Feature test drive what’s inside the black magic box 1987? No soft centres, that’s for sure. How does 5.6 litres and 360 bhp sound… David Vivian opens it up. As a rule, the ribbon of heat-sensitive metallised paper spewed out by our Peiseler fifth-wheel printer isn’t a very cherish-able commodity. Once the relevant figures have been extracted, it’s usually a one-way trip to the dark and dusty recesses of a manilla wallet file, probably never to see the light of day again.
There are two little rolls of the stuff, however, that I keep in a safe place. One rushed out of the printer so rapidly that we feared for the well-being of the dot-matrix printing mechanism. In the event it survived to record the following: 0-60 mph – 2.7 sec. The car to which this little piece of history can be attributed is the phenomenal 570 bhp 4wd X-Trac Escort driven by John Welch: quite simply, the fastest-accelerating car Motor has ever tested. The tape is dog-eared now, but it still gets shown to disbelievers.
The other is relatively pristine, the digits a little crisper. The important ones are these: 0-30 mph – 1.5 sec, 0-60 mph – 5.0 sec, 0-100 mph – 12.6 sec, 120 mph – 18.3 sec. Standing start statistics for road cars don’t come much better than these. A Ferrari Testarossa, for instance, trails by 0.8 sec to 60 mph, 0.1 sec to 100 mph and 0.2 sec to 120 mph. A Porsche 911 Turbo 930 is 0.8 sec behind at the 120 mph marker. Look at it another way. This car reaches 130 mph in 22.2 sec – the sort of time in which a top-league fast hatch would struggle to reach 100 mph. Standing quarter mile? A 13.3 sec sprint beats the Ferrari’s 14.2 sec and the Porsche’s 13.4 sec.
But the most startling thing on the tape is scrawled on the top in black felt-tip. It reads “AMG 560E”. An AMG 560E, for those of you who don’t know, has four seats and four doors. It also has four forward speeds, all of them automatic. That tape is special. It’s the record of the most rapid automatic – with the exception of a 1000 bhp T-bucket dragster called Andromeda – that has ever passed through our hands.
1987 Mercedes-Benz 560E AMG W124
You may remember that in November we tested AMG’s 320E – a Mercedes-Benz 300E W124 with a Rambo injection – courtesy of the famed German tuners and body kit specialists. That car had an expanded (3208 cc) version of the standard model’s sohc straight-six with gas- flowed cylinder head and manifolds, a high-lift cam, a twin-pipe exhaust system and an additional 57 horses giving a total of 245. Hot stuff in the light and slippery 300-series body – even with AMG spoilers and skirts, enough to crack 60 mph when you start to consider the double-vindaloo-with-extra-chilli 560E.
This car is to shoe-horning what Cyril Smith is to Levis 501 s. You have to look to America back in the ’Sixties to unearth a more severe exposition of the muscle car principle. In this case, the silky 190 bhp 3-litre straight-six is dumped altogether to make way for Mercedes’ big-gun 5.6-litre V8, an engine which even in standard form pushes the Stuttgart company’s 560 SEC C126 flagship to a top speed in excess of 150 mph. Quite powerful enough, you night suppose, to convert Mr Pirelli s most expensive rubber into swirling mist, the like of which hasn’t been the Plague. But the people at AMG don’t quite see it that way.
They see the big V8 with four high-lift cams, four valves per cylinder, a 9.8:1 compression ratio and 360 bhp at 5500 rpm (the standard unit develops 299 bhp), and that’s the way they build it. Maximum torque is a stump-pulling 358 lb ft at 4000 rpm. The only trouble is that the engine doesn’t naturally fit. Stratton, sole agents for AMG in the UK, have to completely rework the bulkhead and engine bay, making countless sheet metal changes. This is one of the reasons that even if you start off with a 230E, as Stratton did, the total bill for the 560E won’t be far short of £55,000. That said, the conversion does include a long-striding 2.24:1 final drive, a Gleason Torsen differential, a suspension kit with shorter coil springs and Bilstein dampers, 8×17 in alloy wheels wearing ultra low-profile 215/45 and 235/45 Pirelli DT88s front and rear, and a mild spoiler and skirt body kit.
That 2.24 final drive is significant – it gives 29.5 mph/1000 rpm in top and a top speed, according to the AMG catalogue, of around 180 mph. Stratton don’t believe that and neither do we, but consider this: the 560E lapped Millbrook’s highspeed bowl at an average of 162.7 mph with a best quarter of 164.0 mph, and that was on the second lap. The third lap didn’t happen for fear of the tyres giving out – a not unreasonable precaution at a speed higher than any car we’ve tested has achieved round the Millbrook bowl.
More admirable still, the 560E W124 delivers its mighty performance with a complete lack of temperament or fuss. Its mid-range slam is almost paralysingly savage – a sensation of gathering pace that makes even the Porsche 911 Turbo’s 930 exponential thrust seem tame, cushioned. Yet, at the same time, the Mercedes’ performance delivery is seductively silk-gloved, the engine hauling cleanly and evenly from as little as 2000 rpm. From 3500 rpm, the hollow, bellowing V8 exhaust note takes on a harder, more rasping edge as the engine climbs on to its four cams, then yowls remorselessly all the way to the 6500 rpm change-up point. A genuine 140 mph can be held with a sense of ease only the most rapid of supercars possess. Going for it sees peak-rev shifts at 48mph, 73mph and 123mph, the tautly set-up auto power- shifting like an Indy racer.
Dynamically, the 560E is both forgiving and masterful. Most of the traditional handling short-comings of its exotic mid-engined rivals – strong under-steer in tight turns, snap over-steer on lift-off – don’t apply here. The 560E turns in with agility and precision yet is blessed with superb balance, staying neutral for far longer than anyone would have any right to expect. Yet the tail can be powered out in a progressive and easily held or corrected manner. In steady state cornering on perfectly dry tarmac, the sheer bite of the supersquat P700s is virtually impossible to overcome. Vices are few – a mild tendency to follow cambers and white line: small chinks in the Mercedes’s all-but impregnable heavy-duty armour. Certainly, the 560E’s massive all-round ventilated discs are beyond criticism, capable of hauling the car to a standstill from three- figure velocities time after time without any signs of fading.
The 560E W124, then, is driving satisfaction personified. But has the Mercedes’ essentially suave character been ruined in AMG’s quest for Porsche and Ferrari domination? The original 230E W124 seats – yet to be supplanted by something more suitable in Stratton’s evolving demonstrator – are well-shaped and comfortable, but not really up to providing the sort of specific support needed in a car capable of generating such relentless acceleration, braking and cornering forces. And despite the extensive use of glossy black wood cappings, the rest of the cabin is surprisingly standard.
A firm yet supple ride with closely controlled high-speed damping is more good news, though the suspension and tyres thump and rumble over ridges and rough surfaces with uncompromising disapproval. Wind noise is adequately sup-pressed, however, and if the engine gets loud when worked hard, the quality of its vocalisations can hardly warrant any-thing but indulgence.
The 560E’s instruments feature no additional gauges to monitor the activities under the bonnet, but the display is more than adequate with large, clearly marked dials under a single, reflection-free glass. The rest of the cabin is a business-like, nofrills affair in the clinical Mercedes tradition and the overall effect, while failing to arouse any strong feelings, at least prompts the usual respect for Swabian efficiency. AMG, of course, can change all that with appropriate injections of cash, good taste guaranteed. The 560E’s fuel consumption isn’t so much surprising as shocking: 17.4 mpg for a large automatic saloon capable of outdragging a Porsche 911 Turbo 930 almost defies belief but speaks volumes for the efficiency of the W124 body’s shape and the innate benefits of a huge power/weight ratio plus long gearing.
After experiencing the 560E, there is only one reasonable conclusion. There is nothing, repeat nothing, to compare with the kick of driving a big, mean V8 in a light, fat-tyred saloon. For all its sophistication, subtlety and lavish engineering, the 560E is the Hemi-Cuda re-born. But just a final word to any Hemi- Cuda owners out there. If you come across a black W124 hugging the tarmac, rocking gently from side to side and bearing the number plate “1 AMG”, do yourself a favour and leave it well alone. You can tell your friends its driver chickened out.
Cuda owners out there. If you come across a black W124 hugging the tarmac, rocking gently from side to side and bearing the number plate “1 AMG”, do yourself a favour and leave it well alone. You can tell your friends its driver chickened out.
Drive-My 124-series Mercedes-Benz Club
The AMG 560E is available from Strattons (Wilmslow) Ltd, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire SK9 5BQ. Tel: 0625 532806.
Overall 1987 price depends on the base car, but the conversion costs are as follows:
5.6-litre, quad-cam, 32-valve V8 – £25,000
Body kit – £1496
Wheels and tyres – £2710
Suspension kit – £776
Blackwood – £750
Sports exhaust system – £816
Gleason Torsen differential £2000 Colour-coded radiator grille – £100
“560E” boot badge – £23
Total plus VAT – £38,919.45
|MAXIMUM SPEED MPH||162.7||155 est||160.1||140 est|
|ACCELERATION FROM REST||AMG 560E W124||560 SEC C126||Porsche 930 Turbo||Alpina BMW В9 E24|