If you were asked what would define a great racing car, what would be your answer? Do you look at innovative technology, iconic drivers piloting them, or perhaps race wins and championships? You would probably be right on all terms, but how about the underdog story? The unlikely hero, showing up to (almost) beat the opposition out of the blue? There are plenty of great underdog stories, but perhaps one of the most interesting ones is the Mercedes 300 SEL 6.8 AMG.
This story really begins with two Mercedes engineers, Hans-Werner Aufrecht and Erhard Melcher, butting heads but also finding a mutual love for all things fast. Despite their rocky start – apparently they had a fight on the first day they met – the two men eventually parted with Mercedes. In 1967 they set-up a workshop named Aufrecht-Melcher-Groβaspach, or AMG… Something you might have heard of. At the time, AMG was the only Mercedes-specialist tuner, so word quickly spread of their work.
In 1971, the two men decided that it would be a good idea to turn the Mercedes 300 SEL 6.3, a large and heavy executive saloon, into a racing car. The size of the engine was increased and power was beefed up from 250bhp to 428bhp. The car was given a diet and a new look, and voilà; the Mercedes 300SEL 6.8 AMG was born. Weirdly though, the weight reduction programme included two aluminium front doors, but for some reason, they kept four seats, plush carpet and the full dashboard, including the wood trim. On the exterior of the car, fog lights were added, bumpers removed and the wheel arches were widened to accommodate much, much bigger tyres. All in all, the thing looked rather menacing, despite its still barge-like presence.
Jay Leno featured a 1972 example of the Mercedes 300 SEL 6.3 on Jay Leno’s Garage, to give you an idea of the Autobahn-cruiser that they started out with:
In 1971, the starting grid of the 24 Hours of Spa Francorchamps (where the historic photo in this article was taken) was riddled with cars from Ford, BMW, Alfa Romeo, Opel, the occasional NSU or Citroen, even a Mini Cooper. All much lighter, more nimble cars. Split into three classes, the Mercedes shocked the opponents and spectators with first-in-class and second overall, despite having to stop for tyres much more frequently than others. From the roughly 80 cars entered, only 18 arrived at the finish, an indication of how gruelling 24 hours on this famous racetrack in the Belgian Ardennes really is.
There’s very little period footage of the original car, as it hadn’t had a very long life as a race car. This grainy clip on YouTube is pretty the much the only one out there, with German commentary and all:
The career of Die Rote Sau (the Red Pig) as it was known, was short lived, as it was sold to the French military as a testing vehicle for tarmac wear on landing strips. Eventually, it was lost never to be found again and presumably destroyed. Years went by until Mercedes themselves, having integrated AMG in the early 1990s, decided this car should be resurrected. The new version was built upon the old blueprints and is as close to the original as it can possibly be. Check out this video on the rebuilt car:
This story received a next new chapter when in 2010 a Mercedes S63 AMG, again a big and hefty saloon with BIG power, was decked out to resemble the original Red Pig. A 5,5 litre V8 delivered 571bhp and is equally as much a tyre-shredding beast as the 1971 inspiration was. Later on, a racing version of the Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 was also dressed in Red Pig trim, although it’s a far cry from the original saloon-based race car. It does show what this car meant for AMG and Mercedes though. There are also several other non-Mercedes built replicas around, all inspired by this one, big, unlikely hero.