Sven Wedemeyer ©2023, courtesy of RM Sotheby’s

In 1967, AMG was formed by Hans Werner Aufrecht and Erhard Melcher, two former Daimler-Benz engineers with a passion for engine tuning and motorsport. The pair turned their hand to custom race configurations with a penchant for Mercedes-Benz, notably bulking out and entering the now-famous 300SEL-based “Red Pig” in the 1971 24 Hours of Spa. It was not long before Mercedes-Benz customers of both road and track bent began to ask AMG for their own solutions — including the first owner of the example offered here.

Herr Werner Kurras placed an order for a second-series 230 “fintail” through the official Mercedes-Benz dealer, Kirstein & Sauer GmbH, of Bielefeld, on March 21, 1966, for 20,912 Deutsche Mark. The following year, chassis 026864 was delivered, finished in Graphite Gray over a Light Gray leather interior, and equipped with a 2.3-liter engine that delivered 120 PS. Herr Kurras clearly enjoyed his 230, as by June 1972 it had covered 109,524 kilometers. Yet perhaps the owner pined for a hint of added oomph. It is at this point that the car was presented to AMG for a performance uplift.

Important upgrades included the fitment of a new cylinder head, camshafts, and the enlargement of the intake manifold. The displacement of the engine was increased to 2.8 liters. Key structural changes were made for improved road handling — notably receiving a new rear axle with a longer gear ratio, fitment of Bilstein shock absorbers, modifications to the front axle, as well as enhancements made to the brake system that meant its anchors could keep up with the engine’s uprated power.

Period invoices from AMG — available to view in the history file — note the car’s renewed power rated at 185 PS when it left the Burgstetten workshop. The modifications totaled 17,711.95 Deutsche Mark, almost matching the price of the car seven years earlier. Herr Kurras wrote a timeline detailing the car’s changes and history, which is offered with this lot. After he sold the car in 1980, it was acquired by the consigning owner around two years later.

Recognized as an important part of AMG history in AMG 45: The Story — The Cars by Becker, Bolsinger and Clauss, chassis 026864 is thought to be among the first road-going Mercedes-Benzes to bear the AMG badge. Today, the car presents as a highly significant part of AMG and Mercedes-Benz history, offered by only the third owner with more than 40 years of continual ownership.

SCM Analysis

Detailing

Vehicle:1967 Mercedes-Benz 230 AMG
Years Produced:1965–68
Number Produced:40,258
Tune Up Cost:$880 (original M180 engine)
Chassis Number Location:Front right structural rail in line with cylinder 1 and 2
Engine Number Location:Left side of engine block below cylinder 5
Club Info:Mercedes Benz Club of America
Website:http://www.mbca.org
Alternatives:1968–71 Alfa Romeo Berlina 1750, 1963–71 BMW 1800, 1967–73 Opel Kadett B 1.9L

This car, Lot 115, sold for $188,301 (€172,500), including buyer’s premium, at RM Sotheby’s Munich, DEU, sale on November 25, 2023.

This W110-series 230 was heavily reconfigured by AMG as the fuel-injected, M130-powered sports sedan that Mercedes should have built — but never did. While this car was an exceptional application of Mercedes engineering, it was built by repurposing a number of parts from the W108 series. Some of these items can be installed in the W110 more easily than others, but regardless, the two chassis are so structurally and mechanically similar that this would be the natural way to improve a fintail sedan.

Mods and upgrades

The easiest way to approach our analysis of the vehicle is by examining its modifications. Let’s start with the engine. The auction catalog states that the original M180 engine was bored to 2.8 liters and that the car retains its original engine number. I believe this is incorrect, and rather this 230 was fitted with a mechanically injected M130 engine from a 280SE sedan. The M180.949 engine original to the 230 can’t be outfitted with mechanical injection, as the block has no provision for an injection-pump drive. While the block in the car is stamped with the original engine number, the typeface is incorrect and the location is off, leading me to surmise that it was restamped.

The M130 makes 180 to 190 horsepower in stock form, depending on whether it has a high-lift camshaft. It just about fits in the same space as an M180, but the front of the engine requires a larger crankshaft pulley. The fan clutch, water pump and A/C condenser would have required some additional work to shoehorn into the stubby front end of the W110 as well. On the 230, the radiator actually fits under the radiator support. This configuration did not accommodate an oil cooler or an automatic-transmission cooler, so it is more than likely the oil cooler was either converted to the block-mounted water-to-oil cooler used on the M108 and M129 2.5-liter engine (or deleted altogether with the use of the original filter housing from the M180). No provision for an automatic transmission cooler would have existed either, so it is safe to assume it was blocked off.

The catalog mentions a rear axle upgrade with taller gears. This was an easy swap on the W110, and likely involves the use of a 3.69 or 3.27 disc-brake rear-axle assembly from a 280SE 3.5 or 4.5 sedan. While it is impossible to tell, the preferred upgrade is the 3.27 unit from a 280SE 4.5. Such a unit would theoretically give this car a top speed of 130–135 mph, as well as four-wheel disc brakes.

The W110 230 was positioned in the market as an entry-level Mercedes, kind of like the W201 190E 2.6 was in 1987. So, to complement the mechanical improvements on our subject car, its interior was updated with some optional equipment. This included power windows (which were never available on a W110 or W111 sedan), as well as a unique electric sunroof. How this car ended up with an electric sunroof is a mystery, as the inclusion of such an item would have required major modifications to both the roof and electrical system. One can assume the entire roof panel was replaced with parts from a W108.

The seats in this car are possibly original, as leather was optional, if rare, on the W110, as were the front-seat headrests and center armrest. The A/C system was likely installed during the first few years of our subject car’s life, as few of these vehicles left the factory with it.

Completely original, even its flaws

The downside of many of these modifications is that they were obviously complicated and required significant electrical and structural work. The added wiring for the windows, sunroof, dual-circuit brakes, electric fuel pump and other items was not integrated seamlessly. Some non-Mercedes-grade pin bushings were used (see the level-sensor plugs on the brake-fluid reservoir) and other lesser-quality repairs were made over time to items such as the battery cables. While this may not be an issue with AMG’s workmanship, it is unfortunate that the service done to this car over the past 50 years has not been performed with the goal of preserving its status as an original AMG car.

The sad truth is that many other similar AMG sedans were essentially written off by collectors as nothing more than modified used cars until recently. I recall being offered a fully documented 1981 280SE AMG with a 5-speed for $5,000 several years ago and passing it up. A number of 500SELs, which were commonly modified, suffered the same fate; often these wound up being used as parts cars. This attitude still persists to some degree, with many original AMG cars languishing in repair shops, garages or even shipping containers.

Our subject car is a great example of Mercedes-Benz component interchangeability. Its existence and creation are both brilliantly unique and also entirely replicable. To underscore this point, the late, great Drew Tibcken of Heritage Woodworks built a 1965 220S powered by a Euro-spec M110 engine. This engine fit right into the W111 engine compartment and was complemented by the same rear axle as our subject car. The car struggled to find a buyer and sold for just over $10k, with fresh paint, woodwork and many other improvements.

All of this makes this sale simply astonishing. A stock W110 230 will struggle to sell at 10% of what our subject car commanded; most go for about $10,000. The AMG provenance makes all the difference here. Even so, our subject car was well sold. But if you must have the real thing, this is it, in its most pure, perfectly imperfect form. ♦

(Introductory description courtesy of RM Sotheby’s.)

Comments are closed.