From racing to road – The colourful history of AMG
It is very difficult to believe that the global engine tuner AMG, began life as an after-work pastime for two motorsport enthusiasts. The company, known today for its worldwide successes in touring cars, sportscars, GT racing and ultimately Formula 1, began simply as a hobby for two racing mad engineers in a quiet town in Germany.
BY ANDY HALLBERYLike many of the world’s great ventures, AMG was borne out of two guys with a passion racing, for tinkering and tuning cars – and discovering that together they had a natural skill for it. It was the early 1960s, and the men were Hans Werner Aufrecht and Erhard Melcher, better known as the ‘A’ and the ‘M’ of AMG. (‘G’ is for the small Swabian town of Großaspach, Germany.)The pair worked together as engineers in the Daimler-Benz development department, their focus on the 300 SE race engine. Then came a major setback, especially for the motorsport mad duo. “I had hardly joined the company when they pulled out of racing altogether…” Aufrecht recalls.
Their dream wasn’t over though, and they continued to refine engines to improve them for privateers in competition after work, and talked of forming their own company. Melcher was prepared to take the risk: “We saw an ad in the local paper for a mill in Burgstall,” says Erhard. “I had to go and look at it on my own as Hans Werner had just got married and was building a house. I was a bachelor and could take the risk. If things worked out, he would then join me later. Business went well, and we grew rapidly…”
Aufrecht: “To begin with we only focused on motorsport and its private teams, but then the drivers began to come to us and suggest, ‘wouldn’t it be great if you could build one of those motors of yours for street use?’ So we started to build engines for road-going cars. And then gearboxes, transmissions…” Melcher interrupts, “and piece by piece we got into tuning!”
This work allowed them to get their first true AMG project underway, the modified 300 SE. When it was finished, they went and presented their project to Rudolf Uhlenhaut (designer of the F1 championship-winning W196 for 1954 and ’55), who by then was the Mercedes-Benz board member for development. His decision? If the car turned out to be good, Aufrecht and Melcher would be allowed to run it in competition, if not, they would both be asked to leave the company.
Driven by Manfred Schiek, the 300 SE won six out of eight rounds of the German series and Schiek posthumously won the 1965 German circuit racing championship title after a fatal rally accident. The foundations for AMG were in place, and in 1967, AMG was officially formed in the Old Mill.
“We didn’t have any contracts because everything was done by word of mouth,” remembers Melcher. “On the business side of things we were pretty inexperienced. We usually even forgot to write down the names of the customers.”
The premises didn’t quite live up to the standard or quality of their work either. “We had no money, so we had to improvise,” laughs Aufrecht. “We even dug out an earth pit so that we could work beneath the cars. Customers would come in and asked us if we knew where AMG was!”With backing in place, success came spectacularly in July 1971. The breakthrough at that year’s Spa 24 Hours put AMG on the map. The famous event was then a round of the European Touring Car Championship which catered for the ‘cars on steroids’, like Ford’s works RS Capri 2600s and Escorts, BMW’s 2002 and 2800, and Alfa Romeo GTAs – all powered by 250-300hp units. There is no doubt the cars were mesmerising to watch. AMG’s entry was the heavy, red, luxury-looking Mercedes 300 SEL 6.8 litre sedan! With the size came the power, all 400+hp of it. It was nicknamed the ‘Red Pig’ (or sow depending on your translator).Just the mention of the race brings a grin to Aufrecht’s face, and rightly so. The car was highly unfancied as its creator admits. “Everybody was so surprised that the car ran at all, that every minute of the race was a triumph for me. But then again, at AMG we didn’t doubt for a second that the Mercedes would make it.”The Red Pig did more than ‘make it’. In the hands of Hans Heyer and Clemens Schickentanz were class winners, and came an incredible second overall. The heavy luxury sedan had pulled a fast one on the lighter rival race cars – it caused a sensation, and the name AMG began to spread throughout the world.
“After Spa, we became famous overnight,” Aufrecht continues. “AMG was the firm that had finished second in the most famous 24 hour race for touring cars, and we had beaten the works teams. We made it into all the newspapers, and we were even on the evening news.”
Their lives changed, customers were now the more ‘professional’ lawyers and doctors who wanted high end product, and not the previous customers who would live with bone-hard suspension in a trade off for speed. Aufrecht again: “We had to stop simply adjusting the cars they already had, and start creating them.”As with any perfectionists, opinions differed in how AMG should progress and expand, and not for the first time, Mr A and Mr M disagreed.
“We had 12 employees at the time,” says Aufrecht, and I remember the day Erhard turned round and said quite simply: ‘It’s too much for me, I don’t want all this responsibility.’”
Melcher explains: “I’m someone who needs to work ‘individualistically’. I need to be on my own in order to design, to think and to weigh up options.” A deal was done, and Melcher became a freelance member of AMG, and still a crucial part of the company. By 1978 the staff was 40, and by 1992, 25 years after its inception, more than 400 people worked at AMG.AMG had already become the official Mercedes works team in 1988 following many further achievements, it’s road car business flourished worldwide and in 1999 DaimlerChrysler acquired the majority share. The team’s DTM record includes 14 drivers’ titles with Bernd Schneider, Klaus Ludwig, Gary Paffett, Timo Scheider and Paul Di Resta. Further championship wins include the 1997 and 1998 titles with the Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR in the FIA GT Championship.Customer AMG E Class Mercedes compete in the Australian V8 Supercars Championship, while the Formula 1 Safety Car and Medical Car have been provided by AMG since 2000, and for 2014 is a Mercedes Benz SLS AMG F1 Safety car. And, of course today the Mercedes Formula 1 team of Nico Rosberg (who’s father F1 world champion Keke was also a DTM winner for AMG Mercedes) and Lewis Hamilton, is officially branded Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula 1.Not bad for two driven guys who started tinkering in an old mill almost 50 years ago.
Many thanks to AMG AG and Mercedes Benz-Motorsport for their help.
Follow Andy Hallbery, @hallbean on twitter, and www.romaceofracing.com