Just Because You Can, Automotive Dept.

I came upon a website, 1000SEL.com, which tells the story of cars whose owners thought they lacked power, handling, etc., and proceeded to do something about it. Or, put another way …

This site is about the late 1970s-early 1980s explosion of tuning- and coachbuilding companies in Germany, the UK and the US that produced custom cars for oil-rich Arabs, Hollywood stars, Kings, Dictators and anybody else with money to buy a luxury car and personalize it at the cost of a second one.

I can tell you the first example I encountered. The October 1977 Hot Rod magazine had a story about what it called a “Porschev.” Someone took a Porsche 911S (presumably a model built before 1977) and, for reasons known only to himself, pulled the flat-six out of the back and stuck between the rear wheels a 302 V-8 from the first version of the Chevrolet Camaro Z-28. I can’t find photos, but I recall that the engine appeared to have been installed backwards, with the radiator pointing toward the back. (And uncovered, since, to no one’s surprise, the V-8 didn’t exactly fit.)

Paul Newman was a great actor and food entrepreneur (spaghetti sauce, salad dressing, lemonade). He also was one of the first people to decide that Volvo station wagons were designed well, but were slow. The solution? Put in a Ford V-8 and manual transmission.

I forgot to mention the V-8 was supercharged. And that based on Newman’s recommendation, David Letterman got one too.

Back in the days when even expensive cars didn’t have a huge amount of power (as in nearly every car of the late ’70s and early ’80s) as produced from Detroit or wherever, such cars were an option for those who wanted much more power. At the same time, one could also get cars with body modifications such as wider fenders to fit around the wider tires and wheels that accompanied the more powerful cars.

Some of these I was aware of before this site. AMG is a German company for those who think whatever Mercedes–Benz they wanted to buy is insufficiently powerful:

When Mercedes-Benz replaced the W123 with the W124-model 200-300 series in 1984, the top model was the 3.0L straight-six powered Mercedes 300E. It wasn’t long before tuners picked up the W124 and started modifying it in every way possible. … AMG did … well what AMG could do best: upgrading the performance to a staggering levell and enhancing the looks of the car carefully to match the upgraded power.

AMG offered several different options for the W124, both cosmetics-wise and performance-wise. By far the most spectacular modification done by AMG performance-wise was transplanting the V8 powerplant from the W126-model S-class into the W124’s enginebay, replacing the 300E’s 3 litre straight-six engine. The engine initially used for the AMG Hammer was the 5.0L (or the bored 5.4L) V8 32-valve DOHC engine from the first generation W126 AMG’s. This modification was introduced in 1986 and from 1987 onward the 5.0L 1st Gen engine was replaced by a newer 5.6L engine from the 2nd generation W126 (engine used in both the 560SE/SEL and 560SEC). This engine could be left its original 5.6L displacement or bored to 6.0L. All V8 powered AMG W124s got the “Hammer” nickname, which does do the car justice.

When AMG introduced the 300E with V8 engine in 1986 the new engine led to much improved performance over the stock 300E: the 5.0L 32-valve DOHC engine delivered 340BHP, the bored 5.4L engine 355BHP, the later 5.6L AMG Hammers developed 360BHP, 60BHP more than the stock 5.6L Mercedes engine. Last but not least the power output of the 6.0L engine: 375BHP. The V8 powered 300Es by AMG were among the first 4-door saloons to hit the 300 KM/H barrier, which was unheard of the in the 1980s and still is quite staggering these days, 25 years later.

(I briefly worked at a newspaper where the managers had the Cult of the Mercedes Diesel. Because the owner had a large Mercedes diesel, the editor and ad manager also had one. That was in the days when the diesels didn’t have turbochargers, so you could measure their 0–60 times with a calendar.)

Australia’s two domestic automakers, Holden and Ford, have subsidiaries, Holden Special Vehicles and Ford Performance Vehicles, that will do this sort of thing. Ford sells no V-8s in Australia, but FPV does.

Of course, hot-rodders have been putting more stout engines in cars for decades. (I once worked with someone who improved an early ’70s Chevy Vega with a 283 V-8. Ironically, I had to take him home one night because the aforementioned 283 wouldn’t start.) It’s more of a big deal to modify cars to meet market niches that you may not have known existed. You may not have known there was a market for a Rolls–Royce four-door convertible:

For reasons that should be obvious, there is only one of these, made from a 1980 Mercedes 600, but designed to look like a ’30s Mercedes:

The Porsche 928 was controversial from its inception, because it wasn’t rear-engined, wasn’t powered by a flat-six, and had a hatchback. That is, until this company created a car that Porsche never did,  the 928 T-top:

This started life as a 1970s Range Rover, but ended as something else entirely (perhaps the incestuous pairing of an AMC Gremlin and a Jeep CJ-5?):

The same company did the comparably more conventional six-door Range Rover:

A different company didn’t do a six-door Range Rover; it did a six-wheel Range Rover in two-door …

… and, shall we say, Vista Cruiser models:

What’s the big deal about a Bentley coupe? Bentley didn’t make Turbo R coupes, but this company did by taking a four-door, removing the rear doors and rebuilding everything between the A and C pillars:

Perhaps you think that Nissan was stupid for making the Murano convertible, which is, yes, an SUV. But someone beat them to the answer-in-search-of-a-question convertible SUV, again using a Range Rover:

What? Need four doors? Not a problem:

(That may be the ugliest vehicle I have ever seen in my entire life.)

One thought on “Just Because You Can, Automotive Dept.

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