INDIANAPOLIS - In theory, the 2001 Mercedes-Benz CLK55 AMG is a German hot rod. In fact, it's the fastest production car Mercedes has sold on our shores.
What's an AMG? It's the performance label given to Mercedes-Benz models that are modified by its in-house tuner, Mercedes-AMG. The CLK55 AMG is the latest in a string of AMG-badged products Mercedes offers in the expanding low-volume, high-performance luxury market that Audi, BMW and a handful of other makes are targeting.
The name AMG has been linked to Mercedes-Benz for more than three decades. But it wasn't until 1999 that AMG became a part of DaimlerChrysler, when the company bought a majority stake in AMG.
The AMG name comes from the German racing shop Hans-Werner Aufrecht and Erhard Melcher founded in 1967. The A and M in AMG are the first letters of their last names, and the G comes from the city in which the shop was located, Grossaspach.
Since its early days, AMG has been involved in racing Mercedes-Benz products. For many of those years, AMG has been modifying and marketing a limited number of high-performance Mercedes-Benz models in Europe and the United States.
The 2001 CLK55 AMG, which went on sale in late September, is based on the CLK320 and CLK430. It is interwoven with a combination of cutting-edge technology and old-fashioned craftsmanship. That includes a hand-built V-8 from the Mercedes-AMG engine shop.
'The type of people who are assembling these vehicles are our top flight technicians ... some of our best engine builders. They are the best we have, period,' said Rob Allan, AMG manager at Mercedes-Benz USA Inc., who spoke at a press event for the new car.
Mercedes-AMG takes the Mercedes twin-spark, three-valves-per-cylinder, 5.0-liter V-8 and bores it out to 5.5 liters. Among the changes: The stroke is increased 8 millimeters to 92 millimeters; an enlarged magnesium dual-resonance intake manifold is added; and the crankshaft, connecting rods and pistons are matched, balanced and forged.
In addition, the Mercedes-AMG 5.5-liter V-8 uses an AMG-designed, pressure-cast aluminum cylinder block. It adds cast-in silicon-aluminum cylinder sleeves and low-friction surfaces that allow a 50 percent reduction in piston-ring tension.
The result is an engine that punches out 342 hp at 5,500 rpm and 376 pounds-feet of torque between 3,000 rpm and 4,300 rpm.
TOP SPEED: 155 MPH
The engine is mated to the five-speed automatic transmission that comes from Mercedes' V-12 models. The transmission is built to handle a high amount of torque and also offer the driver the option of manually shifting the gears. According to Mercedes, the end result is 0-60 mph acceleration in 4.9 seconds and a 13.32-second quarter mile at 109.8 mph. The top speed is 155 mph.
Other modifications include the addition of racing-derived brakes, higher rate springs, tighter shock valving, thicker stabilizer bars and stiffer suspension bushings. Electronic stability control, antilock brakes and brake assist, which can reduce braking distance in panic stops, are standard.
The automaker expects to sell 1,000 CLK55 AMG models in the United States during the 2001 model year. Most of the cars are sold or pre-sold, Allan said. The sticker price is $68,045, including $645 for transportation.
The CLK320 coupe starts at $42,595, including freight; the CLK430 coupe begins at $50,295.
The 2001 CLK55 AMG is one of seven AMG models marketed here by Mercedes-Benz. (See list at left.)
Worldwide sales volume for AMG is small, around 10,000 units this calendar year. In 1999, with just two models, Mercedes-Benz USA sold 1,683 AMG-modified vehicles, and this year, with the expanded AMG product line, the company expects about 3,000 sales.
Allan said many of the people buying an AMG product have owned as many as four Mercedes-Benz vehicles, and a few already own an AMG product. Even though other luxury automakers are offering performance models, such as the Audi S and the BMW M series, Allan says he's not concerned about Mercedes loyalists straying.
'To jump from an AMG version to another version of another car is almost like jumping family lines,' he said. 'It would be a giant leap of faith for these people. AMG people are total enthusiasts for Mercedes. They are aficionados.'
But he added, 'AMG is not sleeping.'