Today, AMG is known worldwide for the tarmac-shattering SLS and the brilliant new GT, as well as being Mercedes’ own performance tuning division. But how three little boldfaced letters became synonymous with high-performance German metal is significantly more grassroots. AMG, or Aufrecht Melcher Grossaspach, began with Hans Werner Aulfrecht and Erhard Melcher. The two were ex-Mercedes engineers who knew the inner workings of Mercedes-Benz cars at a masterful level. As Stuttgart alumni, they took to tuning existing Mercedes and went racing on the weekends to discover the true limits of automotive performance. The first car professionally raced by the pair under the famous acronym was the AMG 300 SEL 6.8, affectionately known as “The Red Pig”.
Based on the fairly large Mercedes-Benz 300 SEL 6.3, Aufrecht and Melcher worked their magic on the underpowered oil-tanker-with-wheels and turned it into a race-winning machine. As unorthodox as it was, the Red Pig put Aufrecht’s and Melcher’s names on the map and began AMG’s longtime obsession with mountainous power and clever innovation.
What It’s All About
In the ‘70s, European sports car racing was dominated by the small and nimble. Large sedans were nearly non-existent on the track because of their abundant use of heavy steel, which made the lumbering sedans the antithesis of a successful racecar. At the Red Pig’s maiden race, the 1971 running of the 24 Hours of Spa, the pit lane was peppered with lightweight
euro-coupes — Ford Capris, Alfa Romeo GTAs and BMW CSs. The AMG 300 SEL 6.8 didn’t exactly need the bright red paint job to help it stand out: the crimson behemoth had a footprint that swallowed most of the competition and a 6.8-liter V8 that more than doubled the displacement of any other car on the grid.
Granted, the race cars of yesteryear were significantly less fuel efficient and were lacking in engine life and overall mechanical integrity. But the principal for success in endurance racing has always remained: less time spent in pits means more laps on the track, which earns a better shot at victory. The Red Pig guzzled gas so fast it made oil rig fires look economical.
With its river barge proportions, it used up tires almost as quickly. So when the AMG took to the track it seemed counterintuitive to the entire idea of long distance racing. All the more reason the world took notice when AMG and their red 300 SEL 6.8 won first in its class and second overall at the 24 Hours of Spa.
Mercedes-Benz’s engine and chassis archive is a torrent of alphanumeric soup at best, but tracing the Red Pig’s lineage is actually quite easy. In 1966 the 300 SEL started life with an anemic 2.8-liter straight six from the factory, giving it only 170 horsepower to play with. At the other end of the stable, Mercedes was producing the luxurious range-topping 600, fitted with a 247 horsepower 6.3-liter V8, but
its 7,000 pounds of heft killed any prospect of performance. A company engineer named Erich Waxenberger was then given permission to shoehorn the limousine’s 6.3-liter V8 into the smaller SEL as a side project — pretty much on the basis of “let’s see what happens”.
What happened was the 300 SEL 6.3: the world’s fastest sedan at the time, clocking a 0-60 in 6.3 seconds and a top speed of 142 mph: the perfect foundation for Aufrecht and Melcher to build upon.
After increasing the SEL’s displacement to 6,835cc, Melcher set about tinkering with engine internals the old knuckle-busting way — new camshafts, rocker arms, piston heads, intakes, exhaust, anything that could make more power was bolted in. It was proper hot rodding stuff. What they ended up with was an unprecedented 428 horsepower and 448 lb-ft of twist. That power was a necessity. Having retained the rear bench seats, air suspension, panel doors and elegant wood trim, the Red Pig was one of the most luxurious race cars on track — but also one of the heaviest.
Even after aluminum doors were added to reduce weight, the AMG 300 SEL still tipped the scales at 3,604 pounds. It was an overweight underdog.
Its Place in History
Going into the 1971 24-hour race at Spa, AMG looked as if they were going to fall flat before they had even found their footing. As it turned out, it was David versus Goliath, only with an ironic twist in the story. By stunning all who doubted them and finding success at the Belgian race, AMG arrived at the doorstep of the pantheon of motorsports. In the decades to follow, AMG would adhere to the same ideals of clever engineering and intelligent design that shone in the 300 SEL 6.8. In the ’80s, Mercedes-Benz recognized the talent in the small tuning firm and employed them
as the official performance arm of the Stuttgart automaker. In the past few years, AMG has become fully integrated into the company as Mercedes-AMG and now produces performance-focused road cars from the ground up.
On track, AMG have gone on to win races in the German Touring Car Championship (DTM) and GT racing, and it just clinched the 2014 F1 World Championship with one of the most dominant F1 cars in the sport’s history. AMG’s stratospheric rise to the pinnacle of motorsports can only be attributed to that mountain-moving 1971 300 SEL 6.8, the Red Pig.