From Project AMG to Mercedes-AMG, 50 Years of driving performance

From Project AMG to Mercedes-AMG, 50 Years of driving performance

In the case of Hans Werner Aufrecht and Erhard Melcher, a passion project born within a small garage in Großaspach has turned into a multimillion dollar endeavour.

Aufrecht, Melcher, Großaspach. Three names that, on their own, seem to have little effect on the general population; but take their initials, put them together and it reads ‘AMG’, three letters that spell out German automotive supremacy. The mere mention of AMG conjures up images of sleek, sexy sportscars; the roar of turbocharged engines, the orchestra of pops and crackles coming out of the exhaust pipes, and, more importantly, the exhilaration behind the wheel. And this is the legacy that two men – Hans Werner Aufrecht and Erhard Melcher – left behind, a legacy 50 years in the making.


The story of how AMG was born isn’t quite unlike the many other success stories told by companies that have been around this long. It was back in the 1960s that both Aufrecht and Melcher were just engineers working on the 300 SE racing engine in the Daimler-Benz Development department. However, before anything could become of their work, the company decided to discontinue all motorsports activities. Not one to let their project be dismantled along with company policy, both Aufrecht and Melcher continued to work on the engine in the garage of the former’s house in Großaspach.

They spent time honing the performance of the engine at night after working hours and, in 1965, they were confident enough to put their 300 SE engine into their colleague’s car for the German Touring Car Championship. They won 10 times. This became the catalyst that Aufrecht needed to form AMG. In 1966, he left Mercedes-Benz and persuaded Melcher to venture into a shared business with him. Melcher confesses: “Aufrecht was the real driving force to start a business”, while Aufrecht said: “Melcher has so much intelligence, so much genius that I knew I would be successful with him.” And so, Aufrecht Melcher Großaspach Ingenieurbüro, Konstruktion und Versuch zur Entwicklung von Rennmotoren (Aufrecht Melcher Großaspach engineering firm, design and testing for the development of racing engines) was born. We’ll just call it AMG for short.

With each race that AMG-tuned cars won, its reputation grew and, in the years that followed, AMG equipped more Mercedes models with performance technology. Business was so good for the brand that, in 1976, together with about a dozen employees, AMG moved to a purpose-built workshop and office space in Affalterbach, where the current HQ of the brand still is today. Seeing the success of AMG, it was only a matter of time before Mercedes-Benz wanted a piece of that action and, in the late 1980s, started working with AMG as an official racing partner. Between 1988 and 1993, with this new support, AMG won a total of 50 Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters (DTM) races.

The AMG racing saloon won international acclaim after triumphing in the 24-hour race at Spa-Francorchamps (Belgium) in 1971.


It wasn’t until the 1990s that the Mercedes-AMGs that we are familiar with today got its legs. It was in this year that Daimler-Benz AG signed a cooperation agreement with AMG. Through this agreement, AMG products could now be sold and maintained through Mercedes- Benz’s worldwide network of company-owned sales and service outlets, and dealerships. Around that time, the manufacture grew once again in size, increasing its workforce to 400 employees with an expansion through the opening of a third plant. 1993 was a particularly special year for this cooperation, with the unveiling of the Mercedes-Benz C 36 AMG, the first jointly developed vehicle by Mercedes-Benz and AMG.

Around the Nürburgring in 7:10.9 minutes, the Mercedes-AMG GT R records an outstanding Nordschleife lap time.

Throughout the decade, the AMG brand grew continuously and, in 1999, Aufrecht decided it was time to transfer a majority stake to DaimlerChrysler AG. Six years later, DaimlerChrysler acquired the rest. With Mercedes-AMG now a wholly owned subsidiary of Daimler AG, in 2009, it unleashed the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG, the first vehicle to be developed entirely by Mercedes-AMG and still considered a cult classic by many fans of the brand. Five years later, the modern icon of Mercedes-AMG was unveiled at the Paris Motor Show in the form of the AMG GT.


Today, Mercedes-AMG is far from its roots as small tuner of Mercedes cars. The Affalterbach-based company is home to around 1,600 employees and in 2016 alone, it delivered almost 100,000 vehicles to customers worldwide. They have more than 50 different options to choose from that range from the AMG GT that sits at the top of the pyramid to the 63 models with eight cylinder engines and the most recent 43 AMGs that offer six cylinder engines. The success of AMG as a whole has brought the excitement of driving, once reserved only for hardcore enthusiasts, to even the more casual drivers around the world. Case in point: in 2013 the compact 45 series models (with four cylinder engines) managed to capture the emotions of an entirely new market for the brand, reaching the youngest ever AMG clientele (an average age of 35 to 45 years).

Even though the Mercedes-AMG we know today is no longer the company that Aufrecht and Melcher built five decades ago, the spirit of AMG lives on in the quest for pure driving performance. It’s hard to imagine that this now multimillion-dollar company was born out of the undying passion of two very gifted engineers and a small little garage in Großaspach.


To say that David Coulthard has a long withstanding relationship with Mercedes-Benz is definitely an understatement. The man was, after all, almost literally born in a Mercedes. As the story goes, his father drove his mum to the hospital in a Mercedes and, as the hospital was 30 miles away, his mother’s water broke mid-journey. Coulthard didn’t even make it to the birthing room and was born right at the entrance. His father had bought new Mercedes cars every year and, when he had come into some money, Coulthard went out and got himself a 1971 Mercedes-Benz 280 SL ‘Pagoda’.

He drove with McLaren- Mercedes in Formula 1 and, even after his F1 career, continued driving a Mercedes-AMG C-Class in the DTM. But as an ambassador for Mercedes-AMG, his closest connection to the brand comes from his drive and passion for everything he chooses to do. We catch up with Coulthard amid a 24-hour layover in Sepang, where he spoke to press, drove some AMG cars and hosted a breakfast all before flying off in the morning for the Spanish Grand Prix.

It seems like you have quite a busy schedule! What’s life like after the DTM?

After retiring from Formula 1 in 2008, I started working for them as a commentator in 2009. I continued to do that even when I was racing in the DTM, so that was a very busy period for me. I was covering all the grands prix and then also going for all the DTM races. Not racing has freed up a lot of time for me, but I continue to work on a number of different brands, and also continue to build up the production business I started seven years ago, called Whisper Films. We produce the Formula 1 show for Channel 4; we do NFL for BBC; we also do rugby and football, so the company has really grown and my role there is to help facilitate growing the company.

I have also started another business called Velocity, which is a brand experience business; we’re already working with the new management of Formula 1 on a couple of projects that are not public as yet, but will be so at the end of the year.

What I’ve realised is that, without having a master plan, I am sort of driven towards any of the spaces that I am active in. I look at the people who are in the companies that are there, then, eventually, I start thinking that, well, maybe I can do this. And to do it means not me physically but to empower people who are skilled in that area to do what they do.

And also, on the day-to-day part, I am still holding different ambassadorial contracts like with Mercedes-AMG.

It’s been 50 years of AMG. And being in such close proximity to the brand, what can you tell us about AMG?

Because it has become such a powerful partner to Mercedes, it’s gone from being an independent company to a Daimler company, therefore, rather than taking what has been designed as a road car and making it more of a racing car, the DNA is more: how do you make this the best it can be, right from the conception. AMG is an intrinsic part of the concept, whether it is a mass market car or a performance car. It becomes a trusted partner for anyone who is looking for a four-door car to fit a small family but still want a little bit of performance.

Last year, Mercedes-AMG sold almost 100,000 cars. With this kind of volume, is the ‘One man, one engine’ philosophy still true?

All AMG engines still have the ‘oneman, one engine’ philosophy, and I was there just last week to take a friend who has never done the tour. It’s always fantastic to see and meet the guys who are physically putting their names on the products. That’s not just a marketing pitch but it is absolutely the philosophy. And it shows the sort racing mentality, because on a race car, on a Formula 1 car, you have three or four mechanics dedicated to that car and one driver, and everyone knows their roles. Lewis Hamilton doesn’t design the car; he doesn’t build the car but he knows the man who does. So, if the front end falls off, they know who is responsible. And If he crashes the car, everyone in the team knows who to talk to. The culture in racing is a responsibility culture and that’s something that goes through AMG as well. Instead of it being nameless individuals, the people who make up the team get to carry their names on the [engines] they build.


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