The 1971 Mercedes–Benz 300 SEL 6.8 AMG was one of the coolest racing cars ever built. 39 years later, it’s returned to Spa, accompanied by a thoroughly modern S63 AMG.
There is a delicious lunacy buried deep within the subconscious of Mercedes–Benz, this methuselah of carmakers named after the granddaughter of an Austro-Hungarian rabbi. It is painstakingly concealed, invisible even, as evidenced by the great number of accomplished but thoroughly boring Benzes no regular reader of this site would ever lust after. But when the family madness bursts through the seams, it produces cars which resonate through the decades. The Silver Arrows. The Gullwing. The Red Pig.
The Red Pig was a mad racing version of an already mad car, created in the skunk works of renegade engineer Erich Waxenberger, who flaunted the corporate policy of bulletproof engineering and not much power by taking a stock W109—the great-great-great-grandfather of the contemporary W221 S Class—and pairing it with the M100 engine, a monster V8 designed to power the great 600 Pullman, the favorite
car of every 70s dictator worth his salt and weapons program. Legend has it that the first man to spot Waxenberger’s shenanigans was none other than Rudolf Uhlenhaut—technical director of Mercedes–Benz’s racing team in the ‘30s and the ‘50s and namesake of the Uhlenhaut Coupé—whose keen ears noticed the rather unconservative rumble emanating from Paul Bracq’s gorgeous but understated sedan.
In a prelude of modern overpowered AMG’s to come, the car was put into production and a racing version was developed by then-independent AMG—the tuning company of Messrs. Aufrecht and Melcher of Affalterbach—and entered in the 1971 Spa 24 Hours endurance race.
It was a surreal sight. In a field of lightweight early ‘70s Euro coupés—Alfa Romeo GTA’s, BMW CS’s, NSU TT’s, Ford Capris—the great Benz, weighing about as much as the rest of the field combined, rumbled all the way through second place, covering 308 laps to the winning Capri’s 311. The result is about as uncanny as the aerodynamics of a bumblebee. In the process, one of the great visual icons of touring car racing was created, this blood-red giant of the Ardennes, lowered and widened and bedecked with extra headlights.
What the German motoring magazine Autobild has done 39 years later, when it paired up the old racer with a W221 S63 AMG in Red Pig livery, is an answer to a nagging and usually unanswerable question: would the somewhat antiseptic cars of today look as cool and mean as old racing cars if painted in the same colors?
The answer, unfortunately, is no, even if the modern Benz has 33% more horsepower and suspension from a then-unimabinable computerized future. Because we know all too well that if entered in an endurance race, it just wouldn’t last. Overengineering and ridiculous power have gone the way of the dodo.
Photo Credit: Autobild