I have always been fascinated with car names. Names like Testarossa, Diablo, Zonda, Mustang, and Barracuda immediately conjure up images of some of the most iconic cars in history. I am a firm believer that cars, particularly great cars, have a personality and so it is natural that they have names. I find the trend of naming cars gibberish names to be very disheartening. Without a doubt the current administration at McLaren are some of the worst offenders! I am totally and completely obsessed with the McLaren F1. However, I want to be explicitly clear that my obsession does NOT extend to the modern McLarens. There is no doubt whatsoever that the current generation of McLarens are ballistically fast and have OCD levels of engineering ingrained in every nut and bolt. That being said, I find that they have almost no emotion in them at all. They seem like they were designed by a computer not designed on a computer. The best way that I can illustrate this hyper clinical approach to cars is by simply telling you the name of the first McLaren of the modern McLaren era--the MP4-12C! Really, McLaren, is that the best you could come up with? It sounds like the serial number on my washing machine. I am the most car obsessed person I know and even I feel like a dork saying, "Wow, that's a cool MP4-12C!"
So if MP4-12C is at one end of the spectrum, what is at the other? Well, high on the list of contenders has to be the Mercedes Benz AMG Hammer. Many of you have heard of AMG before as the performance arm of Mercedes Benz. They routinely take rather luxurious and modestly quick cars and add insanely powerful engines. However, what many of you may not know is that AMG has not always been a part of Mercedes. Before they were part of Mercedes, they were a tuning company that modified Mercedes. In the late 1980s Mercedes began talks with AMG to bring them into the company fold. Before that would happen though, AMG would give us one last totally batshit crazy car, the Hammer.
In the late 1980s Mercedes made a mid-sized car that was sold in America as the 300E. It would evolve to be the modern E class which is a competitor to the BMW 5 series and the AUDI 6 series. The 3 liter straight six produced about 180 horsepower and was a solid little engine for driving to work in your mid sized yuppie mobile. This car sold for about $50,000, which was actually quite expensive in 1988. However, what if you were not a yuppie? What if you wanted to go just a bit faster? What if you were a Formula 1 driver for instance? What car was driven by Ayerton Senna, Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost, Keke Rosberg, and Martin Brundle (who have 9 F1 world championships between them)? You guessed it--the Hammer. Now the Hammer didn't come cheap. Depending on how you ordered it you were going to be parting with at least 140,00 or as many as 190,000 nineteen eighties dollars. What in the world inspired people including the best drivers in the world to part with more money than the average price of an American home at the time?
As is so often the case with these posts, it came down to the engine. Why potter around with a measly three liter six cylinder when you could have a six liter V8! Pair that monster of an engine with proper five speed manual transmission (yes, Mercedes actually had manuals back in the day) and run it through a good ol' fashioned mechanical limited slip differential and you have a recipe for automotive nirvana. The car produced 385 hp and 417 lb ft of torque which launched the car to 60 miles per hour in about 4.8 seconds and all the way up to 186 miles per hour. Let's put those numbers in perspective... The 1986 Porsche 911 Turbo had 282 hp did 0-60 in about 5 seconds and topped out at 157 mph. The Ferrari Testarossa from the same period made 390 hp, did 60 in 5.2 seconds, and topped out at 180 mph. Even the indomitable Lamborghini Countach with 412 hp could only manage 60 mph in 5.2 seconds and topped out at 182 mph. In other words the Hammer could beat the likes of Porsche, Ferrari and Lamborghini.
Perhaps what makes the Hammer so unique is the place it occupies in automotive history. It represented perhaps the most subtle option of over the top excessive 1980's, it was the beginning of the era of the incredibly fast luxury car and it was both the beginning and the end of eras at AMG and Mercedes.