In Rare Form: Uncommon AMG’s

No one is denying that most AMG’s are sick cars. What’s not to love? A big, solid Mercedes with an absolute monster of an engine shoved under the hood is a great thing, something to wake up in the morning and be thankful for in today’s market filled with fuel-sipping hybrid garbage. But frankly, seeing an AMG Mercedes isn’t quite as exciting as, say… a Ferrari F355. Or a 911 GT2. Or a Gallardo. They’re common, even in boring areas like Raleigh. Heck, there’s a guy that rolls up to my Starbucks every day in an SL55 AMG. And another lady with a CLK63 AMG Cabriolet. But while I was filling up the Accord today, a truly uncommon AMG pulled in next to me, and I did a double take:

A freakin’ R63 AMG 4Matic. A WHAT? That’s the AMG version of Merc’s failed “Mercinivan”. Take one 7-passenger people hauler, then stuff it with a hand-built 500 horsepower AMG 6.2L 32v V8, add permanent 4Matic 4WD, and you have perhaps the fastest, classiest way to get the kids to soccer practice ever. I personally have never seen one before today, and if I hadn’t seen the quad exhaust tips I might not have noticed. Why so rare? Well, the R63 was only ever built to order. That means you couldn’t just roll up to the Mercedes dealership and hand over $90k for a Mercedes rocket-van. No, some nut-job actually custom-ordered one and waited months. Sweet.

Which got me thinking about all the especially rare AMG Benz’s, stuff you don’t see every day like a C32 or an E55. After a little research, I realized the crazy R63 is merely the tip of the iceberg for rare AMG’s.

Not many remember now, but AMG started out life as an independent tuning house that specialized in making seriously powerful Mercedes Benz’s, not just a subsidiary of the company itself. It really got noticed by Mercedes with it’s version of the W124 E-class, affectionately nicknamed the Hammer. If the nickname didn’t give it away, the video should let you know: it’s a bad mother%(@#$!

Despite looking like a boring Mercedes sedan, this was one of the fastest cars on the road back in ’86. The engineers in Affalterbach took out the (really quite lovely) 3.0L 177bhp I6 from the regular 300E, and transplanted in the 5.6L M117 V8 from the 560SL. While the cat-equipped SL motor only choked out 178bhp (later 200), AMG engineers installed their own DOHC 4v heads in place of Merc’s SOHC 2v heads. Along with other tricks, the massaged M117 cranked out 360 horsepower (DIN, no cats). If that wasn’t enough, AMG had a Hammer 6.0 upgrade that stroked the motor out to 5953cc’s and 375 horsepower. Which allowed it to accelerate from 60-120mph faster than a Countach of the time period. What price embarassing Lambo owners? Well, if you threw in the optional Gleason-Torsen LSD, upgraded rear subframe, suspension upgrades, body kit, 17″ AMG wheels, and interior package, a loaded Hammer was $161,422. Those might be the most expensive 15 horsepower that have ever existed, with the 6.0 upgrade costing $39,950 -- in 1988 dollars. Still, for the price of a Countach you got the performance of a Countach, except with room for 5, German build quality, and a kind of classiness no Lambo would ever possess. Plus, the 6.0 would do 185mph. Which was one mph lower than the claimed top speed of the Countach, which it was famous for not being able to acheive.

AMG also built cars off the supremely attractive W124 Coupe, itself a fairly rare car. This is a 300CE 6.3 AMG, which had a 2v M117 punched out to 6.3L and 300 horsepower. AMG did more than just big V8′s in the W124, though -- there were also 6-cylinder 24v AMG 124′s, which are not very well known. AMG started with the M104 24v straight-six (that replaced the 177bhp M103 12v I6), but stroked the displacement out to 3.4L. Power rose from 217bhp in the E300-24 (W124) to 272bhp. The engine was later stroked to 3.6L, combining the smaller 2.8L block with the crankshaft from a 350SD -- that’s some German back-yard engineering there! With the new crank, power was up to 276bhp and torque right at 284. This engine was later used in the somewhat more well-known C36 AMG, which was the first official Mercedes-AMG collaboration, in 1993. It’s a classic straight six: big, smooth, torquey, and able to smoke tires at will.

Mercedes achieved great success with AMG-fettled 190E 2.3-16′s in DTM, and AMG did make a handful of fully-tuned W201 190E’s for the road as well. While the regular 2.3/2.5-16 was a fairly hot car for the times, AMG skipped over the high-winding Cosworth-tuned I4 and worked on the six that was available in the 190E. Stretched from a 2.6L up to a 3.2L, the 190E 3.2 AMG had 234 horsepower -- about equal with the last 2.5L 190E-16′s. They were incredibly expensive cars (about $90,000 in 1990 money) and only 200 were made, so chances of seeing one outside of a jpeg on the internet are pretty slim.

When Mercedes changed the M117 over to the M119 in 1990, it gained a set of 4 overhead camshafts and double the valves. The biggest, baddest M119 was in the 500E, which was co-developed with Porsche. At 322 horsepower, it had the power to run with the then-new E34 M5. Undoubtedly miffed at being one-upped by Porsche, AMG developed their own version of the M119- again stroked out to 6.0L, but now with 381 horsepower. This AMG-ified M119 was used in the last of the W124 E-classes and early W210′s as the E60 AMG. Coincidentally, the W124 E60 is perhaps one of the meanest looking Benzes ever.

Everyone is surely familiar with the W210 E55 AMG. It was basically the car that made a name for AMG in the states, after the small-volume C36. It used a punched-out 5.4L version of the new 3v M113 V8, and 349 horsepower pushed it to sixty in only 4.9 seconds. But the M113 came out in 1998, and the W210 E-class came out in 1995. So in between, W210′s got the fettled 4v M119. Rarest of all was the 1996 E60 AMG, confusingly named considering the engine was a further-stroked M119 with 6.3L of displacement. Power output was a thumping 405bhp and 454 lb-ft of torque, which was actually more than Mercedes’s own 6.0L M120 48v V12 in the SL600. No wonder it didn’t stick around long… it’s never wise to step on papa’s toes!

AMG also built a bewildering 4 different R129′s. The R129 SL-class roadster, sold between 1990 and 2002, was a fairly powerful car from the factory- discounting the 2.8L I6 powered models, there was the 300+bhp 500SL and the 389bhp V12-powered 600SL (later SL 500 and SL 600.) AMG offered two V8 and two V12 models over the model’s lifespan. Most common was the SL60 AMG, which used the same 6.0L 32v M119 V8 as the E60 AMG, with 381 horsepower. There were a handful of SL55 AMG’s, with the 24v M113 5.4 AMG V8. More interesting were the V12′s, though. There was an SL70 AMG, which had a larger-displacement M120 V12, about which very little information is available beyond the fact that it exists. More well known was the wicked SL73 AMG, pictured above. It’s M120 was stretched to 7.3 liters and pumped out 525 horsepower. This monster of an engine later went on to power the Pagani Zonda -- and the motor itself is a work of art in aluminum.

AMG only did around 300 R129 SL-class cars, making them exceedingly rare. Rumor has it the Sultan of Brunei was a big fan of the R129 SL73 AMG, and owns a couple of them.

It’s not very well known, but AMG has produced and marketed diesel-engined models in the past. In what is perhaps one of the longest names not attached to a Subaru, Mercedes would sell you a C30 CDI AMG Sports Coupe, sedan, and wagon. The engine was a tweaked version of the C270 CDI’s OM612 inline-five diesel, expanded out to a 3.0L from 2.7. Power was up from 170 to a more AMG-like 231, but the most impressive aspect was the torque: the C30 CDI motor made 398lb-ft at 2,000rpm, which was enough to make some come out of the tires, but not the exhaust. This model was produced concurrently with the C32 AMG (which had the supercharged 18v V6), but most people ended up deciding that if they were going to get an AMG in the first place, fuel economy was not a concern.

The engine itself was actually quite different from the normal OM612 2.7L, and used a lot of cool tech to make the extra power. It used a bespoke block with a cast-in oil rail for under-piston oil squirters. The head was reworked for larger coolant and oil passages, and the compression ratio was dropped along with the longer stroke to accomodate higher boost levels. What was really slick: the C30 skipped the regular air-to-air intercooler for an air-to-water unit that had an electronically controlled thermostat to regulate temperature, meaning the C30 CDI made maximum boost whether it was 40 degrees or 90 degrees outside. Performance was quoted at 6.8 seconds to 100km/h and 155mph flat-out, but more impressively an average of 37.2 mpg EU -- which helped the sting of the C30 being more than a second slower to sixty than it’s gas brother, the C32 AMG. Still, low demand saw the C30 CDI AMG discontinued for the 2004 model year, and diesels aren’t something AMG has tried since then.

And, we can’t have a post on rare AMG’s without mentioning the Black Series models. Apparently “regular” AMG models just weren’t ferocious enough, and AMG saw a need to differentiate their mainstream wares from the serious performance cars. These special models focussed on simplification, weight reduction, tighter suspension and even more power. The first was the SLK 55 AMG Black Series, of which 100 were produced in 2006, was a mean little car. The folding hardtop roof was ditched in favor of a fixed carbon-fibre roof, the wheels were lighter, there were upgraded brakes, and the 5.4L 24v V8 was upgraded to 400 horsepower and 383 lb-ft, gains of 45bhp and 7lb-ft. The Black Series was usefully faster, with 0-60 in 4.5 (compared to 4.9 for a regular SLK55), and the electronic speed limiter was raised from 155mph to 175mph. The SLK55 Black Series was mainly intended for track work, and with a price tag of €107,300, it was only destined to wind up as a rich-guy trackday toy.

So, if you’re Mika Hakkinen, a pro driver for Mercedes-AMG in the DTM series, what do you toodle around in Monte Carlo in your free time? Why, a limited-production CLK DTM AMG Cabriolet. Mercedes actually made 100 each of the CLK DTM AMG in coupe and cabriolet form. While the “normal” (heh) CLK55 AMG is powered by a naturally aspirated 5.4L engine, the CLK DTM AMG uses the supercharged version of the V8 to the tune of 582 horsepower and 590 lb-ft of torque. This wasn’t your average supercharged 5.4, either -- the extra power came from new pistons, con-rods, a revised supercharger, and a less restrictive exhaust. Of course, the DTM AMG made some faintly ridiculous noises when you got on the gas pedal:

The DTM also got a pile of other performance goodies. Most obvious is the DTM-inspired wide body kit, with most of the new body panels rendered in lightweight carbon-fibre. Staggered (19″/20″) lightweight AMG racing alloys were wrapped in huge Dunlop DOT slicks (285′s in the rear!) and covered huge carbon-composite brakes: six pistons front, four pistons rear. There was also a plate-type LSD in the back to put the power down. Inside, the DTM had carbon-shell sports seats with Alcantara and leather trip up front, and it retained rear seats unlike the later CLK63 Black Series. All this for only €277,000 and change!

The CLK63 AMG replaced the CLK55 when the new 6.2L 32v V8 was released, and the CLK63 Black Series AMG was the ultimate development of the model. It was a considerably more focused performance car than the normal CLK63, with more power, less weight, and simpler mechanics making it a friendlier track tool. The V8 was bumped up to 500 horsepower through new intake and exhaust systems along with a re-tune, and the final drive ratio was 6% shorter for harder acceleration. Most interesting was the totally revised suspension, which was adjustable for ride height, compression and rebound on the dampers, and toe and camber settings. The CLK Black ditched the rear seats of the normal model for an upholstered “parcel shelf” to save weight, and it will go down in history as one of Clarkson’s favorite cars ever. The Black also had other upgrades to make it a more reliable performance car, like a larger radiator, rear differential cooler, and an additional transmission cooler.

Which leads us to our last entry, which also happens to be the most powerful road car Mercedes has ever made. The SL65 Black Series is more well known than a lot of the other AMG’s in this article, and perhaps because of it’s eye-widening numbers: 661 horsepower, and torque output electronically limited to 738 lb-ft, instead of the full 885lb-ft, to protect the transmission. As if the regular twin-turbocharged V12 SL65 with it’s 612bhp wasn’t insane enough, AMG upgraded the turbochargers, intercoolers, and exhaust for the gain, meaning there is likely a lot more potential left in this engine for those crazy enough to mess with it.

Like the SLK55 Black, the SL65 Black ditches the heavy power-retracting hard top (which is what makes the SL so desirable to me, but never mind) in favor of a carbon-fibre fixed roof. It gets the crazy wide-body treatment as well, rendered in carbon-fibre of course. The adaptive shocks have been ditched for adjustable coilovers with progressive springs, and the track width of the Black is considerably wider for better cornering stability.

Skip ahead to about 1:43 for the good stuff in that video, including a wreckless little powerslide on a residential street. Of course, if you can afford a Merc with a MSRP of $299,000, you can probably afford a wreckless driving ticket too.