PH HEROES: MERCEDES 300 E AMG HAMMER
Stuff a big V8 in a simple saloon body and what's not to like? Matt Rigby revisits an AMG classic
I'm sure Peter, Paul and Mary weren't thinking about a fast Mercedes when they sang 'If I Had a Hammer'. However, after having driven AMG's magnificent take on the W124-series Mercedes 300 E, nothing else I can think of better explains how this car makes you feel.
Put simply if I had a Hammer, of the AMG variety, I would most definitely hammer in the morning. I would, in fact, hammer in the evening and all over whatever land I happened to be in at the time.
Why such breathless excitement? Well, the AMG Hammer is the grandfather of the modern AMG super-saloon, the car that was there at the birth of a dynasty that would eventually give rise to a whole family of sporty Mercedes saloons.
In the Hammer's case, the big motor was the 5.6-litre V8 from the big 560 SEC luxury coupe, onto which AMG grafted its own twin overhead cam, four-valve per cylinder set-up. Should you wish, the folks at AMG would also bore out the engine for you to 6.0 litres, creating a 375bhp monster of an engine with a phenomenal 407lb ft of torque.
And, to ensure the W124 could cope with all that power, AMG dropped in a beefy four-speed auto from the S-class, a Torsen limited-slip differential, and popped in stiffer, lower suspension.
The undeniably 1980s styling tweaks also help that outlandish top speed. Not only did they make the AMG Hammer look impossibly hard in a shoulder-padded sort of way, but they also brought some proper aerodynamic benefits. Thanks to a flattish under-body design, a new front air dam and a ducktail-style rear wing, the hot Merc's drag coefficient was a scarcely believable 0.25 Cd.
Driving the Hammer is initially an exercise in remembering how far cars have developed over the past two decades. The gearbox feels ponderous, the steering a little woolly, and there's a surprising amount of lean as soon as you tackle a corner with any vigour.
Once the old girl gets going, though, and the sluggish gearbox allows the engine some room to breathe, your first impressions are rapidly adjusted. This is a fast car, even by modern standards. The bellowing V8 pushes the W124 along on a surging wave of mid-range torque, that doesn't relent even when you're well into three figures.
Once you get used to the slightly fluffy steering and the body roll, the Hammer's chassis also proves to be a surprisingly grippy, faithful companion. It will even indulge in some benign tail sliding fun, provided you have a wet road surface and that the gearbox is willing to play ball.
History has not been kind to the Hammer, however. Perhaps it's because the styling, if we're being unkind, is a little gauche, or perhaps it's because the Porsche-fettled, super-subtle Mercedes 500E that came along a few years later rather stole its thunder. Either way, the AMG Hammer is a bit of a forgotten gem these days. Type '300E AMG Hammer' into Google if you want proof. That will yield just under 29,000 results. A search for '500E' will give you more than 4.5 million pages.
But it should be remembered that the AMG Hammer was the fastest, and it was first. And for that, as well as for being the sire of a whole family of outrageously fast Mercs, the Hammer fully deserves its place in the Pantheon of PH heroes.