Mercedes 300SEL 6.8 Rote Sau - Luxurious race car
Back in the glorious days of motorsport, race cars weren’t made by IT guys on their computers or bunch of engineers in hi-tech laboratories. They were being made in small workshops by enthusiast mechanics who didn’t rely on big budgets of major companies or support of big factories but on pure skill and ingenuity. Those guys weren’t afraid of trying everything in order to make a fast racing car, using whatever they had and could get their hands on.
Shock after first race
Sometimes, such cars were essentially bad and practically unusable, and other times they were good and won races. But every now and then, the creations would become plain crazy and unexpected and make an indelible mark on the track and in the hearts of motorsport fans. The legendary Mercedes 300 SEL 6.8 “Rote Sau“ was one of those creations. When it first appeared on the tracks it caused laughter and disbelief by competitors, but after the race, everybody was shocked by the sheer potential and speed of the big Mercedes-Benz…
Small group of talented engineers
The story starts in the late ’60s when a small group of ex-Mercedes engineers formed a small tuning company called AMG. Today, AMG is a well-known performance department of Mercedes, but in those days, it was basically just a small workshop in Burgstall-an-der-Murr, near Stuttgart. From the very beginning, AMG was focused on tuning Mercedes products which were known for their quality but not for speed and performance. However, at the same time, Mercedes introduced a very interesting and influential vehicle – Mercedes 300 SEL 6.3.
Engine from the presidential limousine tuned for racing
It was the most powerful version of W109 model range (S-Class by today’s nomenclature) and it featured the biggest engine Mercedes has ever produced, a 6,3 liters V8 unit with 300 bhp. The engine came from the Mercedes 600 (code W100) an uber luxury limousine which was intended for the use of monarchs and heads of state.
Engine with big potential
In the smaller body of W109 series, this engine showed big potential and 300 SEL 6.3 was the fastest four door car of its era with a performance level that could easily embarrass Porsche 911. However, the 300 SEL 6.3 was still a big and heavy car (1780 kg) with air suspension and automatic transmission and it didn’t have the cornering ability of sports cars of the time, but it certainly had the power and speed.
Leather interior, wood dash and automatic transmission
Soon after the introduction of 300 SEL 6.3, AMG crew got the crazy idea of turning a luxury limousine into a pure racing car. Their logic was simple: tune the engine to deliver more power, stiffen the suspension, loose some weight and go racing. Very soon, AMG got two samples and started transforming the Autobahn cruiser into a competitive beast. They enlarged the engine capacity to 6,8 liters and with modified injection, they achieved 420 bhp and monstrous 610 Nm/450 lb-ft of torque. The automatic transmission was kept, the roll cage was installed in the interior and a few bits such as bumpers were removed in order to make the car lighter. Interestingly, the AMG team left the rear seats in the car even though they weren’t accessible because of the roll cage.
1969 Debut in Belgium
The first competitive outing was at 24 Hours of Spa in 1969 where two AMG Mercedes cars drew a lot of attention. Unfortunately, they didn’t start but they did manage to achieve the second and third position on the grid which was sensational by itself. The cars were very fast and in hands of Jacky Ickx and Hans Hermann they scared the competition.
First win in Macau
However, later that year, Mercedes engineer Erich Waxenberger took the RHD example to 6 Hours of Macao and won with basically a stock car and against the better-prepared competition. This success showed the potential of 300SEL 6.3 and motivated the AMG crew to enhance the car even further and participate in more races.
Triumph in Belgium
The biggest success of AMG team came in 1971 at 24 Hours of Spa. The team developed the car even more with suspension modifications, bigger brakes, tires and wheel arches and painted it in bright red color. However, the car still had a wooden dashboard and it was basically stock. Because of its size, weight, and red color, the car soon became known as “Rote Sau“ or Red Pig and it is still unknown whether this nickname was given by the AMG crew or as a joke by competition.
Rote Sau was fantastic success
During the qualifications for 1971 all-day event at Spa, “Rote Sau“ managed to score 5th fastest time out of sixty entrants, to the surprise of both the competitors and the audience. The big red car was faster than many other and became one of the favorites overnight. During the race, 300SEL 6.8 was very good and always at the top. Cornering abilities weren’t as good as of the other cars but the enormous power and torque pushed the heavy Mercedes very fast on Spa’s long straights, overtaking the rest with ease throughout the race. After very long 24 hours, the “Rote Sau“ finished 2nd behind the Ford Capri RS 2600 and in front of BMW, Alfa Romeo, Porsche and many others.
Second place in such an important competition was a fantastic success for AMG team and for Mercedes because the most unlikely car on the grid managed to beat perfectly tuned racers from all over the world. After the event, AMG team explained that this result was very hard to achieve since the “Rote Sau“ had an unbelievable thirst for fuel, due to the big engine on high revs in a car that had lots of weight, and the car had literally eaten its rear tires every few laps. The enormous torque forced “Rote Sau“ to the pits for refuel and tire change too often, and if it weren’t for that, Mercedes could have easily finished first.
The end of relatively short career
After the success in Belgium, AMG stopped racing and turned to road cars. They produced three track-running samples and two prototypes which were destroyed. The “Rote Sau“ was later sold to the French company Matra which used the overpowered sedan in a testing of its aeronautical products and substantially destroyed it, but there was a rumor that the original “Rote Sau“ still exists somewhere, hidden from the public. However, there are numerous replicas which are often raced in classic car races and still draw big attention because of its extraordinary combination of power, style and heritage which put “Rote Sau“ among some of the finest Mercedes cars of all times.