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Mercedes C63 AMG Black Series: PH Heroes

AMG's regular W204 was memorable; its Black Series version was unforgettable

By Nic Cackett / Saturday, January 20, 2018

First, some history. The Black Series has plainly not always been. Herr Aufrecht and Melcher, former Mercedes engineers both, inaugurated AMG in 1967, and it wasn't until three decades later that the mothership finally absorbed the celebrated tuner into what was then Daimler Chrysler. The firm's watershed year, though, had occurred 13 years earlier with the introduction of the AMG Hammer.

If there is an Affalterbach origin story to tell, and an ethos to elucidate, it begins and ends with the Hammer. For a start, no car was ever more adroitly named. AMG had been tuning and modifying Mercedes products for all the years preceding 1986, but had produced nothing in the same league as its bruising W124. The formula, of course, like the name, was elemental. Squeezed into the engine bay was Daimler's own 5.6-litre V8, except with the stock cylinder head contemptuously jettisoned in favour of a custom-made twin camshaft, four-valve-per-cylinder alternative that helped deliver 355hp and 388lb ft of torque - more, if you had AMG round capacity out to 6.0-litres.

Naturally it was the V8's newfound ferocity - particularly its supercar-pummelling mid range - that earned the car its name. (When Car and Driver performance tested an early prototype Stateside, it managed 30-50mph and 50-70mph in 2.8 and 3.1 seconds respectively - the quickest times it had ever recorded.) But the legend too solidified like quick drying cement around the car on the basis of sheer presence. No wonder: on shorter springs and huge wheels, the Hammer had the intimidatory charisma of a yakuza syndicate. Rather fittingly, its price tag too bordered on extortion: Β£50k for the 5.6-litre model - back when an E28 M5 would have cost you around Β£30k.

I mention this because there's more than a little Hammer about the Black Series. True enough, the spirit of '86 lives on in virtually everything AMG has done since - but with the wilfully extreme Black variants (there have been just five models since 2006: the SLK55, CLK63, SL65, C63 and SLS) it tends to feel like Affalterbach has steadied itself for the most almighty swing. Nowhere is this more true than with the W204 C63 AMG, launched in 2011. Where its predecessors wavered between hit and miss, the low volume coupe went sailing over the boundary; in no small part because it was the first (and second to last) Black to possess the stupendous M156 engine.

Like a numbered Led Zeppelin album or sight of a Handley Page Victor, AMG's comparatively short-lived V8 lives long in the memory. Mercedes hadn't let its subsidiary design an engine from scratch before so when the chance came, Affalterbach went straight for the jugular. Ostensibly meant for racing, the unit displaces 6.2-litres (although it was popularised as 6.3 in a marketing homage to the '63 M100 motor) and is naturally-aspirated. For the Black, AMG included the lighter pistons, con-rods and crankshaft from the SLS, helping the C63's V8 onto 517hp and 457lb ft of torque - the most Mercedes had ever installed in a C-Class.

Nevertheless, that hardly describes the net effect, which - less than a decade later - is pinch-me good. Modern enough to be voracious without feeling profligate or inefficient, the M156 gurgles, burrs and bellows (in that order) to 7,200rpm with such unhindered fury that it's all you can do not to pull over and embrace the bonnet. Officially, 62mph appears in 4.2 seconds, but really it's the throttle response and the hulking progressiveness of the delivery which has you marvelling at each and every input. No fuel-preserving pause, no bagginess, no blower swell or stricture - just euphoric, tank-emptying headway made the atmospheric way.

So free-revving is the Black-grade M156 (those lighter internals are to thank for a further reduction of inertia) and so precise is its relationship with the loud pedal, that the comparative lateness of its peak torque barely registers. Mated to a seven-speed automatic, the coupe still feels endlessly flexible - and it would be enthralling to drive if it handled like a barge. But doesn't, of course. Not even a little bit. Despite tipping the scales at 1,710kg (or 1,800kg according to Autocar, which makes it 1,900kg with yours truly aboard) the car exudes a wonderful, stiff-backed composure, underpinned by the vastly wider track front and back, and adjustable coil-over suspension at the corners.

Sure, its heft ultimately stifles the kind of delicacy that made the 997 911 GT3 justly famous - and the bullish secondary ride seems all the more unsparing in 2018 - but it has edge and guts and grip in spades; and because the V8's collaboration is so palpably on tap and the limited-slip differential standard, it is precisely as adjustable as you want it to be. Better still, while AMG aimed the Black specifically at track use, its enhancements don't tend to hinder it on the road; save for the huge noise and occasionally abrupt wheel control, the coupe is comparatively well mannered - and it's no less thrilling to steer when the chassis loading is at a more modest level.

Really though, much of the pleasure of being in it is jumbled up in its improbable, prison-shiv presence. Its design package has aerodynamic implications, of course, but it's hard to think of them when confronted with the thing in the cold light of day. Where contemporary AMG products had entered Mercedes styling slipstream, the Black Series coupe stood brutally, knowingly apart. And its abrasiveness - its Hammer-ness - was not mere posturing: it perfectly encapsulated the way that Affalterbach had decided to make the car sound, go, corner and stop. It is that uncompromising attitude that still floods the stripped-out cabin like intoxicant, carrying you right along with its implacable sense of drama and rather nailing on the idea that the formidably expensive M156-powered C63 - like its distant 80s forbear - was AMG running at its high-octane best.


Engine: 6,208cc, V8
Transmission: 7-speed AMG MCT automatic, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 517@6,800rpm
Torque (lb ft): 457@5,200rpm
0-62mph: 4.2secs
Top speed: 186mph
Weight: 1,710kg
MPG: 23.2 (NEDC combined)
CO2: 286g/km
On sale: 2012 - 2013
Price new: £138,514.61
Price now: £85,000 - £105,000

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