This fall, Mercedes-Benz will release its new 2011 S63 AMG. Fans are sure to marvel at how the company has dressed it up like the famous 300SEL 6.8 AMG endurance racer that had participated in the 24 Hours of Spa. In 1971, the 300SEL 6.8 AMG competed at the track of Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium in that year’s 24 Hours of Spa.
The 300SEL 6.8 AMG raced against Ford Capri RS, BMW 2800 CS, Chevrolet Camaro, Opel Commodore, and Alfa Romeo GTA. It came in second after completing 308 laps, behind a Capri and ahead of a Camaro. The vehicle needed to refuel frequently but it had few mechanical problems.
After its second-place finish, the red 300SEL became known internationally, especially in its home country of Germany. In 2006, Mercedes made 300 replicas. In recognition of its success in 1971, Mercedes placed matching sponsor decals all over its new 2011 S63 AMG, hoping to channel the spirit of the old AMG-prepped 300SEL.
AMG’s new twin-turbocharged V-8, which is more powerful and more fuel efficient than the outgoing 6.2-liter V-8, debuts in the S-Class.
After modifying the exterior appearance of the two speedy sedans, they were driven around Spa for a classic photo shoot. Hans Heyer (co-driver in 1971) was present with his trademark Tyrolean hat (see it in the photo gallery).
Prior to the actual race, the Mercedes-Benz 300 SEL 6.8 AMG surprised everyone when driver Clemens Schickentanz piloted the red four-door saloon to the fifth-fastest training time. Thus, during the 24-hour race in Spa-Francorchamps, a good portion of the crowd of spectators – numbering around 80,000 – did not expect the 300 SEL 6.8 AMG to start fifth from the pole position.
This was a place enjoyed by the car anticipated to win the competition, a Chevrolet Camaro piloted by Ivo Grauls and Peter Hoffmann. What they do not know is that the people at AMG themselves never expected to get fifth place in a starting line-up of around 60 racecars.
Right behind the Camaro of Grauls and Hoffmann is the Alpina-BMW 2800 CS of Niki Lauda and Gérard Larousse, followed by first works Ford Capri of Dieter Glemser and Alex Soler-Roig. Just right in front of the 300 SEL 6.8 AMG is the Schnitzer-BMW 2800 CS of Rauno Aaltonen and Helmut Kelleners. Not only that, the 300 SEL 6.8 AMG also has to prove that it is also faster than the rest of the field by completing the most laps in the then 14.1 km course in the Ardennes.
On the first lap, co-driver Hans Heyer was able to get the 300 SEL 6.8 AMG into third place just behind the Ford Capri of Glemser and Soler-Roig and the Chevrolet Camaro of Grauls and Hoffmann. In the end, the #35 300 SEL 6.8 AMG crossed the finish line with a huge achievement – a second place finish behind the Ford Capri of Glemser and Soler-Roig – completing the 24-hour race in 308 laps with zero technical problems.
Heyer, now 67, reminisced that while the team knows they could win, others were not aware of their capability. While the red four-door saloon was peerless on the “long straights,” its braking system derived from the standard model had difficulties handling the vehicle's weight of around 1,635 kg.
Heyer, however, noted that the old layout of the Spa course had given the discs plenty of time to cool down; thus the 300 SEL 6.8 AMG was able to take advantage of the long straights. Boasting a max speed of 265 km/h, the saloon was tailor-fitted for the Spa. He quipped that spectators had begun cheering for the 300 SEL 6.8 AMG, and the outsider quickly became their favorite. With its V8 sound, the saloon featured a luxurious interior with standard elements like carpets, paneled doors and a dashboard with exotic wood trim, as well as power steering and air suspension.
The 300 SEL 6.8 AMG was derived from the 184 kW (250 hp) Mercedes-Benz 300 SEL 6.3, which boasts of a top speed of 220 km/h. By then, the Mercedes-Benz 300 SEL 6.3 was the fastest regular production car in Germany.
To create its racing version, AMG increased its engine displacement from 6330 cc to 6835 cc, thereby increasing its output to 315 kW (428 hp) at 5500 rpm, and torque from 500 nm to 608 nm. To tweak the V8, AMG co-founder Erhard Melcher employed high-precision camshafts and modified rocker arms, new Mahle pistons and lighter connecting rods.
He also made use of larger intake valves, polished intake and exhaust ducts, modified combustion chambers, and a new intake tract with two throttle flaps. In addition, Melcher employed a racing exhaust system for a better gas through-flow and higher engine speeds. He also installed an additional oil cooler and balanced the crankshaft to improve the engine's durability.