It was the nineties and Mercedes was growing a little tired of watching BMW dominate the small sports sedan market with their M3, and as 1995 approached, the lederhosen in Merc HQ were beginning to get so bunched up that they were at risk of breaking. If only there was someone who had experience making Mercs go faster…
Luckily for Mercedes there was: two guys called Mr. Aufrecht and Mr. Melcher had set up a racing shop in Grossaspach called AMG, named after their surnames and their location, condemning them to spend the rest of eternity in Grossaspach. They had already demonstrated considerable talents when it came to tuning Benzes; after all, they were responsible for the 300CE 6.0 AMG, more commonly known by its nickname The Hammer – one of the most brutal and badass cars ever to come out of Germany. So, in 1990, Mercedes signed a cooperation agreement with AMG and told them to get moving on making their compact C Class sedan move faster.
What resulted was the first official Mercedes-AMG product, the C36. I recognise that this isn’t the most awe-inspiring design ever, but in my eyes, that just adds to its Q-car status. Don’t let the bodywork fool you, however, because under that calm and collected exterior is a bit of a beast. There was clearly a crazy sauce spill at the AMG factory because this little sedan has racing-tuned suspension, lowered by 25mm, and an inline 6 producing an M3-worrying 276 hp that was hand-built by one man. However, as these engines were constructed by German hands, power figures sometimes wandered upward, with some of them featuring as many as 287 ponies under the bonnet. That was only half the story though, with the C36 featuring a much bigger 3.6-litre engine than the BMW M3’s 3.0 litre, it produced a lot more torque at 385 Nm vs the BMW’s 320 Nm. 60mph was dispatched in 5.8 seconds – still quick by today’s standards – and in classic German fashion, top speed was limited to 155 mph, but unlimited they are said to reach a very respectable 169 mph. To top it all of they were fitted with some of the best-looking alloys ever fitted to an automobile and if you don’t agree I’m afraid you’re incorrect.
The C36 clearly threatened BMW, because for the ’96 model year the boys in Munich upgraded the M3 to have a bigger 3.2-litre engine which now made 317 hp and 350 Nm of torque. Not to be outdone, Mercedes set AMG to work again and released a new model in late 1997, the C43. Visually, not much changed with the new car, with probably the most radical differences being to the badge on the back. The cars look so similar in fact, that if you didn’t know what had happened underneath the exterior, you’d think Aufrecht and Melcher had sipped one too many steins and gone to sleep. But this couldn’t be further from the truth, because the folks at AMG don’t do anything by half measures. BMW had bored out their engine to make the M3 more powerful. AMG threw in an entirely new one and gave it two extra cylinders for good measure. That new engine was a hefty one too – a 4.3 litre V8 producing 306 hp and a whopping 410 Nm of torque. Unlike the C36, which was sent to AMG as a fully completed C280 that then got stripped down for tuning, the C43 was the first AMG to be completely assembled at the Mercedes factory after the acquisition of AMG by Daimler-Benz in 1998. Aside from the power-plant, the biggest difference between the C43 and the C36 is that the C43 was available in estate form, meaning you, your kinders, and as many German shepherds as you could squeeze in the boot could now reach 155mph together.
If you’ve now decided that you’d like a part of the AMG strüdel, then it may sadden you to hear that during the production run, only 5221 C36s and 3,085 C43s were built worldwide making them about as rare as they are dull to look at, apart from the wheels of course. Despite that, however, these stealthy sedans can be had for reasonable money, and with £10k in your pocket, you could bag a pretty nice C36, while clean C43s are a little dearer at around £15k for a relatively pristine one. Whichever you choose, you’ll certainly have a good time as although these cars look about as exciting as Angela Merkel, they certainly move much faster.