The Mercedes-Benz 500 SL AMG 5.0 was to be a marriage made in heaven: a joining together of a Mercedes-Benz 500 SL with the best that the mavens at AMG could build into it.
It was a Mercedes-Benz aficionado’s car, rare, rebuilt with great attention to detail, with quality control beyond reproach.
Fast Facts – The Mercedes 500 SL AMG 5.0
- German performance car tuning company AMG began in 1967 specializing as a racing car engine forge.
- In 1976 the company expanded their business into creating performance modifications for selected Mercedes-Benz cars. This required a new workshop to be set up in the town of Affalterbach.
- AMG’s modified cars were originally brought into the United States as “gray imports” and there were a small number of dealers who took on this business, one of which was Classic Motors, near Chicago which was run by Richard Buxbaum.
- Richard Buxbaum was instrumental in promoting AMG to dealers across the USA.
- The AMG Mercedes 500 SL featured in this post was the first of eight AMG 500 SL handled by Classic Motors.
The Origins Of AMG
Whilst nowadays the name AMG is well known to people familiar with Mercedes-Benz, back in the 1970’s and 1980’s it was mostly unknown. This is not surprising because AMG was not founded until 1967.
It was begun by two engineers; Hans Werner Aufrecht and Erhard Melcher, specifically as a racing car engine forge. So if you were not a motorsport aficionado you were unlikely to have encountered the fledgling company.
‘AMG’ stands for Aufrecht, Melcher und Großaspach and was originally established in the town of Burgstall an der Murr, which is near Stuttgart where Mercedes-Benz were based, and subsequently in 1976 they expanded the business to a second factory in Affalterbach.
It was AMG’s intention in adding a second workshop to their business to move into becoming a tuning and custom modification business specializing in the creation of high performance Mercedes-Benz cars. So they continued their work on custom racing engines in the Burgstall an der Murr facility while launching their custom road car performance shop in Affalterbach.
The first Mercedes-Benz cars AMG began offering modification packages for were the 1971–1989 Mercedes-Benz SL roadster (R107) and SLS coupé (C107), the 1972–1980 S-class (W116), and the W123 series that was the predecessor of the “E Class.”
A working relationship between AMG and Mercedes-Benz was progressively established over a period of years culminating in the two companies signing a contract of cooperation in 1993 which gave AMG access to the extensive Mercedes-Benz dealer network.
Subsequently in 1999 Mercedes acquired a 51% share in the AMG car modification business and renamed it Mercedes-AMG GmbH, while the racing car engine development business continued separate from Mercedes and was renamed HWA.
The Mercedes-Benz 500 SL AMG 5.0
The Mercedes-Benz SL (R107) and SLS (C107) were originally designed not only for the European market but with North America very much in mind. The US market was one in which there were many wealthy customers and so Mercedes designed and manufactured cars specifically tailored to that market, while cars for Europe and other parts of the world were similarly tailored to those markets.
The conventional wisdom as to the differences between models for Europe and the US were based on local research as to what customers were looking for, and knowledge of the relevant regulations that vehicles had to comply with in order to be sold in each country. For example, for American customers it was believed that a softer suspension with an emphasis on ride quality and comfort would be preferred whilst for Europe a firmer suspension giving improved handling was what customers tended to want.
That being said, not every customer in the United States was looking for a car with a nice comfy ride and automatic transmission. There were of course Americans who wanted their Mercedes-Benz to handle well, possess lots of power and torque, and have a quality manual gearbox: the things that combine to turn an ordinary car into a “driver’s car.”
To provide for clients seeking the Mercedes-Benz that would be the driver’s car of their dreams various dealers around the United States got involved in “gray imports,” bringing into the US cars modified by AMG in Germany, and one of the most famous of these was Classic Motors, located in the outer suburbs of Chicago, and run by a man named Richard Buxbaum.
Richard Buxbaum was a man who recognized the appeal of the products coming from AMG, and their technological excellence. He played a significant role in promoting AMG in the United States, pioneering AMG’s brand name among a select group of dealers and customers who could afford AMG’s beautiful but expensive creations.
The standard R107 roadster and C107 coupé models made for the US market were fitted with four round “sealed beam” headlights, and protruding bumpers to comply with the 5 mph impact rule, that required a car’s bumper to withstand up to a 5 mph impact without damage. the R107 featured a convertible soft top with the option of also having the car fitted with a removable steel roof. The C107 coupé featured a fixed non-removable roof.
Cars for Europe and the rest of the world featured rectangular headlights, more aesthetic form fitting bumpers, and were not hamstrung by the emissions control systems mandated for US market vehicles.
The gray market AMG Mercedes-Benz cars brought into the United States were European specification with the Europe style headlights and bumpers.
One of these cars was a black with Palomino leather interior Mercedes-Benz 500 SL (R107) fitted with a five litre V8 engine and a five speed Getrag full synchromesh close ratio gearbox. Like all the AMG special order cars this one was made to the customer’s specifications, that customer being Jay Levitt of Naples, Florida.
The standard European specification 500 SL V8 was first delivered from the Mercedes-Benz factory to the AMG workshop in Affalterbach, and the brand new car given the AMG treatment before sending the complete AMG modified car to Classic Motors in Chicago, from where it was delivered to its new owner.
The AMG treatment given to this car – the first of eight imported into the US by Classic Motors – began with fitting ported and polished cylinder heads complete with solid intake valve lifters. The new camshafts were made by AMG to their specifications, and the car was fitted with a re-modeled air-intake assembly and custom exhaust system.
Thus equipped the Mercedes AMG V8 churned out 276 hp and enabled the AMG modifed car to reach 155 mph.
The car rode on fully independent suspension front and rear; with upper and lower wishbones, coil springs with additional rubber springs, and stabilising bar at the front, and diagonal swing axle, with coil springs, and stabilizing bar at the rear.
This AMG 500 SL was thoroughly thought through underneath also with a limited slip differential taking the power from the Getrag gearbox to the rear wheels. The “Bilstein for AMG” suspension package was installed for front and rear while the brakes were servo assisted discs all around; 278 mm (11 inch) front, and 279 mm (11 inch) rear.
This AMG 500 SL was not ordered with ABS which may have been an oversight or may have been intentional. We need to remember that ABS was new technology at that time and performance drivers, especially those with race track experience, sometimes prefer their braking system not to have ABS fitted. That being said, the owner Jay Levitt, had ABS brakes fitted to the AMG Mercedes he purchased when he later traded this car in.
Steering was by a recirculating ball system with servo assist. The car’s connection with the bitumen was completed by color-matched 16 inch BBS alloy wheels fitted with Kumho tyres.
The interior of this 500 SL AMG is done in Palomino tan leather and features Recaro Ideal driver and passenger seats, and the 2+2 bench for the rear for occasional passengers. The interior decor is complimented with rich zebrano wood trim and as a finishing touch the speedometer follows AMG tradition and goes all the way up to 300 km/hr.
This car is coming up for sale by RM Sotheby’s at their Miami auction to be held on December 10, 2022. You will find the sale page with more details here.
All photographs courtesy Ahmed Qadri-Pixelhaus Media via RM Sotheby’s
Jon Branch has written countless official automobile Buying Guides for eBay Motors over the years, he’s also written for Hagerty, he’s a long time contributor to Silodrome and the official SSAA Magazine, and he’s the founder and senior editor of Revivaler.
Jon has done radio, television, magazine, and newspaper interviews on various issues, and has traveled extensively, having lived in Britain, Australia, China, and Hong Kong. The fastest thing he’s ever driven was a Bolwell Nagari, the slowest was a Caterpillar D9, and the most challenging was a 1950’s MAN semi-trailer with unexpected brake failure.