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Mercedes opens AMG factory doors

Signed and sealed: A highly trained AMG technician proudly puts his name to four hours of work, and another high-performance engine is ready to go.

GoAuto peeks inside the top-secret Mercedes-AMG power palace

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Mercedes-Benz logo22 Jul 2015

By DANIEL GARDNER in AFFALTERBACH

ANYONE who appreciates high-quality and high-performance European cars will be familiar with the letters AMG.

Whether they are attached to the boot of the diminutive but potent A45 hatchback, or sitting amid the carbon-fibre and gold-anodised aluminium of the 537kW Pagani Huayra V12 engine, they mean the same – performance without compromise.

But have you ever stopped to think where the AMG magic comes from? Nestled in the green fields of Germany's countryside near Stuttgart is an unassuming gathering of buildings that hide eye-opening automotive secrets, not normally revealed to anyone outside the Mercedes family.

GoAuto was given an opportunity to take a look around the AMG performance Mecca in Affalterbach to see how the team of designers and engineers create the AMG magic, starting with a walk through one of the main service and development workshops.

Every bay was filled with something to get any petrol head’s mouth watering, from an SL65 AMG Black wearing Monaco plates, through to the mighty G63 AMG 6x6, an S-Class that had been converted into a wagon for one of the world’s wealthiest people, and a covered vehicle that looked suspiciously like the as yet unseen C63 Coupe.

One bay had its specially installed curtains drawn around like a hospital ward bed, concealing whatever mysterious and secret vehicle lay within from our prying eyes. All the time, immaculately clean engineers busied themselves around us with intriguing purpose.

With battle-scarred body panels hanging from the walls sporting the signatures of their drivers, the workshops are part museum and part performance playground.

We were particularly taken by a previous-generation C63 sedan which had a full race roll cage and four retrofitted racing bucket seats, for showing lucky passengers just what an AMG road car can do when it isn't on the road.

Next we were lead to the engine test wing where a 4.0-litre V8 was undergoing rigorous analysis in the fully insulated cell. As the twin-turbo was put under maximum load, the engineers lowered the lights so we could witness the entire exhaust system glow sunset orange all the way to the tailpipes.

When it comes to its road cars, AMG is not known for its focus on sustainability, so it was interesting to note that the heat energy generated when testing engines is used to warm the buildings in cooler months.

The V8 engine which powers the C63 sedan and AMG GT sportscar underwent 500 hours of duration testing on the rig, of which 90 per cent was at full throttle and under full load. Reliability is as important as performance says the company.

After the testing centre we were given the opportunity to see where the AMG engines are put together by “one man”.

Actually, since the motto “one man, one engine” was introduced, seven female engineers have been employed to build the high-performance motors at AMG. The final stage of the engine building concludes with the single technician responsible for it applying a plaque with their signature on the cover. The AMG engineers quite literally put their name to their work.

On display at the entrance to the room is an example of every technician’s plaque, totalling approximately 170.

Flanking the identities is an example of every engine manufactured in the surprisingly quiet room. We were immediately drawn to the Pagani Huayra, Zonda and McLaren SLR powerplants, which represent amongst the most powerful motors produced to date at the plant.

But alongside the monstrous forced-induction V8s and V12s was a more humble engine with just as much company importance. The affectionately named Hammer 5.6-litre V8 may be nearly 30 years old and the oldest engine on display, but it still managed a hearty 270kW.

Each engine starts life on an individual mobile construction rig and is slowly guided through the various stages. Progress to the next stage is halted by a computer logging system if any element is not completed, including a correct bolt-tightening sequence or even the fitting of a clip.

Every stage is performed by hand, except the application of some gasket sealing materials which can me more accurately and consistently carried out by a robot, resulting in an eerily quiet environment.

Assembling the ultra-precise pistons and con-rods can only be performed in natural daylight says AMG, so the room where the main engine components are paired is on the outside of the building and has large glass windows overlooking the surrounding countryside.

The con-rod and bearing cap cannot be made accurately enough as two separate parts so the whole component is forged as one piece, and then the end-cap is actually broken off ensuring the mating face matches up perfectly.

During our visit, the team were constructing the company’s mighty V12 which takes about 4 hours to complete from start to finish, with the plant turning out 30 engines per day.

If one of the highly skilled technicians is sick and unable to come to work, their partly completed engine is wheeled out of the production line and stored until they can return and finish it. Surprisingly though, a factory spokesperson said that from one year to the next, sick days can usually be counted on one hand, such is the loyalty and pride of the team.

Jumping behind the wheel is just one way to appreciate the visceral performance and sound of an AMG vehicle, but after visiting their birthplace we have a renewed appreciation for the brand.

The theatre and performance that is included in the price of each AMG doesn't just lie in the layers of steel, leather and carbon-fibre, the AMG magic comes all the way from Affalterbach.

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