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Race against the machine

Kong Wai Yeng
Kong Wai Yeng • 7 min read
Fifty years on, Mercedes-AMG continues to develop the dream cars you will drive tomorrow. Options travels to the AMG headquarters in Affalterbach, Germany, to chronicle the nuts and bolts as well as the cutting-edge automotive technology of AMG’s journe
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Fifty years on, Mercedes-AMG continues to develop the dream cars you will drive tomorrow. Options travels to the AMG headquarters in Affalterbach, Germany, to chronicle the nuts and bolts as well as the cutting-edge automotive technology of AMG’s journey to glory.

No one really tells you how serene Stuttgart, the capital of Baden-Württemberg state in southern Germany, is. That is because it is constantly overshadowed by its cooler siblings: Munich, Hamburg and the archetype of Gothic architecture, Cologne. If Berlin — a cultural hotbed that captures the country’s romantic, rough-and-tumble past — is the belle of the country, Stuttgart — nestled in the lush Neckar Valley and surrounded by vine-clad hills — is the playground for people who like to down their wines fast and drive their fancy cars even faster. After all, this is the home of automotive giant Daimler AG.

We arrived in Stuttgart at the height of summer — a time when travellers can be found topping up their tans outside a konditorei (pâtisserie) in the Königstraße, the 1.2km-long main shopping street, or at the verdant Schlossplatz square. It was easy to forget that we were smack dab in Germany’s motor city, until a svelte Mercedes-AMG SLC 43 barked out an unmistakable twin-turbo V6 grumble at eye-watering speed right before us. Even many of the city’s posh, cream- coloured taxis bore the sign of the three-pointed star.

It is not an exaggeration to say that the Germans have a love affair with freedom of mobility. If one needs any more convincing, the imposing Stuttgart Hauptbahnhof railway station, constructed from roughly hewn shell limestone ashlar, its tower crowned with a rotating Mercedes-Benz star insignia, offers the first hint of the city’s long-standing history as the “cradle of the automobile”.

The car enthusiast in us was already hopelessly smitten by the torrent of Roadsters and swoopy coupés flooding the highway, but it was the exclusive factory tour of the AMG plant in Affalterbach that allowed the real gearheads to live out their tyre-smoking fantasies.

Home of the fast and furious
AMG is the three-letter passcode to the absolute speed and power of Mercedes-Benz. The models with racier bodies and larger wheels are more aggressive, sporting a menacing stance that beckon one to take a closer look into the caged fury — AMG’s manifestation of the famous “One Man-One Engine” mantra — concealed within. Surely, one wants to find out how founders Hans Werner Aufrecht and Erhard Melcher, the two Daimler-Benz engineers-turned-motorsports visionaries, transformed a performance brand that has been at home on the road to the racetrack.

“Welcome to AMG in Affalterbach. You’re joining us on a tour of the most important parts of our home. This is where we build the platform for the future,” the booming voice of Gerhard Bensegger, our guide for the day, reverberated throughout the lofty Customer Centre.

This was our first port of call, the portal to the world of AMG where attentive staff unveil new metal and bring customers up to date on the current status of motor sport’s high-performance technology. A fleet of sporting machines soon to hit dealer showrooms crowded the lobby, all echoing the same sharpened design profile of wider wheel arches, road- hugging lower bodywork, and the distinctive bulges on the hood that draw your attention to the hand-built powerhouse beneath.

In a corner, an intimidating AMG GT R in fetching Green Hell Magno (a colour named after the infamous North Loop of the Nürburgring racetrack) sat regally, screaming “drive me”. It is a looker that adroitly toes the line between sporty and swank.

Bensegger sneaked in some trivia during his commentary as we crossed over to the Performance Studio. “The private residence of Aufrecht is still integrated in the AMG headquarters, parts of which can be found in the building opposite the Customer Centre,” he said. We could not help but wonder: what would have happened if Aufrecht — the “A” in AMG — who was working on the 300 SE racing engine — had given up when Daimler- Benz discontinued all motor sport activities in the 1960s? The thought of a racetrack without the commanding roar of a Mercedes-Benz racing engine, which later entered Formula One, seems almost unthinkable.

In a motor world teeming with countless choices, the only one true luxury perhaps is being unique. The Performance Studio — the “Factory of Dreams” — allows automotive masterpieces to be customised, from the tailoring of the interior to special paintwork, leather upholstery, carbon- fibre trim and bodywork modifications. AMG has proven a point — that details matter, and the result is a one-of-a-kind trophy customers can proudly flaunt.

The schooling in AMG’s intricate craftsmanship is incomplete until you make it through the doors of the Engine Factory. Bensegger gestured us towards the enginebuilding facility and the sight of a workstation buzzing with staff installing everything from piston rings to cylinder heads elicited an audible gasp. Every engine has a unique plate with the builder’s signature engraved on it that further reinforces AMG’s much-lauded “One Man- One Engine” philosophy.

AMG, behind the wheel
With introductions and a coffee break at the Private Lounge finally out of the way, our real courtship with an AMG beauty properly began. Our date came in the form of a convertible GT C Roadster, whose technology and technical refinements were trickled down from the flagship GT R. Its predatory growl instantly made us nervous because: (i) it is a beast that wrings 557 horsepower from its twin-turbocharged four-litre V8 engine, which means you can sprint up to 100kph in 3.7 seconds; and (ii) we were not dressed “cool” enough to be seen driving with the top down. But who cares? Could anyone ask for a better accessory than a sports car?

We turned on the “sport mode” and rocketed down the highway with our hair whipping in the air. The exhaust furiously popped and banged as we backed off the throttle, letting onlookers know what a car with a peak torque of 680Nm and 316kph top speed is capable of. The GT C’s specs sheet, though it may not mean much to ama teurs like us, reads like poetry to the cogno scenti (our co-driver). But an easy-handling Roadster like this, with an active rear axle steering for better agility and stability, makes even the dilettante look super suave. Turns out, an AMG seems much more ruthless when it goes roofless.

50 years of AMG
Half a century on and Mercedes-AMG has grown from a two-man company to an automobile stronghold synonymous with cutting-edge technology and outstanding engine expertise. Ten new models were added to the AMG portfolio last year, and performance- minded customers can now choose from over 50 models, from the most powerful standard-production four-cylinder compact to the S 65, the epitome of elegance with a superior 12- cylinder engine. From saloons and estate cars in various output classes to an extensive range of SUVs, coupés, cabriolets and roadsters, one can, in fact, have it all.

The Affalterbach-based headquarters, supported by nearly 1,500 employees and 60 master engine builders (some of whom, we are happy to report, are women), continues to underline its status as a highly dynamic sports car brand while emphasising its motor racing pedigree. Let us not forget that the highly-touted GT models are the second sports car family to be developed solely in-house, following the SLS AMG. And, as a treat for aficionados, the Mercedes-AMG family will debut Project ONE, a hypercar with high-performance hybrid drive straight out of Formula 1, at the Frankfurt Motor Show (Sept 14 to 25).

A car will truly showcase its capability when it is brought to the edge of its ability, and this especially rings true for a brand that helps drive the pulse of the automotive industry. AMG’s journey, which has been a triumph of imagination, style and rarefied status, does not end in one’s garage, or before a chequered flag. Ultimately, AMG’s goal is about challenging the limits of physics and bringing pure satisfaction to perform ance enthusiasts, even after the on-track euphoria has long passed. Here’s to another 50 years.

Kong Wai Yeng is a senior web writer with the Options desk at The Edge Malaysia

This article appeared in Issue 795 (Sep 4) of The Edge Singapore.

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