Who’d want a bloated land-yacht with monstrous performance and mini mpg? Not many, it turned out... Words Tony Middlehurst.
Modern Not Classic
Classic or not... We explore old car no man’s land
Ford has just unveiled the most powerful engine in its history, a 760bhp blown V8 that’s set to twang next year’s Mustang GT500 into a distant corner of hyperspace. OK. Let’s take that engine and shove it into an S-Max. Eh? You’re having a giraffe! That’s never going to happen.
Except that it did. Not at Ford, though. Even they’re not that bonkers. It happened At Mercedes-Benz in 2007, when the R63 AMG – the pinnacle of R-Class madness – rumbled horribly into M-B showrooms. OK, so strictly speaking the R63’s 507bhp 6.2-litre V8 (pinched from the C63/E63) wasn’t Benz’s most powerful engine at the time – the 1999 SL73 AMG’s R129 7.3-litre V12 trumped it by 10bhp – but an SL couldn’t carry seven people and all their luggage. An R63 AMG could.
‘AN ALL-WHEEL DRIVE MINIVAN THAT COULD DO 0-60 IN 4.6SEC’
But even in the wide, open spaces of America, where the R-Class was built alongside the M-Class and GL, the R63was a step too far. Mercedes-Benz was mad keen to boost its sporting credibility by absorbing AMG’s ‘naughty child’ bolt-on persona into The main fabric of the company, but no matter how many times M-B re-categorised the R-Class from ‘sports cruiser’ to ‘family tourer’ to ‘grand sports tourer’, the number of people looking for a 17ft-long, 2.4 tonne, fuel-guzzling, all-wheel drive minivan that could do the 0-60 in 4.6secwhile offering only average crash test protection and below-average looks turned out to be depressingly small in the US.
That buying parc was vanishingly small over here, where an R63 cost £74,000. Even in the model’s 2007 heyday there were nevermore than a dozen R63 AMGs running around in the UK. Well, we say ‘heyday’ – in fact, the R63was binned in the same year it came out, making it one of mainstream motoring’s shortest-lived creations, a proper metal mayfly. Today, just seven right-hand drive R63 AMGs exist. We managed to find one for sale – a 114,000-miler languishing in a Mansfield non-specialist dealer at a stiff £19,900. In its defence, the R63 AMG was smoother and more agile than you’d expect, as long as you had quite low expectations. There was no argument about the luxury of the pano-roofed, leather-clad experience, though. It was like a business jet on the road. Unfortunately jets aren’t that practical on roads. The one you were driving on had to be nearly as big as the sky if you didn’t want to spend much of your time sitting in rural passing places waving on oncoming traffic.
Trends move on, of course, and thanks to the general enbloatening of cars, what was gross in 2007 doesn’t seem half as ridiculous in 2019. Bearing that out is the fact that a couple of R-Class models were still being built in Indiana as recently as 2017 for the Chinese chauffeur market, a full five years after the entire R-Class range had died in the US and Europe. It wouldn’t be that much of a stretch to imagine a restyled, GT AMG 63 S-engined 630bhp R-Class on the 2020 Mercedes-Benz website. You might even choose one over that 760bhp S-Max.