Brabus has been churning out monstrous Mercs for more than four decades. Buckle up for a ride through the tuner’s greatest hits! Words Richard Gooding. Photography Various.
THE BEASTS FROM BOTTRUP
In the same way RUF has become recognised as the first name in classic Porsche tuning, Brabus is a name synonymous with modified Mercs. The guys and girls in Bottrop have spent the past forty years created mean machines combining brawn and luxury, be they Smart, Maybach or Benz-badged beasts.
The Brabus story began in 1977. Petrolhead, Bodo Buschmann, wanted to extract trapped ponies from the cars in his father’s Mercedes dealership, but he quickly discovered each of the tuners he approached was unable to satisfy his demands. He bought a Porsche to play with instead, but disapproval from Buschmann Snr (it simply wasn’t acceptable for the son of a Mercedes merchant to be driving a model produced by a rival manufacturer!) soon saw the air-cooled car make way for a W116. Neither as athletic or as stirring as his Zuffenhausen sports coupe, Bodo set about modifying the S-Class to match the pace of his Porsche. Visitors to his father’s dealership took notice of what the youngster was working on and enquired about the possibility of similar upgrades for their own Mercs. The seeds were sown.
German law dictated Bodo needed a business partner if he wanted to turn his increasingly popular activities into a company. His university chum, Klaus Brackmann, agreed to get involved. Before long, Brabus was established. In truth, Klaus had little interest in automotive tuning and sold his share of the business to Bodo for the equivalent of €100 a short while after the legal paperwork was done and dusted. His contribution to ensuring Bodo’s vision was to be become a reality, however, shouldn’t be overlooked.
The W126 S-Class became the Brabus brot and butter, yet owners found themselves wanting similar treatment for their other Mercs too. This diversification suited Bodo’s plans perfectly, affording him an ever-broadening base of models to play with. It wasn’t long before Benz buffs all over Germany heard about the work Brabus was producing. In fact, the firm’s reputation spread worldwide, leading to the arrival of customers from the United Arab Emirates as the 1980s drew near. Brabus became a hit in the Middle East thereafter, an unexpected trend which would go on to necessitate the expansion of Bodo’s Kirchhellener Straße premises to some 112,000m2.
The first Brabus multimedia system found its way into a Mercedes in 1982, signalling the company’s evolution into a concern capable of more than tweaking engines and chassis equipment. Within two years, a new research and development department was opened to help create more varied and more extreme tuning programmes. Bodo moved the company away from S-Class fettling, instead directing his team to concentrate their efforts on playing with the then-new W201 platform. Consequently, in 1984, the Brabus 190E V8 packed a 276bhp punch with 317lb/ft torque from its S-Class sourced eight-pot engine. The power figures produced by the massively modified Merc eclipsed those of the Cosworth-tuned 2.3-16 (seen on page twenty-two of this issue of Mercedes Driver) by a significant margin. This was significant for a number of reasons, not least of all the fact Mercedes factory bosses were promoting the 2.3-16 as being the fastest manufacturer-built W201 of the day.
GOING TO EXTREMES
What were the 1980s if not a decade of excess?! Exuberance and extravagance have long been Brabus hallmarks. Early, extreme and experimentation are other words beginning with the letter ‘e’ which can be attributed to the efforts of the boys from Bottrup. As if to prove the point, the C43 AMG of 1997 may have been the first official big-power mid-sized Mercedes, but the Brabus 190E V8 beat it to market by a massive thirteen years! For those who found Bodo’s wild W201 a tad excessive, the lightweight 3.6S with its twelve-valve, 268bhp version of the M103 straight-six from the W124 line-up arrived in 1988. Thanks to a rear seat delete, a lack of air-conditioning and the removal of heavy sound-deadening material, the new car managed the 0-60mph dash in 6.3 seconds when fitted with the optional ‘short sprint’ rear differential. A recorded top speed of 177mph set the standard, but if the 3.6S still wasn’t quick enough for you, the 282bhp, 24-valve, 3.6-24 released a year later knocked a full half-second of the 3.6S’s sprint time. Crikey!
In a ludicrous-yet-effective marketing masterstroke, rental company, Sixt, ordered two-hundred Brabus-tuned 190Es in a deal which spawned more loyal customers to Bodo’s everenlarging empire. Success enabled him to continue experimenting, as proved by the Brabus-optimised W124 and its record-breaking drag-coefficient of just 0.26 Cd. It was, however, the release of Brabus-enhanced V12 engines in 1992 which catapulted Bodo’s company into the big league. Boasting 6.9-litres of displacement and an output of 501bhp with 517lb/ft of tarmac-twisting torque, the ground-breaking powerplants turned the W124 500E into a monster. Even so, Bodo wasn’t done yet. Engine size rose to 7.3-litres in 1996, enabling the 574bhp W210-based E V12 7.3S to hit 205mph. And that was with a speed limiter in place! Needless to say, the car was rated as the world’s fastest saloon, leading to the engine being used in the load-lugging T V12 estate and the mudplugging ML-based M V12, crowning each vehicle the quickest in their class.
If the V12 wouldn’t fit, Brabus shoehorned its 6.5-litre V8 into engine bays instead. Bodo didn’t have it all his own way, though. Until AMG was swallowed up by Daimler in 1999, the Affalterbach tuning house was his biggest competition on the Mercedes tuning scene. He recognised AMG’s assimilation as the perfect excuse for Brabus create even more extreme vehicles and expanded the company’s workshops accordingly, earning it the accolade of being the world’s largest vehicle tuning outfit by a significant margin.
An official joint venture with Daimler-owned Smart resulted in the creation of Smart-Brabus GmbH in 2002. The 214bhp V6-powered BiTurbo Roadster Coupe was a highlight of the venture, while in 2005, Brabus engineers added to their Guinness World Record trophy tally when the E V12 shot into the saloon top speed record books by recording 217mph at Nardo. Even this achievement was overshadowed by what is arguably Brabus’ most famous creation: the CLS-based Rocket of 2006. Returning to the Italian high-speed test track, Bodo watched the 6.2-litre, 724bhp, twin-turbocharged M275 V12 four-door fastback achieve an intergalactic 227mph. Loaded with 973lb/ft torque, the car became a beacon for Brabus tuning the world over.
THE WILD BUNCH
Coveted ‘B’ badges have since been found on equally as formidable freaks, such as the 907lb/ft Unimog U500 Black Edition, the 660bhp Brabus- Mercedes-McLaren SLR, the 720bhp AMG-badged C63-based BiTurbo V12 Bullit, the SLS 700 BiTurbo and, perhaps the ultimate Bottrop behemoth, the G63-based G700 6x6. A brutish 704bhp six-wheeler weighing in at 3.8-tonnes, the monster Merc can reach 60mph in just 4.4 seconds. Beautifully and bonkersly Brabus!
Bodo’s early creations focused on combining affluence and dynamism, qualities the company still holds dear. Sadly, he passed away in April this year at just sixty-two years of age. Undoubtedly, his legacy lives on; the monstrously delicious fusion of pace, opulence and class put Brabus creations in a league of their own. The company’s workforce comprises more than 450 employees spread across five sites producing hand-built cars (each supplied with a three-year warranty). There are Brabus dealerships in over a hundred countries, and it’s not just executive saloons and low-slung sports cars which get the Brabus treatment. Got an A-Class or Vaneo? No problem. Brabus can cater for you too!
WORDS TO LIVE BY
Bodo’s motto of “never work for money, work for passion” is underscored by the determination of his son, Constantin, who now finds himself at the helm of Brabus, a company recognised by the German Federal Motor Transport Authority as being a vehicle manufacturer in its own right. Brabus has always made dream machines for individuals who crave high quality cars with blistering performance and lashings of luxury, and just like the past four decades it has spent under Bodo’s control, the firm shows no signs of slowing down. Here’s to the next forty years of Brabus brilliance!
Left and below Brabus is a name derived from the first three letters of its founding partners' surnames: Brackmann and Buschmann.
Facing page Humble origins led to rapid expansion. Above In addition to customising new Mercedes cars, Brabus can tweak and tune older models.
Above Today, Brabus is a massive business spanning many different workshops and showrooms at its Bottrup base Facing page Bodo's intention was to add "power and refinement" to Mercedes products, be they fast-road racer, comfortable cruiser or hardcore utility vehicle.
Left Joint venture with Smart resulted in the creation of Smart-Brabus GmbH and the 214bhp V6 Biturbo Roadster.
Right If four wheels isn't enough for you, perhaps you should think about buying the insane 704bhp Brabus G700?!
Old, but gold
In addition to its line of infotainment systems and bespoke interior solutions for brand new production cars, Brabus seized upon the 'retro trend' by addng classic Mercedes models to the list of cars the company caters for. Brabus Classic renovates vintage Mercs from the ground-up. Recent projects have included Gullwings, Pagodas, W186 300s and W111s, each emerging from the Brabus Classic workshop with a certificate of authenticity and a manufacturer-style three-year warranty.
Above No matter your taste, Brabus can deliver any style, any way you want it.
Left Bodo is credited with creating some of the world's most outrageously powerful Mercedes-Benz vehicles.
It's not just Mercs and Maybachs enjoying the Brabus treatment. Diversification is the name of the game, a theme expemplified by the B-badged Teslas rolling out of Bottrop! Both the Model S and Roadster can be given a Brabus makeover. In a surprising move, Bodo's company was appointed official tuning partner of Bugatti in 1994. Two EB110 SSs were built, but much like Brabus Teslas, development work was mainly focused on cosmetic upgrades. In 1999, the Startech subsidiary was created, serviing owners of Bentleys.