Mercedes 300 SEL 6.8 AMG equipped with BILSTEIN shock absorbers

The legendary “Red Pig”: The somewhat different darling of the public

The 24-hour race Spa-Francorchamps in 1971: When the Mercedes 300 SEL 6.8 AMG crosses the finish line after the chase twice around the clock, the spectators still rub their eyes in amazement. Hans Heyer and Clemens Schickentanz had just managed to put the red monster in second place overall and first in class. A sensation: The fans had not expected this result, the competition even less so.

They knew nothing of what the race would bring. The Mercedes 300 SEL 6.8 AMG was big, heavy and together with its long wheelbase, not very agile. A real luxury limousine. “We knew that we could win, only the others didn’t know it yet,” remembers Hans Heyer decades later. The triumph of the brawny Mercedes dominated the coverage at the time. Even the German news reported on the performance in Belgium. The car had taken the hearts of fans by storm.

The triumph at the 1971 Spa-Francorchamps 24-hour race was not just a big surprise. It also marked the first success in international motorsport for the high-performance brand AMG. Quite a few people claim that the 300 SEL 6.8 was the first genuine AMG ever and that its victory in the Ardennes was the breakthrough for the young company, which today belongs to Daimler AG.

Because at that time it was to be assumed that the standard 1.8 ton noble Mercedes would not be able to put the competition in serious difficulty, neither on the brakes nor in curves, the AMG engineers chose the steam hammer method. The engine experts at the company, which was founded on the 1st of June 1967, bored the V8, which was already not exactly low in displacement from the factory, even further: The 6.3 litre engine grew to 6.8, and its output climbed to a massive 428 hp – enough for a top speed of 265 km/h. This concept turned out to be successful on the long passages of Spar-Francorchamps, where driving with full throttle was possible.

When it came to the suspension, the AMG engineers naturally opted for BILSTEIN. After all, Mercedes-Benz had been relying on products from Ennepetal for the original equipment of its production models since 1957. The Swabians have also been celebrating great success in international motor sports together with BILSTEIN since the early 1960s. Even back then, the 300 SEL 6.8 was equipped with an air suspension system with supporting conventional dampers on the rear axle. “Spa was especially suited for this car,” Clemens Schickentanz once explained. “It was only at the chicanes and hairpin bends that it became difficult with the heavy car.”

After its success in Belgium, the massive Mercedes, which years later would be affectionately known as the “Red Pig”, is not rolling into a museum. AMG sold the 300 SEL 6.8 to the French company Matra, which used the car for high-speed testing of aircraft tyres. After that, its trail went cold. The original Spa winner is considered lost today.

A few replicas were created in the following years. Since the beginning of 2020, a particularly lovingly constructed copy has been on display in the Classic Remise, the famous classic car centre in Düsseldorf. “When I was offered the car, I simply had to take it, no question about it,” reports Düsseldorf sports car dealer Yevgen Sokolovskiy. “I like all the racing cars, but the story of the ‘Red Pig’ is something special,” adds Yevgen, who by the way, successfully steers the car in the EuroNASCAR. He naturally has a particular weakness for large-volume cars with eight cylinders anyway.

From the visual point of view, the replica is close to the original. Those who are lucky enough to be allowed to take a seat in the cockpit will inevitably notice a pleasant smell of leather. As with the original car, the elegant SEL interior, including the rear leather-upholstered seat, has been left as far as possible. In the cockpit, the noble wooden trim catches the eye; what was also a distinguishing feature in the original vehicle and is hardly fitting of a motorsport legend. Neither is the sound of the doors when they are shut, as is simply expected of a Mercedes.

However, exactly these details are probably the reason for the charm and contributed to the myth around the “Red Pig”: This contradiction of sheer size, luxury and opulence on the one hand and the demand for the greatest possible renunciation and limitation to the absolutely necessary on the other hand, which is normally required in racing.

Unlike most other classic vehicles from the dealership Auto SL, the cult Mercedes is not for sale. A decision that not only comes from the heart, but also from the attention it attracts to this day. Then and now, the “Red Pig” is an absolute darling of the public. Whether in Spa-Francorchamps or in Dusseldorf.

Photos: Maic Schulte/Auto SL