Mercedes-AMG Going Mainstream Will Help Sales, Hurt Purists

Almost half a century ago, in 1967, two former Mercedes-Benz engineers decided to call it quits after several years working for then Daimler AG and set up their own racing and tuning shop inside an old mill in the small town of Burgstall, Germany.
Mercedes-AMG 5.5-liter V8 Engine 1 photo
Photo: Mercedes-AMG
Their names are Hans-Werner Aufrecht and Erhard Melcher, and most Mercedes-AMG fans probably know that AMG stands for their last name initials and Grossaspach, Aufrecht's hometown.

Having a lot of experience preparing those luxurious land barges known as the Mercedes-Benz 300 SE (W108) for competition for various amateur racing drivers in the late 1960s, the two engineers started off with a similar vehicle in their first motorsport endeavor.

Thanks to the efforts of a manic Bavarian engineer called Erich Waxenberger, Mercedes-Benz had recently started testing the waters of an all-new car niche with the monstrous 300 SEL 6.3, an unexpected love child between the most powerful engine in the Mercedes-Benz range at the time and a (slightly) smaller luxury car.

The sudden availability of the world's fastest production sedan at the time probably made Aufrecht and Melcher giggle like little school girls since that is the car they used as the base for their first ever successful racing entry.

Affectionately nicknamed by the press as the Red Pig, the gargantuan Mercedes-Benz 300 SEL 6.8 AMG was probably as majestic as an angry bull in a china shop when it entered the 1971 24 Hours race at Spa-Francorchamps.

You have to realize that European sports car racing in the early 1970s was mainly sprinkled with small and lightweight coupes from Alfa Romeo, BMW, Ford and/or Opel, so there weren't many people that gave the Red Pig a real fighting chance before the race at Spa.

Despite this, the 300 SEL 6.8 AMG went on to win its class and come second overall in the highly disputed endurance race, thus putting AMG on the international map as an underdog that has to be both feared and respected. The rest, as they say, is history, both regarding racing and (very) fast production Mercedes-Benz models that got touched by the magic wand of AMG.

Fast forward to 1999, the racing/tuning shop officially became a subsidiary of Mercedes-Benz, and afterward it became its tuning arm in the same sense as BMW's Motorsport GmbH and Audi's quattro GmbH departments.

Starting with the SL 55 AMG (R230) and the E 55 AMG (W211), every single engine made by AMG for a Mercedes-Benz model has been literally stamped with the signature of the engineer who was in charge of its assembly.

While this may not mean much for some people, it meant the world to those who wanted to pay extra for an AMG and not simply take their Mercedes-Benz to the tuning shop around the corner. It was a symbol of quality and engineering excellence. But why am I talking in past tense about this?

I want to spare you of a diatribe that would mainly revolve around facts that only hardcore purists appreciate, but the truth should undoubtedly be said. Each and every single engine made by the nutty engineers from Affalterbach for a production Mercedes-Benz has been hand-assembled, without exception, a fact that will no longer be true starting with 2016.

The first model to “benefit” from Mercedes-AMG's new strategy to attract more sales is the Mercedes-AMG SLC 43, unveiled this January in Detroit. Unlike its predecessor, the SLK 55 AMG, which was the last of the old-school AMGs with its hand-assembled and naturally aspirated V8, the SLC 43 is powered by an engine that's built mainly by robots on the same assembly line as a “plebeian” SLC powertrain.

Back in 2015, when Mercedes-AMG announced its “AMG Sport” sub-brand, which was supposed to go head-to-head against BMW's “M-Performance” and Audi's “S” models, nobody batted an eye for one simple reason. All the upcoming AMG Sport models were not true AMGs, so it was fine that their engines were simply tuned Mercedes-Benz mills and made on the same production line as their lesser versions.

From 2016, Mercedes-AMG has decided that it's not worth it to establish a sub-brand anymore and all former AMG Sport models will be branded as AMGs as well. Apart from the SLC 43, the recently unveiled C 43 4Matic Coupe is using the same recipe, which includes the twin-turbocharged, 3.0-liter V6 that should probably get a nameplate that starts with KUKA and a number instead of an actual person's name. Editor's note: most of the robots that assemble Mercedes-Benz models are made by KUKA Robotics.

Is this a good idea in the long term? Mixing hand-built works of art with mass-produced powertrains and branding them under the same umbrella? Only time will tell, but recent sales numbers already disagree with my blabbering. In 2015 alone, Mercedes-AMG sold over 60,000 models and that number should increase this year. Sure, most of the models sold were from the highly successful 45 AMG compact range, but even those boosted four-cylinders are hand-assembled and proudly wear the stamp of approval from each engineer in charge.
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About the author: Alex Oagana
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Alex handled his first real steering wheel at the age of five (on a field) and started practicing "Scandinavian Flicks" at 14 (on non-public gravel roads). Following his time at the University of Journalism, he landed his first real job at the local franchise of Top Gear magazine a few years before Mircea (Panait). Not long after, Alex entered the New Media realm with the project.
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