Is AMG’s Red Pig the greatest tale of automotive humble pie ever? Here’s the story of the brand’s first official 300 SEL project to take on the Spa 24-hours

AMG has a long and proud history that stretches back over 50 years. While today it is well known for its Formula 1 successes and ballistic road cars, the brand’s beginnings were far more humble, with its founders’ first serious motor sport effort almost being laughed off the grid by rivals. It was jokingly called the ‘Red Pig’ – but it soon wiped the smiles from the faces of the paddock bullies.

More on Mercedes-Benz…

The Red Pig: Meet the first AMG

Hans Werner Aufrecht and Erhard Melcher were ex-Mercedes-Benz engineers who set up a workshop that extracted more performance from standard road cars. Their insider knowledge on the marque made them quite the authority when it came to tuning the cars, but their biggest challenge came when a customer asked if they could prepare a vehicle for the 1971 Spa 24-hours race. Not just any car, but the opulent Mercedes-Benz 300 SEL – a model with the racing credentials of a cruise ship.

The 300 SEL was once the fastest road production car on sale, but that’s in terms of top speed. This hefty luxury machine was all about torque and not torsion. Undeterred, Aufrecht and Melcher began by stripping the car of weight and adding aluminium doors. A wider track was incorporated, as was racing suspension, but the biggest modification came from boring out the engine to 6.8 litres and upping the power to 420bhp. Tattooed with its racing livery, and becoming the first car to wear the AMG acronym, the 300 SEL was ready for Spa.

The Red Pig: Meet the first AMG

As the sizeable machine entered the Spa pitlane in 1971 to join many purpose-built sports cars, other drivers laughed at AMG’s effort and saw it as something of a joker in the pack. A few hours into the race, however, their attitudes changed as the Red Pig went from starting from fifth on the grid to challenging for the lead.

Drivers Clemens Schickentanz and Hans Heyer drove the AMG hard through the night, determined to prove its critics wrong. When the sun rose, it revealed the 300 SEL to be in second position overall and leader of its class. This is how the race ended, and from that moment on the world knew what the ambitious AMG boys were capable of.

Through the passage of time AMG grew into the powerhouse that it is today, but what of that famed 300 SEL? Is it tucked up in a museum somewhere? Sadly not. The car was sold to an aircraft company that wanted to use its high top speed to test landing gear. Engineers cut a hole through the floor and roof to mount the gear, and would then repeatedly drop the giant suspension and tyres through the gap to simulate landing.

One day, an accident destroyed the Red Pig with no chance of salvage. In 2006 AMG built an exact replica of the car; it was impressive, but it will never be able to replace the real thing.