Rise of an icon: the rise of AMG
It all started in a basement.
In the 1960s, engineers Hans Werner Aufrecht and Erhard Melcher received terrible news. Daimler-Benz had decided to end all motorsport activities – bad luck for a duo working in the engine development department, where they had been working on a new racing engine for the 300 SE. Rather than kill the project, engineers took the power plant to Aufrecht’s basement in Großaspach, Germany, and continued development after hours.
In 1965 the engine was ready for racing. With racing driver Manfred Schiek at the wheel, they competed in the German Touring Car Championship that year. And the engine didn’t just race – it won 10 times, proving to Aufrecht and Melcher that they were onto something big. Aufrecht decided it was ready to branch out and hired Melcher to continue its racing business as an independent brand. In 1967, AMG was born.
AMG, which stands for Aufrecht, Melcher and Großaspach, has launched an ambitious first project. The engineers bought a used Mercedes-Benz 300 SEL 6.3 and began to prepare it to participate in one of the most difficult races of the time, the 24 Hours of Spa. The crown jewel was the car’s engine, with a displacement of 6.8 liters and developing 428 horsepower. In 1971, without support from Mercedes-Benz, their team of 12 took to the track with the very first AMG. Spectators laughed at it, and rightly so. The 300 SEL was a big, heavy luxury sedan, not a purebred racing car. They nicknamed him “Red Pig”.
The red pig was quick to turn mockery into wonder. Despite starting fourth on the grid, the sand yacht-turned-speedboat led the race by the end of the first lap. He dominated all of his competitors, winning first in class and second overall. According to Aufrecht, they would have won overall if regulators hadn’t limited his fuel tank to a measly 120 litres. Nonetheless, AMG left its mark and throughout the 1970s business boomed. So much so that the tuning firm moved to Affalterbach, where it lives today.
Fast forward to 1986 – AMG unveiled its most significant road car, dubbed the AMG Hammer because of the 5.0-liter V8 that lived under its hood. This engine was unique because it featured new four-valve-per-cylinder technology, which had been developed by Melcher two years earlier. This was the first time anyone had used this setup in a Mercedes-Benz, and it boosted the horsepower tremendously.
In 1993, Mercedes-Benz wanted a slice of the performance pie. The automaker has signed a contract with the tuning company, allowing Mercedes-Benz to sell AMG-branded vehicles through its extensive dealer network. The first was the Mercedes-Benz AMG C 36, which was released that year and marked the start of a fruitful partnership. Within four years, Mercedes-Benz commissioned AMG to build the brand’s first race car – from scratch; 128 days after AMG completed its initial sketch, the Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR entered racing in the FIA GT Championship Series.
Around the turn of the century, Mercedes-Benz acquired a majority stake in AMG, renaming it Mercedes-AMG GmbH. Following this decision, Mercedes-AMG continued its development of important components for road vehicles. This included bespoke engines, transmissions and entire cars from scratch. In 2005, Aufrecht, then 67, sold his remaining shares, giving Mercedes-Benz full control of his performance subdivision.
Throughout the 2010s, Mercedes-AMG strengthened its engineering power while producing more vehicles in-house than ever before, starting with the SLS-AMG. The performance car manufacturer now manufactures three vehicles in-house: the GT-AMG, SL Roadster and GT 4-Door Coupe. The company’s most ambitious project to date – the Mercedes-AMG One – is currently underway.
This article originally appeared in our August 2022 issue.