Renaissance

And it was a long time coming…

By Bruce McCulloch

07.08.2007

I cannot help but tip my hat to the folks not only at the performance division that is AMG, but to Mercedes-Benz themselves. Why, you ask?

For the longest of time, we Mercedes-Benz fans have had to live with one hard fact and that fact was that Mercedes-Benz products couldn’t quite offer the excitement, or entertainment (as drivers’ cars) when compared to their Munich rival, BMW. Admittedly these two manufacturers have never really appealed to the same type of buyer, but the rivalry is far too blatant to be hidden. Fans of both of the iconic manufacturers have been at ‘war’ (so to speak) for a long time, but that over-used cliché that Mercedes-Benz only makes products for the elderly seeking a vehicle with lush ride and no driving experience is fading away – extremely fast.

As Bob Dylan once said, “The Times They Are A-Changin’’”. They most certainly are for Mercedes-Benz and affiliates who are currently gaining a reputation for developing ‘sporty cars’. Now I know what you’re thinking, aren’t the words ‘Mercedes’ and ‘sporty’, a contradiction? Contrary to what some may believe, such a combination is not a contradiction and the recent flood of complimentary magazine reviews confirms this to be the case.

However, before we move onto to the actual praise of the newer AMG models, I think it’s only fair to mention some of Mercedes-Benz’s greatest drivers’ cars. People often label Mercedes-Benz as a manufacturer with no sporting intent, but excuse me, that’s just rubbish.

Mercedes motor sport-inspired road-going models actually hark back as far as the 1950’s – the most notable of them being the 1954 300 SL “Gullwing”. The iconic 300SL Gullwing was one of the Mercedes’ first road-going automobiles which was labelled as a ‘road-legal race car’ – evidenced by the fact that it was loosely based upon the company’s 1950 race car, the W194 300SL.

The following years saw a steady trend of Mercedes road-going race cars, but none that made as much of an impact on enthusiasts as the release of the 190E 2.5-16 ‘Evolution’ models – the first of which was released in March of 1989. Aside from an obvious body make-over (inspired by Mercedes’ own DTM vehicles, allowing a drag coefficient of just .29), the Evolution took Mercedes to a whole new level by settling itself firmly in the sports sedan section. This was achieved through the addition of such equipment as a: short-stroke engine with a bigger-bore (thus increasing the flexibility and revv band); an adjustable suspension with adjustable ride height; and just about everything thing else you could think of that was available at the time. And to top it off, the 190 Evolution was a homologation special, and that alone secured it a place in Mercedes history.

190E 2.5-16 Evolution II
What made this particular vehicle first popular, and subsequently legendary, was it’s ability to please it’s driver like few before it. Problem was, we Mercedes fans didn’t see much anything with the allure or special traits of that Stuttgart classic for an unbelievably long 16 years. Sure, Mercedes had a few attempts along that nearly two-decade timeline, none of which lived up to the Evolution name, but, thanks to the release of a homologation special in 2005, this sporting trait was brought back to life once again. The vehicle? Why of course, it was the one and only ‘CLK DTM’.

Wait just a minute! Before you go and utter words such as, “Mr. McCulloch, have you forgotten about the supercar that McLaren motorcars co-developed with Mercedes-Benz? What about the eye catching, carbon fibre-bodied 626bhp monster that is the SLR McLaren?”

No, I haven’t forgotten about it. The SLR may be superbly fast and an amazing performance car, but truthfully, it’s just a big GT (no pun intended). What you should be aware is that even Mercedes themselves doesn’t advertise the SLR as a sportscar, but rather a high performance GT and having said that, it’s clear that various magazines agree with their analogy. British magazine EVO was quoted as saying that they’d rather own the CLK DTM than the SLR, mostly because it boasted a level of driving excitement which the SLR could not match.

This particular vehicle was brought to life in mid 2004 when Mercedes-Benz motorsport division (in connection with AMG), decided to produce a homologation special with no marketing logic whatsoever. Mind you, the words ‘homolgation’ and ‘logical’ have never gone hand in hand, but let’s be honest – 236,060 € for a vehicle (and a Mercedes, after all!) which shared the same base 5.4 litre supercharged 8-cylinder with a number of lesser AMG models and a body style loosely based on the road-going CLK doesn’t fare too well on paper. In fact, most enthusiasts questioned the need for such a vehicle – often implying that it was no more than a standard CLK with a power boost. Nevertheless, such an intial reaction did not affect Mercedes who managed to sell the entire production line (100 units), before any automotive journalists got their hands on the vehicle.

572bhp CLK DTM

Furthermore, the performance figures which this monster eventually turned out surely shocked the majority of sports car enthusiasts. The CLK DTM easily broke the 8-minute barrier on the famous Nurburgring Nordschliefe and matched the best from Italy, Germany and America when it came to slalom courses, braking tests, etc. Once the word spread, those familiar with Mercedes history soon knew that something was a little different this time around. After all, this vehicle had a few advantages which no other Benz could offer, like semi-slick tyres and a stripped out interior full of lightweight bits made of materials such as alcantara and carbon fibre. Far from being the answer to a question no one asked, as auto enthusiasts originally conjectured, the CLK DTM is instead the answer to the prayers every Mercedes-Benz enthusiast had uttered for years.

Thankfully the wonderful CLK DTM has paved the way for a new generation of AMG and Mercedes models. Since the release of the homologation special, the magic has been passed along to other AMG models. They include the SLK55 AMG Black Series; CLK63 AMG Black Series and the recently released, M3 fighting, C63 AMG.

Black Series models, CLK63 (top), SLK55 (bottom)

And yep, you guessed it; all three of these vehicles have Mercedes being considered in a much different light. With respect to the C63 AMG, British magazine AutoCar recently made the claim,”I can’t remember a more entertaining, a more dynamically rounded Mercedes model since the original 190 2.5 Evo.” Big claim, wouldn’t you say?

Make no mistake; both Mercedes and AMG are evolving and what makes this achievement even all more impressive is that it appears they been able to do this without any compromises – without alienating the large group of customers that has always known and respected Mercedes for luxury motorcars.

BMW and Audi – watch out! Fair warning is being given right now. Stuttgart’s driving enthusiasts’ models are back and heading your way, at high speed, real soon.

Newly released C63 AMG

COPYRIGHT Autosavant.net – All Rights Reserved

Author: Brendan Moore

Brendan Moore is a Principal Consultant with Cedar Point Consulting , a management consulting practice based in the Washington, DC area. He also manages Autosavant Consulting, a separate practice within Cedar Point Consulting. where he advises businesses connected to the auto industry. Cedar Point Consulting can be found at http://www.cedarpointconsulting.com.

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6 Comments

  1. that black series is unbelievable. I would love to have one, and should be able to swing it next year. happy days, then.

  2. It’s about time that MB finally regained its crown as the real mass market luxury and performance king. Once BMW loses its unwarranted market cachet and buyers really begin examining alternatives, MB is the only logical choice, particularly for those who can afford the AMG variants.

  3. Long live the STAR! Mercedes is assuming it’s rightful place in the sports car galaxy, and the timing couldn’t be better. The BMWs have gotten weird-looking, and only the Audi AWD models appeal to me cause I don’t dig the front wheel drive. Looking forward to more performance cars from M-B.

  4. The stock Mercedes Benz CLS is a wonderful car without any upgrades. I bought one 4 months ago, and I may get divorced over it. Not because my wife didn’t want me to buy it, but because she and I now fight over who is going to drive it. And my wife never really cared much about cars before we got this one. Now she’s mad for the CLS.

  5. I had two of the 16-valve 190 cars. Great little runners, always up for a a blast down a straightaway or in the corners. Iloved those little cars.

  6. Mercedes is shedding the “old man” image in Europe with these cars. It is about time since Mercedes-Benz makes the finest cars in the world, IMO.

    Hope to see more performance cars from M-B.

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