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AMG celebrates 50 years in the 'go-fast' game

Motoring

Affalterbach, Germany - Mercedes' in-house tuning division AMG celebrates its 50th birthday this year, but this high-performance juggernaut wasn't always the 1500 employee, 100 000 cars a year company it is today. It wasn't always an in-house brand either.

When founded in 1967, AMG was a two-man team operating out of a tiny workshop in a retired mill near Stuttgart in Germany. Engineers Hans-Werner Aufrecht and Erhard Melcher had gained experience in building 300 SE racing engines for Daimler-Benz in the early 1960s, but when the company shut the doors on all motorsport activities the pair were forced to set up shop on their own.

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The Mercedes-AMG GT sports car is the culmination of half a century of motorsport-inspired car engineering. This is the top of the range R version, with outputs of 430kW and 700Nm.

The firm, which was at the time completely separate from Mercedes, was named using the first letters of the pair's surnames along with the the G from the town they were from: “Aufrecht and Melcher, Großaspach.”

It was a quiet start for AMG. The two engineers continued to tinker on the 300's straight-six cylinder head, and visited racetracks on weekends to hone the 3-litre’s full potential for grassroots-level private race teams.

The company's big break didn't come until 1971, when AMG’s newly developed 300 SEL 6.8 took a class win and finished second overall at the Spa-Francorchamps 24-hour race in Belgium.

This hulking, long-wheelbase limousine was certainly the Goliath amongst a 60-strong field of tiny Davids, and as it lined up on a grid littered with much lighter coupés, few would have put money on its podium finish a day later.

With Aufrecht and Melcher’s mechanical know-how, the original sedan's 6.3-litre V8 was up-sized to 6.8-litres, new pistons were fitted, camshafts were reprofiled, and cylinder heads were polished and ported with an end result of 320kW and 607Nm.

The "Red Sow" 300 SEL was the racing limousine that put AMG on the map.

The “Red Sow”, as it was affectionately nicknamed, hit the circuit with its air-suspension system, rear bench seat and elegant wood trims still fitted.

It was truly an antithesis of racing cars of the era, but its performance put AMG on the map as a force to be reckoned with, both on and off the track.

By 1976 the business had expanded from engine tuning to become a leading supplier of custom Mercedes-Benz accessories and upgrade parts. AMG's workforce grew to 40 employees and the operation moved to a new premises in Affalterbach, where it’s still based today.

AMG was still working independently from Mercedes-Benz, but through the 1980s was the go-to after-market tuning house for Benz customers. The company was now offering styling kits, a signature five-spoke alloy wheel design called the Penta, engine upgrades and the possibility of a five-speed manual gearbox option on V8 models.

If the Red Sow was AMG’s key model of the 1970s, the “Hammer” was its hallmark for the 1980s. Released in 1986, the Hammer was a heavily modified W124 E-Class with a 5.6-litre V8 shoehorned into its engine bay. Built in extremely limited numbers, this special model was the fastest sedan in the world at the time, and was even quicker than a Lamborghini Countach in some tests.

This is Mika Hakkinen in the 2006 Mercedes-AMG C-Class DTM contender.

In 1988, AMG became an official partner of Mercedes-Benz in motorsport, and though the 190E 2.3-16 had already been entered in German Touring Cars (DTM) for two years, the agreement signalled the start of an alliance which still exists, and wins, today.

Mercedes and AMG won their first DTM championship together in 1992 with Klaus Ludwig in a 190E Evo 2, and have won 12 more since with famous names such as Bernd Schneider, Paul di Resta and Pascal Wehrlein.

The two companies have also raced together at Le Mans, most notably with CLR and CLK GTR models, numerous endurance racing formulas with SLS and GT racers, Australian V8 supercars, and have even won the past three F1 championships. Formula One safety cars have also been supplied by AMG since 1999.

AMG’s collaboration with Mercedes road car products began in 1990, and in 1993 the C36 AMG was launched as the first AMG-branded non-racing car sold new by Merc dealerships.

In 2005, Mercedes-AMG became a wholly owned subsidiary of Daimler-AG and 2009 saw the introduction of the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG, the first vehicle to be developed entirely by Mercedes-AMG. This was followed by the introduction of the Mercedes-AMG GT in 2014.

The AMG Mercedes C-Class is the most successful vehicle in the history of the German DTM series. This is the 2015 coupé driven by Paul di Resta. 

In recent years AMG’s popularity has grown with various V8-powered 63 and V12 65 variants, but the company has also introduced a line of four-cylinder 45s and a new 43 line with twin-turbo V6 engines.

AMG saw a sales growth of more than 40 percent last year, with 99 235 vehicles delivered around the world. Today’s AMG’s customers have over 50 derivatives to choose from, and with such an exponentially expanding range, sales have more than tripled since 2013.

AMG engines are produced at Affalterbach, Kölleda and Mannheim, all hand-assembled by a single engine builder to the “one man, one engine” philosophy.

The number of AMG Performance Centres have expanded to over 400 in 40 countries, where customers and fans can immerse themselves in the brand world of Mercedes-AMG. In South Africa there are five AMG Performance Centres, located in Bedfordview, Bryanston and Menlyn in Gauteng, Century City in Cape Town and Umhlanga in Durban.

A central component of customer support is the online AMG Private Lounge, an online platform that allows AMG owners to share their passion for the brand with other enthusiasts.

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