Tale of Perseverance: die Rote Sau

Celebrating the most important car in the history of AMG.

The crazy performance arm of Mercedes, AMG. Is known for crazy creations and can transform just about any Mercedes into a speed machine.

But the story of how they rose to fame is even crazier.

Founded by two former Mercedes-Benz race engineers, Hans-Werner Aufrecht and Erhard Melcher who like all good engineers, love tinkering with things and finding ways to make something better. Started off by mix matching off the shelf engine parts to increase performance. Once Aufrecht and Melcher left Mercedes, they formed their own shop at Aufrecht's hometown in Großaspach, Germany. Their goal wasn't trying to become a rival to Mercedes, but rather to unlock potentials that were left undiscovered. At the shop in Großaspach, they began doing more outlandish tuning, like increasing engine displacements and fabricating bespoke parts.

Being a small shop then which not many heard of. Aufrecht and Melcher needed to get the word out there so they turned to one of the greatest marketing schemes in the automotive world: Motorsport. So they decided to start a project that will get their name recognized and chosen the 24 hours of Spa as their battleground.

It was a suitable timing for AMG as Mercedes was absent in the motorsport scene at the time. After the devastating accident at Le Mans in 1955 involving a Mercedes flying into the grandstands that killed 85 people and injured another 180. Mercedes withdrew from motorsport (and didn't return officially until the late 80s). People within the Mercedes engineering department were eager to return to the track but the company as a whole worried about potentially bad PR.

AMG's project served as a backdoor for Mercedes to return to racing as they competed under team AMG which operated independently at the time. While the project was partly funded and mainly engineered (with Aufrecht and Melcher's request) by Mercedes with 12 members and developed out the Mercedes Untertürkheim plant near Stuttgart.

One of those key 12 members was Erich Waxenberger, an engineer with deep knowledge at Mercedes and an unquenchable desire to go racing. Waxenberger helped create the luxurious yet fast 300 SEL 6.3 by getting support from senior Mercedes managers and board members on fitting the massive 6.3-liter M100 V8 found in the flagship 600 Grosser into the W109 chassis.

Being the fastest production sedan at the time clocking in at 136.7mph. The guys at AMG chose the platform to build their first project. They bored out the 6.3-liter big block to 6.8, fitting larger pistons along with uprated intakes, camshafts, rocker arms, and exhaust to boost the original engine’s output of 250hp to 428hp. Waxenberger was secretly hired for his engineering expertise to further improve the car such as lightening the car with bumper delete, race-spec wheels, and aluminum door panels in the place of the original steel. He also developed a bespoke air suspension system and modified the automatic transmission to be shiftable like a sequential gearbox.

Despite the weight-saving measures, it is still a big business saloon retaining the luxurious interior of the stock 300 SEL from the rear bench seat down to the light-wood veneer trims on the dashboard. Therefore, it tipped the scale at 3,604 lbs (compared to the original 3,800 lbs) making it a giant compared to the lightweight Fords, Opels, BMWs, and Alfas sharing the track.

At the 1971 Spa Francorchamps 24 hours, the AMG fiddled Mercedes nicknamed "die Rote Sau" or "Red Pig" made its debut started in fourth place on the grid piloted by Hans Heyer and Clemens Schickentanz. It effortlessly climbed to first place after the first lap crediting the immense power from the uprated big block. Many saw this as a curse as cars that lead after the first lap always falter in the end due to mechanical breakdown. But it wasn't mechanical trouble that was bothering Team AMG. It was fuel. The Red Pig's large displacement engine combined with its great mass was returning a mere 5 miles per gallon. Furthermore, the maximum fuel capacity for the Red Pig was capped at 120 liters, so fuel stops become frequent. Another issue was tire wear, with the amount of weight and speed the Red Pig carries through the corners at Spa it was chewing through tires almost as quickly as fuel. Both variables robbed precious time being on the track and covering distance.

Despite the car constantly coming into the pit for a drink and tires, it was incredible at making up time. The power from the AMG modified engine tackled the uphill section of Spa like nothing else on the grid, the Waxenberger engineered air suspension gave Heyer and Schickentanz confidence to take nearly every corner flat out where Heyer on occasion invoke four-wheel drift to preserve the brakes. As night fell, it started to rain where the lighter cars had to slow down for the greasy condition. Not for the Red Pig, its immense weight became an advantage pushing all four tires to the pavement and maintaining stability. When the chequered flag dropped to mark the end of the 24hrs of Spa, the Red Pig claimed a class victory and took 2nd overall. Heyer believes he and Schickentanz could've won overall with just fewer fuel stops.

The victory put AMG on the map as a capable tuner and equally capable racing team. They achieved success with a small team and little resources conquering full factory-supported competitors. From 1971 onward, AMG became the go-to name to get the ultimate performance Mercedes both on the road and on the racetrack.

Fast forward to the present, 50 years since the victory at Spa, Mercedes-AMG commemorates the achievement by displaying three specially liveried GT3 race cars at this year's 24hrs of Spa named as "50 Years Legend of Spa." With all three cars signed by Hans-Werner Aufrecht, the obsessed engineer who started it all.

Photo Credit: Mercedes-AMG

Photo Credit: Mercedes-AMG

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