installed 15-in wheels made of magnesium and replaced the steel doors with lightweight alloy ones. After increasing the power by 80 percent, shedding 10 percent of the mass, and using a performance suspension, the 300 SEL was ready to go racing.

Aufrecht and Melcher entered the car into the 24 Hours of Spa in late July, 1971. Upon arriving at the track, and by all accounts, the red sedan drew a lot of stares and laughter as the sheer size of it was shocking compared to the tiny, sportier competition. The car picked up its now-famous nickname: The Red Pig.

The laughter died down once the flag dropped. After the grueling, twice-round-the-clock endurance race, AMG’s “Red Pig” was second overall, and first in its class. A sensational result that had customers clamoring for their services. In the 70s, AMG became the “go-to” shop for any performance upgrades for Mercedes-Benz cars.

The Hammer was the first supercar sedan in 1986.

Hammer Time

AMG was cruising along and had a wonderful reputation, and its tuning and design business was keeping them busy. In 1986, they decided to modify a 300 SE sedan. They pulled out the stock 6-cylinder engine, dropped in a heavily tuned 5.0L V8, modified the body to be more aerodynamic as well as accommodate larger wheels, put on larger brakes, and added black alloy wheels. 

The all-black sedan looked menacing, and its brutal performance backed it up. The sedan had supercar performance, with a 0-60 mph time of 5.0 seconds and a top speed that exceeded 190 mph, making it comparable with the top-end Ferraris and Lamborghinis of the day! 

This car was nicknamed the Hammer. It established AMG’s signature style of stealthy performance, cloaked in an understated-yet-menacing exterior. The excitement around the Hammer started a conversation with their former employer who wanted in on the enhanced performance sedans. In 1990, they signed an agreement to sell AMG-tuned sports sedans through Mercedes-Benz dealers. In 1996, the relationship was eventually consummated with Daimler-Benz taking over majority ownership in 1996.

The AMG Influence

AMG has grown and evolved since then. They were not the first “tuners,” but they have become the most established. The company’s scope eventually expanded and has become a critical product line that helped keep Mercedes not just relevant, but on top. 

The firm’s work in racing was pushed to a new level with the CLK-GTR which was developed entirely by AMG in 1997. In the FIA GT Championship, the CLK-GTR, didn’t just win the championship, it dominated with 17 wins out of 22 starts.

Mercedes-AMG GmbH has more than 1,700 employees and is based in Affalterbach. The company has always subscribed to the “one man, one engine” principle. Every engine is assembled by a single person, each with their own set of tools, in as little as three hours. 

Now AMG is involved in the top tier of motorsports with the Mercedes-AMG Formula One team. Some of that is more branding than reality as the team is based in Brackley, England. However, there is prestige and undoubtedly some tech transfer. The upcoming Project 1 hypercar is a road-going version of the Formula One racing car. 

Aufrecht and Melchers today.

Even after all of its impressive success, it is important to remember that AMG started as a passion project. Both of its founders Aufrecht and Melcher are in their 80s and have retired from the day-to-day. AMG is a powerhouse that was started on the sly without factory support. Yet, that rebelliousness ended up becoming essential to the Mercedes-Benz brand -- even though both men had to leave the company to perfect it.

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