While the Internet is littered with "greatest BMW M car" lists, finding a definitive Top 10 ranking of AMG models is trickier... so we've given it a shot!
But first, what constitutes greatness in this list? For us, it's a combination of historical significance, product "awesomeness" and, as is the case with many classic cars, a certain X-factor that's hard to define. After all, if it was as simple as making a list of the most popular AMGs, we could rank all the various iterations of the C63 AMG and A45 AMG and that would be that... but that would also be very boring! We have also excluded any of the marque's current models from the list.
1. Mercedes-Benz 300 SEL 6.8 AMG "Red Pig"
Founded in the late '60s by former Mercedes-Benz engineers Hans Werner Aufrecht and Erhard Melcher, AMG was initially an independent engineering firm that specialised in making mainstream Mercedes-Benz models go faster. But the car that undoubtedly put AMG on the map was the so-called "Red Pig", a modified 300 SEL that had its engine capacity increased to 6.8 litres - in its final state of tune the engine packed a whopping 315kW punch! The unlikely racer was not only a stroke of marketing genius, it also performed well, with a second place in the 1971 Spa 24 hours Endurance Race. It is reported that five cars were built - two test cars and three racers.
2. Mercedes-Benz 300 CE 6.0 "The Hammer"
Business was booming for AMG in the '80s and it was "The Hammer" that arguably finally convinced Mercedes-Benz of its importance for the future. The W124 (in sedan, coupe and estate versions) was a highly rated product for its quality, though not necessarily its performance.
Enter AMG, stuffing V8 engines of 5.0L, 5.6L and even 6.0L capacity underneath the W124's bonnet. The latter offered 286kW and ensured 0-100kph acceleration in the low 5 second mark as well as a 300kph top speed.
3. Mercedes-Benz SL 73 AMG
With a lifespan that stretched from 1989 to 2001 and with more than 213 000 units built, the R129-generation of Mercedes-Benz's SL was a commercial success and also saw the introduction of some very limited-edition variants that have future classic status written all over them.
Ignoring the Mille Miglia, Silver Arrow and La Coste editions, as examples, the rarest R129s include some very powerful AMG cars. The SL 60 AMG is the most well-known (280kW 6.0L V8), but there were also a SL 70 AMG (365kW 7.1L V12) of which 150 were made and the SL 72 AMG (380kW 7.1L V12). Near the end of the R129's life cycle a SL 55 AMG was introduced with a 260kW naturally aspirated 5.4L V8. Only 65 units of the SL 55 AMG were produced.
But the king of the R129s is undoubtedly the SL 73 AMG, powered by a 386kW version of the 7.3L M297 V12 engine, the same unit used later in the Pagani Zonda hypercar. With 750Nm of torque developed at 4 000rpm, the SL 73 AMG was a real hot-rod of a roadster, with a 0-100kph time of 4.5 seconds and a top speed of over 320kph! It is said that only 85 were made.
4. Mercedes-Benz E 50 AMG
I remember seeing the first artist sketches of the W210 Mercedes-Benz E-Class vividly. It was finished in a pinkish red, and the quad front "goggle eyes" were described by the magazine as giving it the face of a spider. Not the best of starts, then...
And to be honest, the W210 was no beauty (penned by Steve Mattin under Bruno Sacco), though the appearance was improved through a number of changes later on in its life cycle. Inside, it also appeared to lack the solidity of its highly acclaimed predecessors, W123 and tank-like W124. But it was spacious, and had the right badge on the nose, so it sold briskly.
Outputs ranged from a measly 70kW in the E220 Diesel to a whopping 205kW in the E420. I remember driving a CLK 420 (essentially the E-Class coupe) in the early days of my road testing career and thought it was a wondrous thing... good enough to make me (almost) forgive its bulky, awkward looks.
But there was another W210 that is lesser known... the E 50 AMG, launched in Europe in September 1995. It packed a mighty 255kW from its naturally aspirated 5.0L V8, and riding low on those big AMG alloys, the W210's shape suddenly looks a whole lot better, doesn't it? Maximum torque was 480Nm, and the macho Benz was claimed to sprint to 100kph in around 5.4 seconds. It was built in Affalterbach under the so-called "one-man-one-engine" philosophy.
The E 50 AMG was only built in left-hand drive and 2870 were produced, making it increasingly collectible.
5. Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR
Mercedes-Benz had to build a minimum of 25 road cars to compete in the FIA GT1 racing formula and gained entry by completing one such car in 1997, with the rest constructed by AMG during 1998/1999. The road version differed very slightly from the racing machine, but it did feature such creature comforts as leather upholstery and air-conditioning. Traction control was also added.
The engine was a 6.9L unit that pumped out 450kW and 775Nm of torque. Mercedes-Benz at the time claimed a 0-100kph time of 3.8 seconds and for a while the GTR was listed as the world's most expensive production car, with a price of $1,547,620.
In the end 20 coupes and six roadsters were built.
6. Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG
If there's a brand renowned for paying homage to its classics, it's Mercedes-Benz. The SLS is a nod to the iconic 300SL Gullwing and features outrageous gullwing doors, which open upwards, giving it a look not too dissimilar to that of an eagle swooping on its prey.
It was powered by a 6.2-litre naturally-aspirated V8 engine with a claimed top speed of 315kph. It made a tremendous noise at full throttle that sounded like a Highveld thunderstorm, but it was awkward to drive around in an urban environment thanks to its long nose. It was also one of the few vehicles assembled by hand, at the same facility Mercedes-Benz uses for G-Class and the first vehicle built entirely by Mercedes-AMG. The final coolness factor? F1 driver David Coulthard had a hand in developing the car.
7. Mercedes-Benz G55 AMG
When it comes to head-turning, brutish SUVs, few come close to the Mercedes-Benz G-Class (also known as the Gelandewagen or G-Wagon), especially with a 5.5-litre supercharged AMG V8 under the bonnet. While the G hasn’t changed much over the past three decades or so, it still looks muscular and full of anger – alluring attributes that have made it quite popular among the pseudo-gangsters of modern hip hop and trustafarians of Beverly Hills 90210.
However cool it may appear, the laterally arranged dual exhaust pipes that protrude beneath the running boards and 20-inch wheels ultimately inhibit it from tackling the hinterlands for which it was designed.
8. Mercedes-Benz CLK DTM AMG Cabriolet
Launched in 2005 and limited to only 100 cars, the CLK DTM Cabriolet featured shattering performance. It boasted a 428kW 5.5-litre, supercharged V8 that powered it to 100kph in 4.0 seconds and on to an (electronically limited) 300kph top speed. At the time, Mercedes-Benz claimed it to be the world's fastest open-top four-seater.
9. Mercedes-Benz SL 65 AMG Black Series
Arguably the most desirable modern-day SL, the SL 65 AMG Black Series made its debut in 2008 as a Coupe only. Featuring dramatically different bodywork and carbon fibre reinforced plastic panels to save weight, the Black Series was a sizzling performer, with a 0-100kph time of 3.8 seconds and an electronically limited top speed of 320kph. Power came from a 6.0L biturbo V12 that delivered 493kW and a whopping 1000Nm of twist!
10. Mercedes-Benz C36 AMG
The Mercedes-Benz C36 AMG makes this list because it was the first joint project to be created by Mercedes-Benz and AMG. The C36 AMG (W202 series) made its debut in 1993, and was powered by a 3.6L six-cylinder engine that developed 206kW and 385Nm of torque. BY the end of its production run in 1997, 5 221 units were built.