AMG. One of the most famous abbreviations in motorsport, and obviously to Mercedes what the M cars are to BMW. The three letters stand for the first letters in the two founders’ names, Aufrecht & Melcher, with the addition of the G for Großaspach, the German town where Mr. Aufrecht was born and where AMG was founded in 1967 as a tuner of Mercedes cars.
The firm moved to Affalterbach in the 70’s and following an increasingly close collaboration with Mercedes-Benz over the years, Mercedes became AMG’s majority shareholder in 1999. No doubt the addition of AMG has greatly helped improve Mercedes’s image, but that has however come at a price, namely an inflation not far from Venezuela’s in terms of how AMG badges are applied to all product lines and most cars in the Mercedes line-up. For obvious reasons that’s not to everyone’s taste. Fortunately though, there is a very good remedy, one that will celebrate its 15-year anniversary next year: the AMG Black Series cars.
It was the newly created performance studio of AMG that in 2006 set out to start producing very limited numbers of more focused versions of some cars in the existing Mercedes line-up, under the name Black Series. The cars were thoroughly re-worked, including performance increases but also chassis changes and improvements to suspension systems (typically adjustable) and brakes. Weight reduction was also high on the list, notably by an extensive use of carbon fibre. What wasn’t reduced was the price, as Black Series cars were typically at least 40% more expensive than regular AMG models. 5 different Black Series models have been built so far that I’ve summarized below.
SLK AMG 55 Black Series
Launched in 2006, the SLK started the Black Series range and early on made clear that a Black Series is not a convertible, as it was changed to having a fixed (carbon) roof. Power was up 40 hp to 400 hp, weight was reduced around 50 kg to around 1500 kg, suspension was stiffened, the chassis was widened and brakes were re-enforced. Around 120 SLK 55 Black Series were built all in all, the smallest production number of all Black Series cars so far.
CLK 63 AMG Black Series
The CLK followed a year later and became the first car to use the well-known 6.2 litre V8 engine that has equipped three of the five models so far, here developing 500 hp. The track was much wider than on the standard car, meaning both the body and tires increased as well. No doubt the Black Series took some inspiration from the DTM version of the CLK at the time. 700 CLK Black Series were built until 2008.
SL 65 AMG Black Series
The monstrous SL 65 Black Series followed in 2008 and was actually built by the independent race engineering firm HWA Engineering in collaboration with AMG. The SL 65 has an extravagant design were basically only the doors were retained from the original car. Like the SLK, it also got a fixed roof. It’s also the only car in the Black Series line-up to use the 6-litre V12, here developing 670 hp. 350 cars were built all in all.
C63 AMG Coupé Black Series
Less spectacular but arguably more efficient was the C63 Coupé launched in 2011. The 6.2 litre V8 was back, now developing 507 hp, the track was widened, the suspension was reworked, and if the changes weren’t enough, further track packages could be added on top. 800 C 63 Black Series were built in total, the most of any Black Series so far.
SLS AMG Black Series
Finally the SLS AMG Black Series was launched in 2013. The 6.2 litre V8 now delivered 631 hp and weight was down by around 70 kg compared to the standard version, mostly through extensive usage of carbon fibre. Only 350 of the SLS Black Series were built and although it’s not easy to add to the drama of the standard SLS, the Black Series does a good job of trying!
Black Series cars are no weekend cruisers but rather the most track-focused cars in the AMG line-up. The earlier cars were a bit hampered by having to resort to the standard AMG automatic transmission with no manual version available. The double-clutch box introduced on the SLS in 2013 solves the issue, but I can’t help thinking that a stick shift would have been a nice alternative on the early cars.
A Black Series car would be an alternative to the more hard core versions of other Porsches, Ferraris or Lambos. Thanks to the very limited production numbers they hold their value well, and in some cases such as the SLS, prices have risen quite steeply since new. The SLK 55, CLK 63 and C 63 are the cheaper cars, with the SLK 55 starting at just under EUR 100.000 and the CLK and C 63 between EUR 100.000 and EUR 150.000. The SL 65 starts at around EUR 250.000 with the SLS coming in between EUR 500.000 – EUR 700.000.
There is a lot of activity at the AMG performance studio right now, as it’s become official that the AMG GT Coupé will be the next and sixth Black Series model. The car has just been presented and Shmee, one of the Youtubers I follow (as mentioned in my post a few weeks ago that you can read here), just did a very detailed walk through of the new car, so I’ll let him do the honours – enjoy!
In the last weeks I’ve published posts about Porsches, Aston Martins and Alpines. All fantastic cars, but also cars that you – more or less frequently – see on the streets. There is nothing wrong with that, and you could argue that a car that is never seen is probably not worth seeing. Yet, precisely that is the point for some of us. Having a car that is unique. That makes people point fingers, ask what it is, even give a thumbs up (when did that happen to a 911 driver the last time?). And contrary to what you may think, there are indeed cars that for various reasons never reached high production numbers but are still very much worth considering!
If you’re part of the club of those loving the unknown, here are three great but rare sports cars that definitely deserve a place in the dream garage, and perhaps even the real garage one day. We’ll go from my own assessment of most known to least known and at the end, some general thoughts on small scale productions and their often visionary founders.
The story of the German manufacturer of BMW-powered roadsters and coupés starts in 1988 when brothers Martin and Friedrich (forming the MF in the model names) went from producing hardtops to cars. They had a vision of building a beautiful and luxurious but mechanically rather traditional roadster, and so they did. The Wiesmann design is timeless and features a (very!) leather-rich, beautifully crafted interior. Attention was also given to keeping the weight low, with Wiesmanns weighing in at between 1100-1300 kg. Last but not least, getting access to BMW engines meant that the cars were equipped with some of the best 6, 8 and 10-cylinder engines in the world!
The first Wiesmann to see the light of day was the MF3, powered by the brilliant 343 hp strong, straight-six from the BMW M3 (E46). The design later models remained more or less the same and it’s difficult to say anything negative about it!
The MF4 coupé presented in 2003 was Wiesmann’s first coupé, now powered by BMW V8’s. The MF4 roadster followed in 2009 before the last model MF5 saw the light, also available as coupé and roadster. The MF5 featured the BMW 10-cylinder from the late 00’s M5 and M6, developing first 507hp and later in the twin-turbo version 555hp. The MF5 was sold in parallel to the MF4.
My only experience with Wiesmann goes back a few years when I was passenger in an MF3. It was a true, hardcore roadster experience with a brilliant engine roar, but also lots of other mechanical sounds. There were no squeaks or rattles though, even though the car was a few years old, and the owner also said he had practically had no issues at all with the car that he had owned since new.
Wiesmann increasingly ran into financial difficulties in the 10’s and went bankrupt in 2014 after a failed rescue attempt. About 1600 cars had been produced when the lights went out, and finding one today is actually easier than you could expect. At the time of writing there are about 80 cars available in Germany, by far the largest market. Prices depend on version and engine but are generally between EUR 120.000-EUR 250.000, meaning quite close to their price as new. With a weight of 1100-1200 kg, my choice would be the MF3 with the 343hp six-cylinder from the E46. Power is plentiful, the engine is lighter and you’ll be towards the lower end of the price range.
Usually, car brands are born out of more or less eccentric engineers or designers with rather empty pockets, who manage to convince someone with somewhat deeper pockets to finance the initial stage. Not so Artega which was born as a project of the very established German car supply firm paragon AG, at the time an established supplier of auto electronics to all major German car brands. Feeling he knew a thing or two about the car industry in which he had worked for 25 years, and that he could do things better, paragon CEO Klaus D Frers set out on the project that was to become Artega GT, a light, mid-engined sports car built on Volkswagen technology, initially intended only as a showcase for the company but later making it into production.
The Artega was designed by Henrik Fisker, known from beauties such as the BMW Z8, the Aston Martin DB9 an obviously his own Fisker Karma. The whole development process was advised by a number of German car gurus and car professors, the likes of whom you only find in the land of free speed. The car was finally presented at the Geneva Car Salon in 2007 and received wide praise from the motoring press, being referred to by some as “the Porsche killer”. An innovative construction with an aluminium space frame and other light-weight materials helped keeping the weight down to 1285 kg, an easy match for the 300 hp VW V6 engine and the DSG gearbox.
Various tests of the Artega speak of a very accomplished sports car that was for example still quicker around Hockenheim than a Porsche Cayman in 2013, four years after its market introduction. it is however a small (4m long) and low (1.12 m high) car, so large drivers may have problems finding a good position. Obviously also, the selling point of being a technology showcase ten years ago feels a bit different a decade later.
153 Artegas were produced between 2009 and 2012 when the company went bankrupt. Reasons are a bit unclear but if you are to believe CEO Frers, the Mexican financiers he had manged to pull in didn’t understand the car business, an almost-made deal with a Chinese group never came through, and there were disagreements within the company where some wanted to make Artega a European Tesla and switch to electrical power.
Given the low production number, it’s surprising how relatively easy it is to find one that will be yours for around EUR 50.000-70.000 – not bad for a very capable sports car relying on both the knowledge of VW and a leading automotive supplier, and that you are guaranteed never to see in the supermarket parking lot!
The Venturi story starts in 1983 when engineer Claude Poiraud and designer Gérard Godfroy come up with the somewhat crazy idea of launching their own sports car brand. Having found some money, they manage to present a full-scale, mid-engined mock-up at the car salon in Paris in 1984. In the following years, production starts under the company name MVS (Manufacture de Voiture de Sport) which literally translates to Sports Car Manufacturer…
A few hundred cars are produced between 1987-1990, mostly equipped with the PRV V6 engine from Renault. The cars are very much hand-made with a luxurious interior according to the taste of the time. The handling and driving experience are said to be brilliant, weight distribution with the engine in the middle is next to perfect, and the body, very much reminiscent of the Ferrari F355, is maybe a bit anonymous but has aged quite well until today, although the 80’s lines are clear for all to see.
Sales never take off though, with no more than 200-300 cars produced until 1990 when new ownership and capital lead to the Venturi Atlantique, the most accomplished car that will be built in various models until the company’s bankruptcy in 2000. The shape is still that of the original Venturi, but in the 400 hp Atlantique 400 GT race version, this was actually the world’s first car with carbon brakes, on par with Ferrari and other sports cars in terms of power, and generally highly praised by motor journalists as one of the best drives on the market in the 90’s. It’s also the most powerful sports car built in France to this day!
When Venturi threw in the towel in 2000 it had sold less than 700 cars in the 13 years of production. And unlike the other cars presented here, finding a Venturi of any type today is hard work – a quick check before writing this post indicates there’s less than 10 available in Europe (including a bit surprisingly 3-4 in the UK). Based on this very small sample, prices at around EUR 40.000-50.000 seem quite reasonable for car that not only is a great drive but that also will make you truly unique on the road, knowing you’re driving a bit of automotive history from La Grande Nation!
Is buying a car produced in such small numbers as the three described here synonymous with economic ruin? Not necessarily. These three examples all rely on technique from large manufacturers (in order BMW, VW and Renault), so mechanically they don’t present too much of an issue. The bodywork is obviously a different story – here it may well be impossible to find old parts, meaning repairing collision damage could been having to produce new parts…
The examples also illustrate that as could be expected, financing is the hardest nut to crack for the visionary creators. Wiesmann, Artega and Venturi all struggled with somewhat unclear financing from parties not always aligned or serious, and when these then run out of cash or bow out, bankruptcy comes quickly. The main problem is obviously that going to see your bank and asking for a loan to start a new car company has never been easy – neither in the 80’s, nor today.
What these cars also illustrate is the at the same time creative and traditional thinking of their founders. Traditional in their conception of a true sports car as light-weight and rear-wheel drive, focusing on driving pleasure, creative in their usage of modern materials to get there. It’s indeed a shame that with the possible exception of Lotus and Alpine, all large manufacturers today seem to move in a different direction.
Finally if all goes well, all three brands presented here may re-appear in the coming years. The rights to Venturi have been bought by a Monegasque millionaire who wants to produce an electric super car. Artega presented the Scalo at the IAA in 2015, basically an electric version of the GT but only build on order, so not really a mass production item. Finally Wiesmann are planning a comeback still this year with Project Gecko, a rather traditional roadster said to resemble the MF5 and equipped with a BMW 4.4 litre V8. Nothing wrong with that either. Sounds good to me!
Maybe you’ve been saving up for some time. Maybe you’ve had a nice run in the stock market (which, a bit surprisingly, hasn’t been too difficult in the last months). Maybe you’ve cancelled your holiday plans because of… we all know what. Anyway you find yourself with enough money to realize that dream you’ve nurtured for a long time – buying a 911.
For the following exercise we’ll assume your budget is around €100.000. We’ll also assume that although there’s a number of other really nice cars out there, it’s a 911 you want. You’re still open to different generations though, preferring if possible something a bit special, but knowing full well that the real “special” 911’s have price-wise left the earth’s orbit a long time ago. Given that, what does a budget of EUR 100.000 buy you today?
Fortunately the answer is quite a lot. And what is so fascinating in doing this exercise with the 911 is that it’s the only sports car I can think of where that budget buys you either a 5-year or a 50-year old car – and a few interesting ones there in between!
Below is my personal 911 top 3 for different types of usage. They are probably not the same as yours and luckily I should also add that you can have great 911’s for far less money – the 996 Turbo or the 997.2 4S are two that spring to mind for around half the budget. But today, we’ll look closer at the 100.000 top list.
Porsche 911 (930) Turbo 1978-1989
If you’re anything like me and grew up in the 70’s and 80’s , this was pretty much the coolest car around. The 911 had been available as turbo since the early 70’s, but 1978 saw the engine volume increased to 3.3 litres and the power boosted to 300 hp thanks to an intercooler. This was the one to have and as anyone who’s driven one knows, it’s not a car for the faint-hearted. The combination of a rear engine on a short wheel-base and a perceived 5-minute turbo lag leads to some pretty heavy over-steering. In the current days of digital safety systems, let’s just say it’s quite a refreshing experience! The rest of the package with the giant wing and the massive rear wheel arches is still spectacular to this day, as is the wonderful, analogue interior.
Refreshing as it may be, you should remember that this is now a 40-year old car based on an even older construction, so a 930 is not a daily driver. It is however a great car for special occasions and definitely solid enough for a weekend getaway.
You can find a good 930 Turbo for EUR 100′ but it will take a bit of effort. It’s well worth it though, and although prices have risen strongly in the last 10 years, the risk of 930’s starting to drop in value is very minor indeed.
Porsche 911 (996) GT2 or GT3
Moving on to the 996 range means going from the purists’ air-cooled engine to a water-cooled one, but that’s a move to the modern era that no one really disputes anymore. The reason for including both the GT2 and GT3 here is that the GT2 is turbo-charged and built on the wider 911 Turbo body whereas the GT3 is based on the leaner, regular 911 Carrera body with the naturally aspirated, legendary Mezger engine. This also means the GT2 is up roughly 100 hp on power on the GT3, depending on version. Both GT2 and GT3 were built from 2000 until 2005 and could be had in Clubsport version, with gripping bucket seats and other racing attributes.
Although none of them were homologation models, both cars feature a lot of racing technology and are both driving- and comfort-wise quite far from a regular 911. To enjoy them fully to the car’s full potential, you will want to take them to a race track now and then. When you do, it will no doubt be one of the greatest drives you can have until this day!
Pricing-wise the GT3 at around EUR 80.000 comes in around EUR 20.000 cheaper than a good GT2. Many GT’s have been modified but try to go for an original and if you do, it’s difficult to imagine a more entertaining and value-preserving use of your money!
Porsche 911 (991) Targa
The 991 range was built from 2011 until 2019 to a total of more than 230.000 cars, so this is very much the modern 911. It’s come a long way from the 930 we started with above, but 40 years later it’s still one of the very best sports cars you can buy. In the range and for the budget, I think a targa is a great combination of the coupé/convertible you want a daily driver to be, and a bit more special than the regular model. it also looks better and can be expected to preserve its value better with fewer built.
The Targa 4 (345 hp) and Targa 4S (395hp) started in 2014 and the GTS version (430 hp) was added in 2015. You’ll struggle to get that into your budget, but you’ll quite easily get in a Targa 4 or even a 4S. That also means enjoying the modern version of a naturally-aspirated engine… Targa or not, it’s stil difficult to predict how well a modern 911 produced in such large numbers will preserve its value, but you’ll sleep well knowing you have bought one of the best cars on the market at roughly half its price as new.
It’s amazing how much the 911 has evolved from its origins in the 60’s to today’s cars, and just as amazing is the price evolution these cars have seen in the last 10 years. That has also meant a change in the market, with many models (especially those more expensive than the ones listed here) looked upon more as an investment than the fantastic cars they are. The point of this exercise was not that – it was finding a great 911 for a €100.000 budget to enjoy on a Sunday, on a track day or everyday. As we’ve seen, that is still possible!
If you were to ask a random bunch of people what they thought was the most beautiful car over the last two decades, I’m quite sure Aston Martin would get a lot of votes. Starting with the DB9 in 2004, following on with the V8 Vantage in 2006, and then the Vanquish in 2012 (that Sven fell in love with in an old post in Swedish that you can read here), we’ve been spoiled with beautiful cars coming out of the factory in Gaydon. The head designer at the time Henrik Fisker, who’s also been featured previously on this blog as we’ve written about the Karma, can take credit for most of these, even if he didn’t fully design the DB9, rather finishing off the car that was done by Ian Callum.
The thing is though, Astons have not only looked expensive – they have been so as well. Until now. Because as we speak, around EUR 40.000 will get you a low-mileage V8 Vantage, or for that matter a DB9. That is pretty much a steal, especially in the case of the DB9 which was considerably more expensive than the V8 when it was new. I strongly doubt good, relatively low-mileage cars will get much cheaper over the coming years.
Let’s first settle the fact that although both exist both with and without roof (the V8 is then called the Roadster, the DB9 the Volante), the design only fully comes into its right in coupe form. The fixed roof also saves around 100 kg (meaning around 1600 kg for the V8 and 100 more for the DB9) and means there are fewer parts that can break – not unimportant when you’re talking about a hand-built British sports car, as we’ll come back to later.
The DB9, as a 2+2 seater, is around 30 cm longer. To me the V8 looks nicer, more compact, with better proportions. And given the back seats cannot by anything but very small children anyway (and by the time you buy an Aston, they will be too big anyway…), there’s little reason to choose the DB9 for them. There is however a very big reason to choose the DB9, and that is of course the fabulous, 6-litre, naturally aspirated V12 from the (old) Vanquish, developing around 450-520 hp depending on construction year. The V8 in the Vantage developed around 380 hp as 4.3-litre, and around 420 hp after 2008 as 4.7-litre (in later years there was also a V12 Vantage, but that’s at a very different price point today). Most will agree that power is thus plentiful in both cases, as is the sound, both with 8 and 12 cylinders.
Both cars were reworked in 2008, meaning more power but also improved build quality, and some slight design quirks. With some luck you can squeeze in a post-2008 car to the EUR 40.000 budget, or stretch it a bit, in which case it’s probably a good decision.
So what’s the downside? Certainly not the engines, that have a solid reputation even in higher mileage cars, as long as they’ve been properly serviced. The interior has aged less well than the timeless exterior design and should be inspected carefully. Unfortunately, there’s also been quite a few quality issues with everything from the slightly upward-opening swan doors, to – many – electrical issues. Therefore, having a specialist inspect the car you’ve just fallen in love with might be one of your better decisions in life. And then there are of course the running costs, and the insurance, and… But then again, if you’re looking for cheap car to own, an Aston shouldn’t be on your list in the first place.
Both the DB9 and the Vantage had long runs and large production numbers in Aston terms. The DB9 was replaced by the DB11 in 2016, the V8 Vantage was produced a year longer. Something like 17.500 DB9’s were produced in total and around 22.000 V8 Vantages (exact numbers seem impossible to find!).
To me an Aston is in a class of its own. The “baby” Aston V8 Vantage was discussed as a 911 alternative when it was launched but I think that misses the point. The 911 (at this price point typically a low-mileage 997, or slightly cheaper as a 996 4S) will objectively always be the better car, but you see one on every corner. How many Astons did you see this week? It’s a rare thing of beauty and a traditional driver’s GT car. It’s actually a car where performance is secondary (but not the engine noise!), since its more about the feel, the sound, the whole experience. Personally I would go for a post-2008 V8. But if you want nothing but the best it can only be the V12 DB9. Because a naturally aspirated V12 can never be wrong!
It’s not every morning that a 300 SL is parked in front of your office, especially not on a rainy day such as this Tuesday, with no real weather improvement in sight… But if the sun doesn’t light up your day, a Gullwing certainly does, especially the coupe, of which there were only a total of 1400 produced between 1954 and 1957! At the time it wasn’t even the most expensive car in the Mercedes line-up, today at an estimated value of EUR 1.2-1.5m, it probably is…
Speaking of red Gullwings, enclosed below is quite a legendary on board video from the Arosa Classic Car race back in 2012, giving a close-up feel of what it’s like to drive one of these for real – enjoy!
Two super cars and one super classic to the market this week! Do contact me in case of interest in any of the cars, all for which offers are more than welcome.
1958 Aston Martin DB2/4 Mark III
This beautiful Aston has a FIVA identity card and is registered and currently located in Zurich. Its current 5th owner purchased the car from the Aston workshop in the UK in 2015 where the engine had been reviewed and the car stripped and repainted. The car has only added another 2500 km since. It is left hand drive and was imported to Europe from the US in 1989. The requested price is CHF 390.000
2019 Lamborghini Aventador SVJ Coupe
This car is the first of the 900 produced! Outside Giallo Tenerife combined with Nero Cosmos interior and various other options. A European car, the requested price of which is EUR 550.000
2007 Mercedes Benz SLR McLaren
My personal pick if… would be this 2007 SLR with only 15.000 km on the clock. This European car is in mint condition with a requested price of EUR 600.000
We’re happy to offer a very special Bentley Continental R Le Mans Coupé from 2001 for this latest dream garage post.
This version was only manufactured in a series of 50 cars and this is the last one delivered to Europe. It has 148.000 kms on the clock since new, with two previous owners and a full Bentley service history. It has lived in Switzerland and the Netherlands and is currently on Swiss papers.
Asking price for the car is EUR 110.000 but as always, offers are welcome. For those interested in more history on the R Le Mans Coupé, please see further below and contact me in case of interest.
Bentley returned to Le Mans in 2001 after having been absent from the famous race since the 30s. To celebrate the new campaign, the classic brand introduced limited edition ‘Le Mans’ versions of the existing Continental R and T models.
The Continental R was styled with assistance from Automotive Design, with computer aids and extensive wind tunnel testing to create its ultra streamlined shape. The result still looked every bit a Bentley, albeit one restated for the 90s. The gearbox was a new, 4-speed automatic with an overdrive function, but the main interest was of course in the engine and performance. For the exclusive ‘Le Mans’ variants, the 420bhp engine of the Continental T was adopted together with a plethora of special features. The latter included flared wheel arches; green badges to the radiator, wheels and boot; 18″ five-spoke alloy wheels; sports bumper package; four-pipe exhaust outlets; and ‘Le Mans’ wing badges.
Interior upgrades consisted of drilled control pedals; pushbutton starter; sports seats with ‘Bentley’ headrest logos; stacked central instrumentation cluster with chrome bezels and green dials; dark walnut veneer with embossed Bentley badges; ‘Le Mans Series’ logo to the centre console; and a racing-style gear knob finished in chrome and leather.
We’re starting off our new category The Dream Garage, featuring exclusive cars for sale through our network, with a Magnum double. If like me you grew up with the TV-series, and if like me you were uncertain whether the car he was driving was a 308 or a 328, here you go – one of each, albeit in different colors.
Starting from the beginning, the below yellow beauty, the 1981 308 GTS comes with only 62.000 km and a Ferrari certificate. It has a complete history and only one previous owner. It’s a garage-kept car with no accidents for which the owner is asking EUR 88.000, with offers welcome. The car is currently located in Italy.
Second in line is a beautiful 328 GTS from 1985. Also a one owner car with full history, this 328 has only 22.105 km on the clock and is in corresponding condition. It also has a Ferrari certificate and is located in Italy, garage-kept with no accidents, the owner is asking EUR 95.000 for the car, again with offers welcome. A very competitive price in view of the kms and the market!
For further information on any of these cars, don’t hesitate to contact me.