This year marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of AMG, the official performance partner for Mercedes-Benz. Both companies have much to celebrate: Sales of Mercedes-AMG vehicles jumped 44 percent last year and have more than tripled since 2013. Meanwhile, on the track, the Mercedes-AMG team just won its third straight Formula One Constructor’s Championship. Yet it was a motorsports tragedy that actually may have set all this success into motion.
AMG got its start as the “Aufrecht Melcher Großaspach Ingenieurbüro, Konstruktion und Versuch zur Entwicklung von Rennmotoren.” According to Mercedes, that translates to “Aufrecht Melcher Großaspach engineering firm, design and testing for the development of racing engines.”
That name tells a lot of the story: AMG was founded by a pair of Mercedes-Benz engineers, Hans Werner Aufrecht and Erhard Melcher, and referred to Aufrecht’s hometown of Großaspach, Germany. Aufrecht and Melcher left Mercedes to focus on motorsports because the automaker had stopped all racing programs after a horrifying disaster in the 1955 24 Hours of Le Mans. There, a Mercedes race car being driven by Pierre Levegh was involved in an accident, where it crashed into a low crowd barrier, and then exploded. More than 80 people were killed, including Levegh, while more than 100 were injured. Mercedes wouldn’t support another factory-backed racing team for some 30 years.
Support from Aufrecht and Melcher, on the other hand, put private drivers into the winner’s circle almost immediately. In 1965, one of their modified engines (built in Aufrecht’s house before they committed to their own company full time) powered a Mercedes 300 SE to 10 wins in the German Touring Car Championship. By 1971, AMG was winning on the world stage, with a victory at the 24 Hours of Spa endurance race in a Mercedes car.
The early 1970s also saw the rise of what we’d now call the automotive aftermarket in Germany, with independent companies beginning to offer more add-on performance upgrades for specific types of new production cars. For a U.S. comparison, think of Shelby and the Ford Mustang starting their relationship in the 1960s. With an increasing number of racing trophies to its credit, AMG attracted an increasing number of “regular” drivers who wanted the same sort of performance from their road cars. As a result, AMG had to move to newer, bigger facilities in 1976 to handle the demand.
The new AMG workshop was also the setting for the company’s next major advance: a sophisticated cylinder-head design from Melcher that featured four valves per cylinder. When that hardware was bolted to a Mercedes 5.0-liter V8 engine, and placed under the hood of a 1986 Mercedes-Benz E-Class sedan, the company found itself with a modest hit on its hands. The so-called AMG Hammer could knock out nearly 400 horsepower, reach a top speed of 190 mph and accelerate from 0-60 mph in just a bit more than 5 seconds. It couldn’t be sold legally in the United States, but the car’s incredible performance meant that its reputation far outpaced its availability. Indeed, by 1990, AMG had proven to be such a good partner for Mercedes products that the two companies made it official, signing a “cooperation agreement” that would allow the former’s vehicles to be sold in the latter’s dealerships. The first of those jointly developed products was the 1993 Mercedes-Benz C36 AMG.
An enhanced version of the first-generation Mercedes C-Class, the C36 AMG starts with the same V6 engine as its sibling. That power plant gets a full AMG makeover, with most of the work being done by a single technician. At the end of the process, engine output had been increased to 268 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque, and if that’s not all that impressive by 2017 standards, it did represent increases of 38 and 41 percent when the C36 was introduced. More importantly, it gave Mercedes a credible answer to the BMW M3, which had begun its run as the benchmark for compact sport sedans.
The C36 AMG also was the first AMG vehicle legally sold in the United States, a country that would soon be having a significant impact on AMG operations. Four years after the U.S. debut of its cars, AMG was appealing to this country’s interest in sport-utility vehicles with the Mercedes-Benz ML55 AMG and G55 AMG, both of which went on sale in 1999.
The partnership came full circle in 2005, when AMG, the company that began with two engineers leaving Mercedes-Benz, once again became part of the corporate family. Ironically, it was only then, after AMG had left the ranks of the independents, that it was able to create its first sports car with an entirely independent identity.
The 2009 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG did feature some historic Mercedes design cues, like dramatic gullwing doors, yet it was “the first vehicle to be developed entirely in-house” by AMG. Needless to say, the car was more than worth the wait for enthusiasts. It was amazingly powerful, of course, thanks to a 6.3-liter V8 that produced 563 horsepower and 479 pound-feet of torque, and it was plenty fast as well. Mercedes boasted the car would fly from 0-to-60 mph in 3.8 seconds and achieve an electronically limited top speed of 196 mph. The SLS AMG was good looking, too, with long and low proportions and graceful lines.
The company also offered European owners an electric version, with the 2014 SLS AMG Coupe Electric Drive. This car could leverage four electric motors (one for each wheel)to serve up 751 horsepower, 738 pound-feet of torque, and a driving range of more than 155 miles on a single charge.
It’s the car that came after the SLS AMG that also gets a special anniversary model for 2017. Limited to 50 coupes and 50 roadsters for U.S. drivers, the Mercedes-AMG GT C “Edition 50” was revealed recently in Detroit at the North American International Auto Show. We raved about the 2016 Mercedes-AMG GT S last fall, and the GT C raises the ante on that car with extra output (550 horsepower and 502 pound-feet of torque), a quicker 0-60 mph time (3.6 seconds), and a higher top speed (197 mph). Edition 50 models are further distinguished by dark-themed design elements such as a “designo Graphite Grey Magno” exterior finish, black-chrome body accents, matching AMG wheels, and a black-and-silver cabin with Nappa leather surfaces.
Just to be clear, the AMG GT C isn’t the range-topper of the lineup. That would be 577-horsepower AMG GT R, which raises the speed limit to 198 mph and lowers 0-60 mph times to 3.5 seconds.