Humble beginnings to performance powerhouse - Mercedes-Benz celebrates 25 years of its C36 AMG
This week marks a poignant date in the history of Mercedes-Benz and AMG - It was 25-years ago that the W202 C36 was revealed at the Frankfurt’s International Motor Show.
Back in 1993 AMG was not even a margin entry to Mercedes-Benz’s corporate balance sheet. Few people outside of Germany were aware of Affalterbach and its custom go-faster engineering upgrades for Mercedes models.
AMG still a top-seller
AMGs were a very rare encounter, almost unheard-of outside Germany – which is a nearly unbelievable scenario compared to today, where AMG sells more than 100 000 cars a year.
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C36 was the first authentic partnership between Mercedes-Benz and AMG. The parallel development of Mercedes-Benz’s W124 500E, the brand’s counter to BMW’s E34 M5, was entrusted to Porsche.
This bizarre design collaboration was perhaps in part due to Porsche’s skill-set and the location convenience of both Mercedes and Porsche being in Stuttgart - and no doubt AMG felt it had a point to prove.
With C36 it was a new departure for Mercedes-Benz’s four-door performance cars. AMG desired to show its competence as an engineering concern and Mercedes was desperate to rival BMW’s dominance of the German four-door performance car market.
Not a regulation W202
Although its styling was a subtle evolution of the C280 on which it was based, AMG’s C36 featured an array of technical upgrades. This was not merely a case of some distinguishing alloy wheels and a throatier exhaust.
AMG’s reputation for engine innovation is celebrated and there are traces of Affalterbach’s obsessive detail engineering all over C36. The C280’s six-cylinder was ignored as an engine option.
AMG preferring to use the W124 E320’s block, swelling capacity from 3.2- to 3.6-litres, with AMG’s engineers using some ingenious component swapping to make it bigger.
The C36’s crankshaft was taken off Mercedes-Benz’s 3.5-litre inline six commercial diesel engine, ensuring a deeper stroke, whilst the bore diameters were increased too.
Custom intakes, a special exhaust manifold, and reprogrammed engine management software harmonised the new engine to deliver 206kW and 385Nm. In 1993, those were very competitive numbers for a German compact four-door executive performance car.
AMG didn’t merely make C36 more powerful and faster than the C280, it also balanced the performance offering. The brakes and front axle were borrowed from the R129 SL600, whilst the rear wheel arrangement was taken off the W124 series E420 assembly line.
It was an amazing amalgamation of all the best components available in Mercedes-Benz’s early 1990s engineering parts-bin. It would be akin to a current-generation C63 AMG with SL600 air-suspension…
The start of everything bigger for AMG
As a performance benchmark, the C36 might only have had a conventional four-speed automatic transmission, but it was good for 0-100km/h in 5.9 seconds and a top speed of 250km/h.
Those numbers were good enough to make C36 a choice as F1’s safety car for the 1996 season, with one of the C36’s most underappreciated performance merits being its brakes: having originated from the much heavier SL600, they were excellent and provided fade-free stopping when applied to the AMG evolved C-Class.
The styling was conservative, for an AMG, but one of the most distinctive features was found inside, where C36 had a two-tone steering wheel, with the lower bit of its rim finished in contrasting ivory.
AMG’s original C36 is perhaps most symbolic as the original contract engineering venture between Affalterbach and Mercedes-Benz headquarters, one which would foster trust throughout the 1990s and eventually lead the amalgamation of AMG into the greater Stuttgart automotive organogram.
This week back in 1993, the debut of C36 was seen as an oddity. Twenty-five years later, AMG is a crucial profit entity for Mercedes-Benz.