With entrepreneurial courage and power of innovation, they created a global brand: AMG! An encounter with two legends.
Hans Werner Aufrecht and Erhard Melcher are two of the most extraordinary men in the history of the automobile, and of racing in particular. Two living legends who have been an ingenious duo for many years: in 1967, in a double garage under Aufrecht’s house, they jointly founded a company which rose to fame four years later (almost exactly 50 years ago) with the spectacular class victory of the red racing car (AMG 300 SEL 6.8) in the Spa 24-hour race: AMG!
Right on time at 12 noon, the Swabian-born co-founder Hans Werner Aufrecht is ready to be collected in the foyer of his current company HWA AG (with around 300 employees), based in Affalterbach. HWA, a direct neighbour of Mercedes-AMG, has a name that resounds on the touring car and GT racing circuits. Nobody has won more championships. For Mercedes-Benz, this company, which also develops alternative drive systems, ushered in the Formula E era. Hans Werner Aufrecht has added lustre to the three-pointed star for many decades.
The AMG co-founder has no idea what awaits him today. “I’ll leave that up to you”, says the straight-talking 81-year-old. What he doesn’t know is that we are taking him to meet the other co-founder, Erhard Melcher. We are taking Aufrecht there in a powerful saloon that caused quite a sensation when it first appeared, the rare examples of which have long fetched high six-figure sums amongst collectors: The "Hammer", one of Aufrecht's favourite models in the entire history of AMG. At the wheel of the W 124 with a modified 5.6-litre V8 engine developing 360 hp and a top speed of 303 km/h, with which AMG also achieved a breakthrough in the USA in the mid-1980s, is Michael Clauss, 61, an AMG employee since October 1978 with personnel number 015. Clauss is the initiator and manager of the Mercedes-AMG corporate and media archives. Hans Werner Aufrecht personally recruited him 42 years ago. At the time Clauss had just completed his apprenticeship as an automobile mechanic, was a member of the same sports club in Affalterbach as Aufrecht, and found the confidence to approach him. The job interview was followed by an employment contract.
“I’m sure I know this man”, says a surprised and pleased Aufrecht. He gets in and looks over the dashboard. A smile crosses his face: “Not a bad start to the day.”
"All I have striven for, and still work for to this day, is to look ahead and be successful. Yes, that was my driving force from the start"
– Hans Werner Aufrecht, the A in AMG
From Affalterbach to Burgstall
Michael Clauss drives his former boss, who has been an icon of motorsport and innovation for more than five decades, to the village seven kilometres away where AMG moved into the fast lane at the end of the 1960s: Burgstall. This is where Erhard Melcher, 81 – the M in AMG – lives near a former millhouse. After founding their own company – Aufrecht Melcher Grossaspach engineering consultancy, design, testing and development of racing engines – in 1967, the two former Daimler-Benz engineers moved their workplace here from Grossaspach.
The two men have not seen each other for over a year, and the welcome is correspondingly warm. So are you actually friends? “I’d say we are professional friends. We don’t really have that much in common privately”, Melcher answers – and Aufrecht nods. “But when it’s Hans Werner’s birthday, I serenade him with my harmonica every year, if necessary over the telephone.”
The two AMG company founders walk from Melcher’s house to his small, private engine museum. “When we started tinkering with Mercedes models, our landlord, who owned the old millhouse, must have suspected we were doing something illegal. Back in those days you simply didn’t tinker with a Mercedes, because it was already perfect. But I already knew back then that there was no future in being a millwrigth, and that our star was just beginning to rise”, says Aufrecht. Erhard Melcher, who was born in the Rhineland, laughs: “That’s just how you’ve always been – a man who only looks ahead, never backwards. Yes, we were something out of the ordinary here. I always listened to loud jazz when I was working. And whenever a customer asked how to get to us, I’d just say: follow the tyre tracks.”
The mood is relaxed as we return to Mercedes-AMG in Affalterbach, where another surprise awaits Aufrecht. He takes a seat in the black “Hammer” again. Melcher is in a light-beige 300 SEL dating from 1969 – distance is important these days. We park, exit and take a flight of stairs. Aufrecht is full of anticipation, but Melcher knows where we’re going; he’s been here before.
The (non-public) Mercedes-AMG corporate and media archives are the 200-square-metre repository for photographs, drawings, documents and all manner of motorsport equipment such as helmets, racing overalls and trophies from the entire history of Mercedes-AMG.
The visionary looks back with satisfaction
Hans Werner Aufrecht, a man of action and a visionary, looks back over the achievements of bygone years. He is at once pleased, surprised and utterly thrilled. He did not think it at all possible that all these things still existed, he says approvingly. Even the vehicle logbook of the “legend of Spa” is displayed here in a showcase. Likewise on view are the trophy from 1971 and the helmet and racing jacket worn by the vehicle’s driver Hans Heyer, who achieved the sensational class victory in Spa together with his co-driver Clemens Schickentanz – and first made the name AMG world-famous. “Without the SEL 300 6.8, Mercedes-AMG would certainly never have become what it is now”, Hans Werner Aufrecht muses. “Yes, the car was a milestone”, Erhard Melcher answers with a smile.
"Even back then I was something of a hard-working hippie. I didn’t want a family or a large company.
I just wanted to make better engines."
– Erhard Melcher, the M in AMG
Source: Mercedes-Benz Classic Magazine, Issue 2.2020
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