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AMG celebrates 45 years of engineering excellence

Once-small, private firm is now the performance arm of Mercedes-Benz

Published: June 22, 2012, 4:00 PM
Updated: April 29, 2018, 12:32 PM

Mercedes-Benz AMG - AMG lineup and teasers

AFFALTERBACH, GERMANY – Anyone with a drop of motor oil in their blood knows AMG is the performance arm of Mercedes-Benz. A Benz with the AMG badge on the trunk lid is something to be respected and revered.

A lot of clever engineering ensures that not only does that particular vehicle have a great deal more power than its "ordinary" counterpart, it has the brakes, suspension and steering upgrades to match.

The three German luxury car makers have been engaged in a decades-long battle for performance supremacy. Each of the companies has a dedicated subsidiary that develops modifications to everything from the engine to interior trim items – but performance is ALWAYS at the heart of the upgrades.

Audi has a series of RS models developed by its Quattro GmbH subsidiary since the mid nineties. The first to make it across the Atlantic was the current TT RS.

BMW’s in-house tuning division is M Technik or just M as it has appeared on numerous BMWs for more than three decades.

AMG was the first of the bunch and is currently celebrating its 45thyear of engineering mobile masterpieces.

45 years of success

AMG began in 1967 when two Mercedes-Benz engineers, Hans Werner Aufrecht and Erhard Melcher quit the company and formed their own race shop. AMG stood for Aufrecht, Melcher and Grobaspach – Melcher’s birthplace.

They began by developing racing engines and were getting into developing upgraded road cars when success struck – literally overnight. The tiny little company entered a modified 6.3-litre Mercedes 300 SEL in the 24 Hours of Spa race.

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Racers and spectators alike laughed at this gigantic block of a sedan – but Hans and Erhard had the last laugh. The 'Red Pig' as it had been nicknamed not only won its class but placed second overall.

The big sedan obviously had prodigious and reliable power, but it also shocked the competition with its braking and handling. AMG achieved instant recognition and admiration.

By 1976 the small company had moved most of its operations from Stuttgart to this small community about 30 minutes away. In 1986 AMG made modifications to an E-Class sedan that allowed "the Hammer," as it was dubbed by the media, to reach a top speed of 303 km.hr.

By 1990 AMG was offering a range of engine, wheel and styling packages to Mercedes owners. An agreement was reached between AMG and Daimler-Benz at that time resulting in jointly developed vehicles and access to AMG models throughout the global Mercedes-Benz dealer network.

The first fruit of this union was the C36 AMG. The union was so successful Mercedes-Benz acquired majority ownership of AMG in 1999 and by 2005 had acquired 100% of the company.

To this day, the C-Class remains my favourite. Yes, there is the outrageous SLS and the seductive CLS 63 AMG, but the C 63 AMG and its 6.2L naturally aspirated V-8 delivers delightful performance, tight handling and it doubles as a family sedan.

Past decade

During the past decade AMG has continued to grow and prosper, not only making a bigger contribution to the Mercedes line but developing an entirely new halo vehicle – the SLS, a gull-winged sports coupe with a unique chassis and engine developed entirely in-house by AMG.

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They pulled the wraps off the latest version – a GT – while we were visiting the AMG facilities here.

Swedish native Ola Kallenius, chairman of AMG, said that AMG continues to operate as a mid-size southern German company "inside the safe haven of the bigger group." AMG now has more than 1100 employees

AMG operates under a simple philosophy: One Man, One Engine. Today, in spite of AMG’s rapid growth, this remains the case. Every engine that finds its way under the hood of a heavily massaged Mercedes-Benz is hand-built by one technician and signed by same.

Beyond the elevated horsepower and torque levels each engine brings, there is an overwhelming signature that tells the world: "This is an AMG."

But it’s not the understated badge, nor is it the body kit that adorns all models that is the AMG signature. It is the menacing, yet mellifluous, exhaust note. It snaps and snarls upon start-up and then wails like a deranged banshee as the engine warps the driver to alarming speeds in what seems like the blink of an eye – usually less than five seconds, but who’s counting?

The future

As a part of the 45th anniversary celebrations, AMG lifted the curtain a little and showed what the future holds. At present, there are 22 AMG-specific models in the fleet. By the time the company turns 50, there will be 30.

Along with the 591-hp SLS AMG GT, which sprints to 100 km/h in 3.9 seconds, will come the CLS shooting brake (a wagon), the GL 63 AMG, S-Class AMG and an AMG version of the new A-Class along with a couple of other compact-based models – speculation is there will be AMG derivatives of the new CLA four-door coupe.

The sedan is confirmed for Canada and the wagon could also make the trip from Europe. The other bit of speculation includes an SLS Black Series. Now that would entail something with well over 600 hp.

On that note, in spite of ramping up the stallion count over the past four years, AMG has managed to improve fuel efficiency by 25%. The shift toward direct injection and smaller-displacement turbocharged engines has led the way.

The inclusion of idle stop and, on the SLK 55 AMG, a Formula One-inspired cylinder deactivation system further optimize efficiency and reduce consumption.

The plan is to reduce fuel consumption by a further 20% over the next five years without losing the AMG’s keen performance edge. In part, this will be accomplished with the electrifying of the SLS E-Cell. The writing, however, is on the wall – and it spells high-performance hybrids.

Ola Källenius, AMG’s chairman, says it is no longer a case of if the high-performance hybrid enters AMG ranks but when.