AMGs, they’re intimidating cars, aren’t they?
I’m talking specifically about the post-Hammer, pre-’55 AMG’ era cars. There’s something about that black grille that just oozes menace.
You wouldn’t even bat an eyelid at a normal W124 Mercedes. If this was a corner dealership full of blue, gold and burgundy old-man 230Es, I don’t think anyone would even notice it existed. But take that same corner dealership, fill it with a collection of Stuttgart’s finest muscle cars, have black-suited gentlemen operating it, and you’ll have people looking away out of fear.
J-Auto, on the corner of Seta and Setagaya-ku in Tokyo, is a small business run by Hidenori Matsumoto. He’s spent the last 30 years specialising in finding, collecting and selling some of the meanest, most gangster Mercedes this side of a Russian Mafia video on YouTube.
Shoehorning a low-revving, torquey V8 into a rather unassuming body was nothing new by the mid-1980s. Just look at the myriad of muscle cars produced in the USA (even if they were somewhat neutered by then).
The main difference is that the early German approach to building a muscle car is both more understated yet more menacing than the American examples. You wouldn’t order an AMG in ‘Top Banana Yellow’, for example. And you can keep your racing stripes. What even is a ‘Rumble Bee’?
The majority of cars in J-Auto’s stock are 500E/E500s. These brutes are the result of a Mercedes-Porsche collaboration.
It was all hands on deck at Mercedes-Benz at the time to develop the W140 generation S-Class, so the automaker had to outsource the development of their fast E-Class. Being in financial difficulty at the end of the ’80s, Porsche were more than happy to oblige Mercedes’ request and apply their performance expertise to the venerable MB saloon.
The premise of the collaboration was to equip the W124 chassis with the then-new M119 5.0-litre V8, recently introduced in the 500SL. Drivetrain tweaks, a 4-speed automatic gearbox and a revised suspension package changed the character of the mid-sized executive saloon.
The E60 AMG was a further development by the madmen at Affalterbach. With a handmade 6.0-litre version of the M117 engine, AMG-specific exhaust, and suspension and wheels from the 190E Evo II, the E60 stood out as the real head of the W124 range.
These cars were built to compete with the E34 BMW M5, Alpina B10 and Lotus Carlton, and it could be argued the Benz was the best all-rounder amongst its peers. The heavy-hitter attitude, power and poise, combined with classic Mercedes reliability and good day-to-day manners is what makes these cars so special. I think that’s why these Mercedes have really found a home in Japan.
The pride that Matsumoto-san has in these cars is evident from the moment you step inside his shop. The showroom is barely big enough to hold eight cars, and even as I write this article there are only five cars listed for sale on J-Auto’s website.
Look around inside though, and you’ll see it’s not just the cars that are special. Matsumoto-san has filled the showroom with a collection of the rarest and best Mercedes parts you’ll ever see.
Rows of Recaro optional seats line the walls, complemented by steering wheels in various trims, both vintage and new old stock. Boxes and boxes of parts, flanked by unblemished bumpers surround the W124 wagon in the corner of the showroom, and then we get to the wheels…
The AMG Aero split rim, manufactured by OZ Racing, is one of the most iconic wheels ever to come from a German manufacturer. Simple, with a chunky face and five trapezium-shaped holes, these wheels well and truly belong on Benzes of this era. There are dozens of them at J-Auto, be it on cars, on display, or stacked up in storage.
It’s the quality of the parts and vehicles presented for sale that really speaks volumes. J-Auto refuses to take on any cars which have had less than pristine care taken of them. Previous accident damage? Any hint that the mileage has been tampered with? No chance. Matsumoto-san refuses to stock anything but the very best examples of the breed he can find.
J-Auto’s promise of quality goes so far as to offer warranty on every car that passes through, and even 24-hour road service for all their customers. Not only that, but they’re equipped with the knowledge and facilities to ensure they can keep all of their cars maintained to their own exacting standards.
Six lanes and one barrier across the road is J-Auto’s service centre and workshop, where they perform the upkeep and restoration of customer cars. It’s not just W124s they’ll work on. If you’ve got a Mercedes of that era, from a W126 SEL to an R129 SL, they’ll look after it for you, especially if it’s an AMG or a Cosworth.
So many of Matsumoto-san’s customers daily their cars in fact, that J-Auto has eight courtesy cars available. That’s how loyal their customers are, and how efficiently their cars can be turned around.
J-Auto proudly states that they ‘Offer cars you can really love forever’, and it just takes one look at their stock to see why. Whilst their collection may seem small, consider that there are less than 50 ‘true’ E60 AMGs in the world. An awful lot of them have managed to find their way through Matsumoto-san’s doors over the past 30 years, and that really doesn’t surprise me in the slightest.
Now if you’ll excuse me, there is a Bornite Purple E60 AMG in their stock, and I have to see how much I can sell a healthy lung for. Completely unrelated, of course.