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300SEL 6.3 AMG – Red Star Rising

Date Published: 20 Oct 2016
300SEL 6.3 AMG

Too much power is just enough! Back in the 1960s and ‘70s when Mercedes had a significantly stolid image, there were ‘dissidents’ within its engineering ranks who craved high performance and a sportier, more youthful approach.

Erich Waxenberger was the leading proponent of the naughty but nice formula of squeezing the biggest possible engines into Mercedes models, so it was no surprise that the production 300SEL 6.3 started off as one of the pet projects he worked on after office hours.

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This ‘Frankenstein’ car, the spiritual grandfather of the 500E, entailed shoehorning the 6,332cc M100 V8 from the Mercedes 600 limousine into the W109 S-Class, which normally only came with straight-six power.

The story goes that Waxenberger invited his boss, Rudolf Uhlenhaut, the legendary Mercedes engineer and test driver, to try the prototype. Uhlenhaut was so impressed with the cars performance that he jumped out at the first red traffic light and flung open the bonnet to see how his protégé had squeezed the huge motor into the engine bay.

More recently, it was revealed that the first of the donor cars to receive the M100 V8 was not in fact a W109, but a W112 Coupe, which had to have its steering box lowered in the chassis and a bigger transmission tunnel installed for the larger engine and gearbox to fit.

The second experimental car was not a W109 either, but a W113 Pagoda. The resulting nose heavy machine was deemed borderline dangerous and scrapped after a few laps of the Nürburgring where it showed a huge appetite for front tyres amongst other things.

However, the basic concept of the biggest possible engine in a relative small car idea clearly struck a chord with the Board of Mercedes-Benz, and Waxenberger was likely as surprised as he was pleased when he received instructions to develop the hot-rodded W109 for production.

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The Board’s faith in the concept was fully vindicated when the 300SEL 6.3 found 6,526 homes in just four years, far outstripping the 2,677 sales across 18 years of the flagship 600 whose engine it used. Build it and they will come!

While Mercedes-Benz were justifiably proud of the 6.3’s celebrity as the autobahn stormer par excellence, little did they suspect that their enfant terrible was also to become the cornerstone on which another great reputation would be built.

Hans-Werner Aufrecht and Erhardt Melcher were Mercedes-Benz engineers and close friends who shared a common passion for high performance road cars and motorsport.

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While Mercedes had officially pulled out of racing after the horrific Le Mans accident in 1955, that did not stop Aufrecht and Melcher from building Mercedes-based racecars in their spare time. They acquired a 300SE, stripped it for racing, and by using the mechanical fuel injection from the 300SL Gullwing, extracted 238hp at a heady 7,200rpm from its straight six motor. With Manfred Schiek behind the wheel, this car raised eyebrows by winning ten rounds of the 1965 German Touring Car Championship.

These high profile race wins opened the floodgates, and soon they were deluged with orders for fast road and race Mercedes. With a full order book in hand, they tendered their resignations and set up a small race engine workshop in Burgstall an der Murr. The year was 1967.

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Known as AMG (Aufrecht, Melcher and Grossaspach, the last being Aufrecht’s birth town) to its customers, the fledgling company’s full name was AMG Motorenbau und Entwicklungsgesellschaft mbH (AMG Engine Production and Development Ltd), which clearly indicates its focus.

With work pouring in AMG soon outgrew its original premises. In 1976, the company moved to a larger workshop in Affalterbach, with the race engine department remaining in Burgstall. At the same time Melcher decided to relinquish his partnership in AMG, but stayed on at Burgstall as an employee to concentrate on developing and building race engines for AMG.

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