How the 'Red Pig' catapulted AMG to motoring greatness

This year marks 50 years of the slightly bonkers AMG nameplate. While its tyre-smoking antics are well known on modern Mercedes-Benz machinery, the 'Red Pig' is where the sporting department really made a name for itself

How the 'Red Pig' catapulted AMG to motoring greatness

Founded by former Mercedes engineers, Hans Werner Aufrecht and Erhard Melcher, their boosting of Mercedes customer cars became well known. One unassuming day a customer made a rather unusual request: he wanted to take his Mercedes-Benz 300 SEL racing.

The 300 SEL was a quick car, in fact Germany's fastest production car at the time, however, that was on the lengthy straights of an autobahn.

It may well have been equipped with a 250hp 6.6-litre V8 from the factory, but it was the size of a barge and weighed roughly the same, too.

Hans and Erhard, in true AMG fashion, got to work turning what seemed like some crazy drunken dream into a reality. Boring the engine out to 6.8-litres and upping the output to 420bhp was impressive, but the real work was yet to come.

Read more like this from our automotive partner Motor1.com

Adding aluminium doors helped reduce the rather lardy kerb weight, but its rear seats and wood trim remained. The track was widened to increase the car's footprint and increase grip. Flared arches then needed to be grafted onto the SEL to cover the new racing tyres that protruded.

Racing suspension squatted the car unnaturally low to the ground, but completed what would become one of the world's most unusual racing cars - and the first racing car to wear the AMG acronym.

In 1971 when the Mercedes-Benz 300 SEL 6.8 AMG rumbled into the Spa paddock for the first time, people pointed and laughed. It quickly earned the nickname of 'Red Pig' due to its ungainly looks.

Sat against its sleeker race-bred competitors the SEL appeared to resemble Frankenstein's monster. Those poking fun at the car knew nothing of what the pending 24-hour race would bring.

Starting from fifth on the grid, the Red Pig was driven with steely determination by Clemens Schickentanz and Hans Heyer though the night. Quickly silencing its critics, the car not only kept pace with front runners, but it could outperform them.

The next day, the car crossed the line as the winner of its class and second overall against rivals that were perceived to be far faster. It could have won outright if it were not for the number of stops required to fuel the beast.

As the story spread, AMG's fame grew and its place as world class engineers was cemented.

It would later go on to be officially recognised by Mercedes-Benz with the three-pointed star selling its products alongside its own. In 1999 Mercedes took a controlling interest in the tuner and become the sole owner in 2005.

What became of the Red Pig? Sadly it isn't a fairytale ending. After its racing career the 300 SEL was then sold to an aircraft company.

As one of the fastest cars in the world it was perfect for testing landing gear at speed by dropping it through holes cut into the floor. It didn't take long for the fabled racing car to become a total wreck.

Resurrection was to be found in 2006 when AMG dusted off the original plans for the Red Pig. Nut for nut, bolt for bolt, it set about building an exact replica.

While not the original car, it is as close as we will ever get to the underdog that served its critics an extra large slice of humble pie.

This article originally appeared on Motor1.com

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