Lesley Wimbush with 1970 Mercedes-Benz 300 SEL 6.8 AMG. Click image to enlarge
Review and photos by Lesley Wimbush
Inevitably, the question arises: “what’s your favourite car?”
That’s a tough one.
How long is a piece of string?
I’ve been lucky enough to experience some wonderfully memorable vehicles spanning one end of the automotive spectrum to the other and I’ve loved many of them for an endless number of reasons. Some of them – the Porsche 911 Turbo S comes to mind – induced superlatives that in retrospect, sound more suitable for a porn site.
It’s hard to imagine anything more ridiculous than a 5,000 lb truck with a Viper engine stuffed beneath its bulbous hood, but the SRT Ram sounded like a horny Tyrannosaurus and was ludicrously fun to drive.
And despite it having the handling dynamics of a wheelbarrow and the output of a wheezy set of bellows, I just couldn’t wipe the grin off my face while driving a DeLorean.
But the one that sticks in mind for its sheer pinch-me-poignancy would have to be the 1970 Mercedes-Benz 300 SEL 6.8 AMG, a.k.a. “Die rote Sau”.
It was nearly five years ago and I’d travelled to Stuttgart, Germany – ostensibly to do a first drive story on the 2011 Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG. And while the big Merc fulfilled all expectations of being a superbly crafted über-powerful luxe-rocket capable of gobbling up mile after autobahn mile without ruffling a single hair of its well-heeled occupant’s heads – I’ve really only vague memories of driving it.
But the press conference beforehand provided me with one of the best experiences of my driving career yet.
Held on a landing strip in the middle of a cornfield near Stuttgart, the scene had a rather surreal “Field of Dreams” quality. Although we’re here to drive the new S63 – standing on a platform surrounded by a sea of green, waving fronds is a piece of automotive history – the 300 SEL 6.8 AMG otherwise known as “Die rote Sau”, which translates to “The Red Pig”.
It’s been my experience that the German car company types aren’t much for humour, so I wasn’t really expecting an answer when I pointed to the celebrated racer and said “Can we drive that?”
Surprisingly, the response was “Ja, you can drive it.”
1970 Mercedes-Benz 300 SEL 6.8 AMG. Click image to enlarge
The great-grandaddy of AMG, the car that started the entire legacy of Mercedes-Benz’s performance arm – and I’m actually going to have the chance to experience it from behind the wheel?
Well, as it turns out, not exactly.
Tragically, the Red Pig – after stunning the racing world by defeating sports cars a fraction of its size and weight in the 1971 24 Hours of Spa – was sold to an airplane manufacturer to test fighter jet landing gear.
Apparently the original vehicle, which should be enjoying its rightful place in the company’s museum among other priceless and historically significant vehicles – was sold to Matra, the French aircraft manufacturer. They then proceeded to cut a bloody great hole in its floorpan and the Red Pig spent its final days hurtling down runways, while tires were lowered from its belly to determine their ability to withstand the 200 mph contact with the tarmac.
Where it eventually ended up is, alas, unknown.