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Top 10 Best AMG-Tuned Mercedes-Benz Cars in History

When AMG tunes it, you know it’s the real deal

Ever since two former Mercedes-Benz engineers founded the company in 1967, AMG’s fortunes have been based on one thing only; performance. With performance being company’s foundation, AMG set out on a mission its founders Hans Werner Aufrecht and Erhard Melcher, probably never imagined was possible. A mission of becoming one of the world’s most renowned tuning houses with worldwide recognition and tremendous impact on automotive industry.

From their humble beginnings in Burgstall an der Murr garage to employing more than 1,100 people in their Affalterbach plant, into which they moved in 1976, AMG has given birth to countless numbers of performance-oriented vehicles. And all of them were Merecedes-Benzes in origin. AMG was able to tweak a Mercedes to such an extent upon company’s foundation, that they quickly drew the automaker’s attention. In 1990, Daimler-Benz AG and AMG signed the cooperation agreement act. Hans Werner Aufrecht would then transfer the majority stake to DaimlerChrysler AG in 1999, and AMG would finally get absorbed into the company in 2005. Today, AMG contributes to their parent company by stuffing more than 40 different models with their hand-crafted high-performance engines.

Their models, which range from compact A Class to supercars, produce at least 367 horsepower. Other end of the scale is even more impressive. Most powerful street-legal AMG models churn out as much as 630 ponies. In other words, today they have it all. Let us now embark on a journey through time by reminding you of the most important and likely the best AMG cars ever produced. Here are 10 of them from oldest to newest.

1971 300 SEL 6.8L AMG “The Red Pig”

“The Red Pig” was an aberration in so many ways, but it was also the car that has established AMG’s reputation as performance division for years to come. Maybe it doesn’t sound that radical today, but stripping down Mercedes-Benz’s pride and joy, the S Class predecessor 300 SEL to bare bones, was a big deal back then. Moreover, nicknaming it “The Red Pig”! That really took some balls on Aufrecht’s and Melcher’s part.

But they’ve done more than simply tuning the world’s fastest sedan of the time. Regular 300 SEL was powered by 247-horsepower 6.3L M100 V8 capable of topping 142 mph and clocking 0 to 60 in 6.3 seconds. Impressive figures for 1968 luxury sedan weighing almost 4,000 pounds. Aufrecht and Melcher first increased the engine’s displacement to 6.8L. Then they added pretty much new everything including the camshafts, pistons, intakes, etc. Power gained from such an undertaking read 428 hp and 448 lb-ft of torque. Although they also added aluminum doors, in bizarre fashion, Aufrecht and Melcher had decided to keep the original rear bench seat, wood trim and other unnecessary details. I say unnecessary because “The Red Pig” was intended for 24 Hours of Spa race. And it still weighed over 3,600 pounds.

Needless to say, “The Red Pig” was seen as the underdog. Weighing as much as pretty much the rest of the competition, that didn’t come as a surprise. But “The Red Pig” had an ace up its sleeve. It was built by then-marginal AMG. It ended up second behind much smaller and nimbler Ford Capri RS, trailing only 3 laps (311 to 308). In the process, “The Red Pig” had obliterated all others, including Alfa Romeo GTA’s and BMW E9’s. This has propelled the AMG into motorsports and, automotive in general prominence and given them the reputation they keep to this day. The reputation of one of the best tuning houses in the world.

1974 300 SL Gullwing AMG

Most people still consider this to be a travesty. There were precious few who didn’t think that way back in 1974 when AMG first decided to proceed this way. But what did they do to irk so many classic car enthusiasts’ feelings? They completely dismantled and resto modded the iconic Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing. You just don’t mess with the legend that world’s first supercar was. Apparently, that didn’t work for the AMG, and that’s another reason why they’ve succeeded. They were willing to take the risk despite popular opinion. In other words, they went the “zero fucks given” way.

Their first foray into 300 SL Gullwing resto modding resulted in one-off freshened up supercar. 1957 300 SL Gullwing was practically mated with 450 SE’s innards. Initially, though, AMG had plans to stuff 6.3L V8 in there, but it didn’t fit. Instead, first official S Class’ 4.5L V8 with 280 horsepower was chosen. Furthermore, 300 SL Gullwing AMG also received extensive body and chassis modifications. New suspension, new set of intakes, reworked body panels, new wheels, blacked-out grille, new interior etc. All this took a full year to complete. Moreover, AMG updated 11 additional Gullwings in a ten-year span between 1996 and 2006. These, however, came with 380-horsepower 6.0L V8s and even more modernized equipment. Due to secretive nature of the project and price tag which stood north of $1 million, only 5 of them were initially sold.

1986-1990 W124 “The Hammer”

E Class, W124 Mercedes-Benzes were already some of the most desirable models made by Stuttgart-based manufacturer, but they wouldn’t have been complete without AMG sticking their fingers into them. Hence they yet again stripped the executive Mercs of their heart and soul and gave them new, improved ones. This time, the choice fell on 5.0L V8 out of early W126 S Class models. This setup delivered 340 hp in regular and 355 hp in bored 5.4L form. It was only available during 1986 and 1987 when “The Hammer” became even more ludicrous. This is when AMG introduced 5.6L 32-valve DOHC V8 from the 560SEC. This engine generated 360 hp at first, but bored out 6.0L version of the mill managed 385 hp. It also managed the top speed of almost 190 mph and low 5-second 0 to 60 time.

As you can imagine, “The Hammer” quickly became the world’s fastest 4-door sedan, although limited number of them were built in widebody coupe form. As if “The Hammer” wasn’t already limited hand-built car as it was. It was so good in fact, that it actually competed against the fastest supercars of the day; Ferrari Testarossa and Lamborghini Countach. But impeccable performance wasn’t the only ace up “The Hammer’s” sleeve. Although simple at first glance, AMG’s conversion boasted numerous distinctive differences compared to the original 300E sedans, 300CE coupes and even 300TE wagons. Wider fenders, 17-inch alloy wheels, Pirelli P700 tires, front air dam, side skirts, and a rear ducktail were all part of the setup. It’s not known how many of them were built in total since all orders were individual.

1995-1997 C36 AMG

Although AMG was already in the business for a long time by then, there are still a few firsts surrounding the C36 AMG. It was the first performance-oriented C Class model ever and the first mass produced AMG-tuned venture at the same time. During three years of production, around 5,200 of them have been made. Only 200 of them, however, were exported to the US. Mercedes-Benz and AMG were involved in joint venture by then, and C36 AMG was devised as an answer to BMW M3 (E36). Ironically, it was AMG’s dabbling with the 190E in mid eighties that spawned the M3 in first place.

C36 AMG was powered by 276-horsepower version of Mercedes’ 3.6L M104 inline-six. It was also one of the first Mercedes models where the Germans paid attention to details interior-wise. At least when it comes to more affordable side of their portfolio. In late 1997, C36 was replaced by C43 which came with 4.3L V8 packing 306 ponies. It also had 5-speed automatic trans whereas C36 came with outdated 4-speed auto. Finally, C43 AMG was the first Mercedes-Benz entirely built in AMG’s Affalterbach plant. But it was still C36 that’s started the C Class AMG-tuned trend.

1997-1999 CLK GTR

Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR was born out of necessity for top tier racing car. When DTM touring car racing series folded in 1996, Mercedes-Benz was left without top series to compete in. They called upon AMG and tuning division responded promptly. Responded by creating the most expensive car ever made up until then. With the price tag north of $1.5 million and performance to match, CLK GTR gave Mercedes-Benz a chance to hit its arch rivals in McLaren, Porsche and Ferrari. It would enter the FIA GT Championship in 1997 and win it all in its inaugural year.

CLK GTR was powered by 6.0L version of the M120 V12 engine producing up to 600 horsepower initially and around 630 ponies later on. Early during the 1998 FIA GT Championship season, Mercedes replaced it with the CLK LM; another extreme AMG-tuned sports car. It would use older M119 V8 engine and turn toward 24 Hours of Le Mans way. Independent Team Persson Motorsport would, however, continue using the CLK GTR which would finally achieve 17 wins in 22 total races.

Mercedes-Benz would even produce the road version of the sports car, although in limited numbers. First 20 models retained much of CLK GTR’s original setup, but they received output increase option by Ilmor Engineering. By removing the racing air restrictor and boring the engine to 6.9L displacement, Ilmor helped the street-legal car achieve 0 to 60 in 3.8 seconds and the top speed of 214 mph. After the initial run, AMG’s specialist group H.W.A. decided to create a few additional cars. They made another 6 CLK GTR Roadsters and converted some of the initial 20 CLK GTR’s into Super Sports. Latter of these were powered by 655-horsepower 7.3L V12 engine.

1999-2001 SL 73 AMG

SL 73 AMG is the most evil and one of the latest R129 SL Class roadsters made. Moreover, it’s also one of the baddest and best AMG conversions ever done. In order to get one almost 20 years ago, you first had to order already expensive SL600 from your local Mercedes-Benz dealer. After handing it over to AMG, together with additional $50,000 or so, you had to wait in order for German tuners to work their magic. AMG bored the 6.0L engine to 7.3L displacement which churned out as much as 518 hp and 553 lb-ft of torque. Good enough figures for any V12 engine. Especially back in the day.

This wasn’t very popular order of business, as you can imagine. Only 85 of them underwent the conversion and rumor has it that many of them ended up in Sultan of Brunei’s back yard. But, boy was it fast! More than 4,500 pounds were propelled to 60 mph in just 4.8 seconds, and to the top speed of 186 mph. Without the electronic limiter, of course. Although SL 73 AMG got replaced by SL 55 and SL 65 AMG’s in 2003 and 2004 respectively, its engine lived on. It lived on in Pagani Zonda which propelled the M120 mill to new heights due to being almost twice as light as the Benz.

2007 R63 AMG

Mercedes-Benz R Class was a definition oddball by itself. Not really a minivan and not quite an SUV, car that Germans liked to call a sports tourer, still weighted close to 5,300 pounds. Then AMG got involved and conventional R Class cars suddenly became plain old conservatives compared to the R63. We’ll list it as a power wagon, and powerful it was indeed. Motivated by naturally aspirated 6.2L V8, R63 developed as much as 507 horsepower. 7-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive were also mandatory equipment. Sports tourer needed only 4.6 seconds in order to reach 60 mph from standstill.

This versatile vehicle offered more than raw performance, though. Much more. Thanks to AMG-tuned suspension, R63 was more than agile for its size. It also offered abundance of space for both passengers and their cargo, and not to mention its renowned refinement. However, there were prices to pay. For starters, there was the issue of its hefty $88,175 sticker. Moreover, US buyers could have only received them through special orders. Finally, 12 mpg in the city and 16 mpg on the highway weren’t exactly what you call friendly fuel economy figures. Still, Mercedes-Benz R63 AMG was one of the most imposing vehicles German tuning house had ever created. And they still hadn’t depreciated that much. After 10 years, low mileage units still go for around $50,000.

2005-2012 G55 AMG Kompressor

Precious few vehicles in the world are as visually imposing as the G Wagen. Especially considering Mercedes-Benz’s stylistic design history and commitment to excellence in terms of refinement. At first glance, G Wagen has none of it. On closer inspection, however, it has it all. And when AMG started upgrading them, G Wagens gained always welcome third dimension; performance. Not that they weren’t powerful without AMG’s additional tuning, but from 2005 to 2007, they generated 469 horsepower. That same 5.4L supercharged V8 would deliver 500 horsepower as of 2008.

Not only did G55 AMG offer uncompromising quality, performance and durability, it also came in more than a few forms. Special models such as “Edition 79” for Middle East markets and 5-unit “Mastermind” limited edition for Japan weren’t uncommon. Not to mention other custom order editions done by third-party tuning houses. Being able to top 155 mph with speed limiter installed and accelerate from 0 to 60 in low 5-second range, heavy SUV was able to compete with numerous entry-level supercars. In fact, it still is. G55 is currently marketed as G63 or G65, depending on chosen powertrain. Latter of the two comes with 6.0L twin-turbo V12 producing 604 horsepower, making it the most powerful non-custom order, mass produced G Wagen ever.

2010-2015 SLS AMG

After more than 55 years, Mercedes-Benz finally decided to revive the iconic 300 SL Gullwing. And since AMG already dabbled with the original, tuning division was chosen as revival model’s harbinger. Not only that. For more than 40 years of excellence, Mercedes-Benz awarded AMG with their very first clean-sheet design. Enter the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG; supercar of highest pedigree in both refinement and performance departments.

6.2L M159 V8 with 563 horsepower was chosen as its motivating factor. Although engine remained unchanged throughout supercar’s run, power output grew as special editions piled up. In 2012, GT version of the SLS produced 583 hp, while Coupé Black Series from 2013 yielded as much as 622 hp. That’s still nothing compared to 2013 Coupé Electric Drive which featured 4 synchronous electric motors and 60 kWh lithium-ion battery pack for total 740 hp and 738 lb-ft of torque.

At the end of its run, Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG was capable of hitting 60 mph from standstill in 3.2 seconds. Without the limiter, it was also capable of topping 196 mph. Atop of that, it featured some of the most advanced tech ever fitted into a supercar. Magnesium sports seats, 7-speed sports transmission, carbon ceramic brakes, and 1,000 watt stereo are proof enough that SLS AMG wasn’t only about performance. It was a complete package and we expected nothing less. And, of course, it came with the iconic gullwing doors. SLS AMG has no direct successor, and that may be for the best. It certainly wasn’t easy following in 300 SL’s footsteps, but SLS performed admirably. It utterly deserved a rest.

2015-Present AMG GT

Although SLS AMG didn’t get a direct successor, that doesn’t mean Merc’s most important tuner stopped producing their own sports cars. Once they tasted blood, there would be no stopping them. They used favorable reviews and momentum behind the SLS in order to create the GT. AMG GT isn’t as powerful as the SLS was, but it still packs quite a bite. Powered by 4.0L M178 twin-turbo V8, basic version develops 456 horsepower. GT S, which was introduced straightaway, raised that to 503 horsepower.

That, however, isn’t all from AMG GT. Although still early in its life, it currently boasts two additional high output editions, the 2016 GT R and 2016 GT3. First of the two gets the same engine as its predecessors, but offers way more in terms of horsepower. 577 horses, to be more precise. Racing version GT3, on the other hand, finds motivation behind naturally aspirated 6.2L M159 V8 with 622 ponies. Although more powerful than GT R, track-only GT3 is still slower. However, it’s also lighter due to its carbon fiber frame, and Mercedes-Benz is planning a street-legal version of the car sometimes soon. Moreover, they’re also planning a 4-door version of the sports car.

With current AMG portfolio looking the way it does, and 100% AMG cars finally available, German tuner’s future looks brighter than ever. To think that they’re only just warming up chills the blood in my veins. Considering the recent development, the best AMG examples are yet to follow in my opinion.

 

Categories: List Articles, Production Cars

Nikola Potrebić
About Nikola Potrebić

Although driving a piece of junk, Nikola is a true car enthusiast. Precious few things move him as muscle cars do - especially those from the bygone golden era. Which makes him wonder; why wasn't he born a few decades earlier? Well, at least he's been able to enjoy the likes of Pontiak Aztek, Fiat Multipla, and their "lovely" coevals this way - right? (sigh)