The “Red Pig” Mercedes Benz 300SEL 6.8 that put AMG on the map

The story of the “Red Pig” Mercedes Benz 300SEL 6.8 that put AMG on the map of the European racing scene

In 2021, AMG is a household name that is synonymous with high-performance Mercedes Benz passenger cars.  AMG, like BMW-tuner Alpina, has its roots in Motorsports. Like AMG, it had a significant impact upon the racing scene when it first emerged in 1971.  While many people know of AMG, few outside of the car fan world know of the story  of the “Red Pig” Mercedes Benz 300SEL 6.8 that put AMG on the map of the European racing scene.

The race that put AMG on the map was the 24 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps. The car was the “Red Pig”, a W 109 Mercedes Benz 300SEL 6.8.  The race started at 3 p.m. on July 24, 1971, fielding 80 touring race cars. A huge Mercedes-Benz sedan from the W 109 model series was to be the vehicle that thrust AMG upon the European racing scene like a hammer, was driving the Ardennes track right in the middle of the field.

The historic W-109 was not campaigned by the Mercedes Benz factory. Instead, it was campaigned by the engineering firm created by Hans Werner Aufrecht and Erhard Melcher, also known as AMG.

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The “Red Pig” MB300SEL 6.8, unbelievable performance, in 1971…

This precursor of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class was thoroughly prepared for the long-distance race by AMG, focusing on the engine and chassis. The technical specifications were incredible for touring class racing vehicles at the time:

  • 428 horsepower from a displacement of 6.8 liters
  • A top speed of more than 165 miles per hour
  • An acceleration of 0 to 62 miles per hour of 6.1 seconds

Known as the “red pig,” the red racing car’s moniker was AMG 300 SEL 6.8, even though the star on the front of the long hood identified the vehicle as originating with the legendary Stuttgart-based company.

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A fascinating history

In 1971, AMG was only familiar to enthusiasts of performance-oriented Mercedes-Benz automobiles. Created to build racing engines, the founders soon discovered a market for high-performance bespoke Mercedes Benz motor cars. The acronym AMG consists of the first letters of the surnames Aufrecht and Melcher and the town of Großaspach (where the two founders first worked on racing engines together in the 1960s). Its headquarters, an old mill in the nearby village of Burgstall.

By the end of the 1971 24 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps, the performance of the “red pig” had cemented AMG’s reputation in the racing world. Hans Heyer and Clemens Schickentanz took the 300 SEL 6.8, the “red pig,” to a remarkable second place overall and first place in class. The racing media was ecstatic. Racing magazine “auto motor und sport” hailed the performance of the entry by AMG as a “stroke of Swabian genius.”

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The amazing second-place victory

The victory of the “red pig” at the `1971 Spa-Francorchamps was far from certain. In this marathon race, this huge sedan tipping the scales at over 3,700 pounds, just 430 pounds less than a stock W109 6.8, had to assert itself against a field of fast touring racing cars. Fortunately, the vehicle was designed for the original Spa-Francorchamps track in mind, which was over 9 miles long and featured several straights that could be driven at full speed. As more cars pulled out of the race, the 300 SEL 6.8 held its own and drove consistently through the night. By sunrise, 23 cars were still racing; entire factory teams had quit. Nevertheless, the outsider from Affalterbach stayed on course and was the second of the remaining 18 touring class race cars to cross the finish line.

Road and Track magazine perfectly summarized the performance of the “red pig,” describing it as a balancing act between power and weight: ” During the race, the massive V8 had an insatiable thirst for fuel, and its weight meant that it swiftly destroyed its tires.” However, the Red Pig’s straight-line speed more than compensated for its inefficiencies on the long straights of Spa-Francorchamps, and it stormed to a fantastic second-place position behind a Ford Capri after 24 hours.”

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The significance of the 1971 second-place win at the Spa-Francorchamps

Fifty years later, the AMG brand is part of the Mercedes-Benz brand representing the high-performance side of the business and the racing side. Many iconic AMG vehicles have emerged over the years, but few have held the fascination and awe of the “red pig” and its motorsport performance that fateful day at Spa Francorchamps in 1971,

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