AMG is currently synonymous with Mercedes, lending modification to a brand already known for luxury. It represents the high-performance trim of its elder subsidiary, producing upgraded models with extra power and better aesthetics. However, that was not always the case. AMG was born in the late 60s in a small garage in Burgstall, Germany, as Hans Werner Aufrecht and Erhard Melcher’s concept. The two met at Mercedes, working on the engines, and began a dynamic relationship that would forever change the course of motorsport.
Fate and passion would have them work on modified engines for the racing department in addition to their daily work. Faced by the age-old dilemma of career versus passion, they opted to work on their side projects on the weekends and after work. It was not until Melcher collapsed while riding his motorcycle that he realized it was not feasible to continue living a double life. Aufrecht, though had cottoned on to a lucrative gap the two could capitalize on if they were to take the leap and start their brand. Until then, Mercedes had manufactured a reputation for itself providing some of the most luxurious cars in the market, but they had neglected the section of the population that wanted additional performance out of their ordinary sedans. Following the 1955 Le Mans crash, Mercedes had also withdrawn from all factory-sponsored motorsport. During the 60s, the public was again ready for performance models, but the brand was stunted by apparent PTSD.
Noting Melcher’s technical brilliance and ability to build racing engines, Aufrecht pleaded with him to branch out on their own. In an interview, he is quoted saying, Melcher had so much genius; he knew he would be successful with him. They began the designs for the ambitious project at Aufrecht’s apartment. It was a direct injection 300 SE V8. Till then, it was commonplace to tune a BMW or a jaguar for performance purposes, but never before had a Mercedes been modified for racing. Interestingly, neither of them had any contempt for Mercedes models in their present state. In fact, Aufretcht once stated, “You can’t really improve a Mercedes, but you can make it different.”
Once they were done with their creation, they approached Rudolf Uhlenhaut, a Mercedes board member in charge of development, and a wager was struck. They were allowed to enter their abomination in competition. If it gave results, then the project would continue. If it did not turn out as good, then they would be asked to leave Mercedes. Driven by Manfred Schiek, their 6.3 liter V8 won six out of eight rounds at the German Touring Car Championship.
Two years later, the two formed Aufrecht Melcher Großaspach (AMG). The last letter in the acronym represents Aufrecht’s birthplace and the location of the garage. The two did not even have to market the brand to promote sales. Mercedes customers would spread the word that they finally had a way to make their cars faster than the Porsches or BMWs of the time. The duo had unwittingly restored a sense of pride in a brand that had facing performance insecurities. They had also tapped into customer satisfaction, which is something automotive brands were not familiar with at the time. Now, all brands do it instinctually to retain engagement. AMG was one of the first automotive brands in the 70s that responded to customer requests for modified exteriors and engines. Following a series of successes on the racetrack and with customers, AMG rolled out a heavily modified E-Class. They gave it a 6.0 liter V8 and adjusted the exterior with style lines seen in its E-63 descendant. The new model did 0 to 60 within 5 seconds and was dubbed by one reporter to be as subtle as a Hammer. Turns out AMG liked the moniker and christened the new V8 sedan, the Hammer.
Following increasing success with their new offering, Mercedes swallowed their pride and proposed a partnership that would have AMG sell their models at Mercedes dealerships worldwide. Rather than have AMG take their shine, Mercedes decided it was better to have them in their corner. The first product of their unified stand was the C36 AMG sedan that was a variant of the 90s C-Class. It came available with a straight six-cylinder engine and was targeted at the popular BMW M3 E36.
In 1998, Mercedes purchased a majority interest in AMG, allowing them to only work on Mercedes models, unlike their tuning cousin, Brabus. Throughout the years, AMG has made upgrades for Benz models and even engineered new race cars like the CLK GTR, which has been extremely successful at GT and touring car championships. AMG has excelled at building cars for Mercedes that stood out, but it was also adept at upgrading run of the mill suburban trotters. Case in point, the 2005 E55 wagon looks like a family car, but it had a 5.4 liter supercharged V8.
AMG retained the culture of paying attention to their customer base’s desires on an aesthetic and performance basis. That is why it is possible to get an AMG variant of an A-Class model, but one would not extend the same expectation to BMW or Mitsubishi. AMG’s dedication to quality extends from design to production. Every V8 engine that comes out of the production plant is hand-assembled by its specific engineer. That craftsman places an individualized placard with their signature on the intake after the engine is complete.
Though they did not know it at the time, Aufrecht and Melcher added far more value to Mercedes than they could ever imagine. The brand became an all-rounded beacon of excellence, not just in luxury but also in performance and aesthetics. An extra edge that spanned the racing track, suburbia and back roads.