AMG At M-B World: Iron Fists And Velvet Gloves

It’s interesting how overtly mainstream brands are now pushing their performance divisions, emphasising their sporting credentials more than ever. You have M Power for BMW, Audi’s quattro GmbH, Nissan’s NISMO and of course Mercedes’ AMG. But unlike most of the other examples, AMG started off as a completely separate company, becoming renowned a Mercedes-Benz stylist and tuner in the ’80s following its beginnings in the late 1960s preparing racing engines.

AMG struck a deal in 1990 with the mothership to utilise the main dealer network, and ended up selling a majority stake to Mercedes in 1999. Since that integration it’s gone from strength to strength, and the brand was represented with a dedicated area at Mercedes-Benz World in the UK.

Wheels and bodykits might be the more overt aspect of AMG, but it’s what’s under the bonnet that defines a true AMG. It’s also closely associated with the Mercedes racing programme, which it uses to showcase that all-important tuning prowess. From Formula 1 to DTM and beyond, AMG has little to prove on the track – and it’s the same story on the road. It takes already powerful cars, and adds a heap of horsepower and aggressive bodykits to create both obviously quick supercar rivals, and more sleeper-style saloon rocketships.

I’ll begin with one of the older AMGs on show. I introduced the Mercedes-Benz World classic collection by featuring the utterly beautiful ’30s luxury of the 540K. AMG also featured in the same display area, with something perhaps less curvaceously styled but no less luxurious, and certainly a lot more potent.

The low profile and black wheels gave away that this was no ordinary S. It’s long. It’s low. It’s very dangerous to know.

The 1996 AMG S70 is described on its info panel as an ‘iron fist in a velvet glove’, and that’s the perfect analogy for this car – and AMG in general. Merc’s line of luxury S Class cruisers have always packed a punch, but when AMG was let loose on the W140 generation it created this utterly out-there example of high-end, high performance VIP style.

Luxurious excess abounds with this car from the moment you unlock and swing open the heavy doors (complete with colour-coded lights), which open with a suitably satisfying, quality-sounding thunk. You could just open and close them all day, it’s that pleasing.

The interior was awash with walnut and leather, with seats you could drown in and a new car smell that still wafted out.

Or maybe not new exactly, just quality, as the leather and wood conjoined to create an enduring aroma of status even after all these years.

There are two tonnes of metal, cowhide, wood and a rich occupant to be moved, so something pretty special was required. Seven litres of howling V12 is stuffed under the hood: a tuned-up version of the six litre unit from the 600SEL, and the result of the one-man-one-engine build programme. That meant 525hp under the right foot and a top speed of 186mph – little wonder the same engine was chosen by hypercar artisans Pagani to power the first Zonda.

This is one of the earliest cars that the new official Mercedes-AMG department of the time created, and it was was only manufactured and sold in limited numbers to special order. This car was originally delivered to a client in Japan before finding a second life in the Middle East in the United Arab Emirates where it likely gave the local Ferraris and Porsches a scare. Luxury had never been so fast and stealthy.

The rest of the AMG squadron comprised the modern range, gathered together on the top floor.

As with the entire collection, the AMG section rotates the classic cars that support the modern line-up. The previous time I’d visited, this mid-90s E36 was present, but on my latest tour pride of place had been given over to an even more extreme AMG model.

In fact, one that will never see the road: the AMG SLS GT3 endurance racer.

In this pure satin white, the car looked stunning, really bringing out all the small details of the aero shaping and further accentuating the epic length of the SLS.

The cockpit has some familiar parts to it, with stock vents and some of the original switchgear supplementing the overtly race-ready parts like the wheel, carbon seat and rollcage.

With the doors up and trim removed there was a clear view of the explosive bolts in the gullwing doors…

… and the central console was cleanly laid out with further ABS and ASR switches along with the fuses for easy access. One of the fun facts is that the GT3 can brake from 120mph to zero in the same time that a standard SLS can brake from 60mph to zero: that’s 2.6 seconds. And your lunch in the windscreen if you’re a passenger.

Although this was a display car, there was evidence that it had been used in its proper environment if you looked closely enough – which I’m sure you aren’t supposed to. Ingested gravel still sat in the intake behind the splitter – but from which track I wonder?!

Moving on to the modern range brought barely less horsepower, even if the destination was more likely to be the shops than the racetrack.

Okay, a very luxurious shop, but still.

It’s the sound of the AMGs that always gets me. They just shouldn’t be that low and guttural: you can hear the power in the glorious engine note.

Each model showed, naturally, the most amped-up bodykits and performance packs for each model, with the drawback being that you see a list price, digest it, and then have a sharp intake of breath when you see the price of the extras the display model was typically packing.

For instance, the C63 AMG Coupé – AMG’s take on the C Class – packs an obscene 457hp (that means a 4.5-second 0-60mph time) for about £70,000. You get the horsepower and big brakes as standard, but the AMG Performance Pack Plus, AMG Exterior Carbon Fibre Pack and AMG Differential Lock on the display model would add another £9,500 on top…

For something more overt there’s the SLS AMG, that thumping big beast of a car with its unfeasibly bass-heavy engine note and nose so long you’ve already passed the car in front by the time you’ve seen it.

Not being in the market for a supercar at this precise moment, I never tend to look at prices, being more concerned with pretty wheels and badges. But it is quite a shock to realise just how expensive these cars are all the same.

But as Larry found out, the SLS is a very pleasing car to drive

… and not short on power, with 571hp on offer from its 6.3 litre V8. It’s also nice to see nods back to the classic ’50s SLs with the slashed intake grills, which have made their way onto several of the modern models.

A second special edition SLS AMG graced the lobby: the new Mercedes-AMG SLS Performance Studio in shimmering metallic blue with a satin finish.

It’s barely slower than the GT3 car: in fact it’s electronically limited to a ‘sensible’ 197mph from the 571hp V8. Although the aero of the GT3 means that cornering is a different matter, relatively speaking.

The Performance Studio in Affalterbach, Germany, specialise in creating limited edition models like this, the Black series and the F1 safety cars, as well as individual customers’ requests. Now, that’s a point: the Black series. Watch out for something with that name coming up in the near future here on Speedhunters.

Whether on the road or the track, now the mere sight of an AMG badge makes my bones shake at the thought of those growling V8s. Taking home a model is fine, but actually driving an AMG is the thing to do. And the best thing about Mercedes-Benz World? You or I can rock up and do exactly that. I will be – I suggest you do too.

Jonathan Moore
Instagram: speedhunters_jonathan

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