Much like shark attacks, AMG Black Series cars are much rarer than you think. But, just like shark attacks, the sheer violence of AMG’s full-bore, limited-run machines lodges them in one’s memory fairly comprehensively.
That’s because the Black Series is AMG at its most devoted to speed and least restricted in its pursuit of power. And, as the new GT Black blurs the lines between ‘personal transport’ and ‘offensive weapon,’ we thought it best to see where all this insanity started.
1) Mercedes-Benz SLK55 AMG Black Series
Logically, everything has to start somewhere. Gold rings start off as rocks in the ground, beef starts out as cows, and politicians start out as regular people with consciences. And AMG, itself a tuner-turned skunkworks, debuted its skunkworks-within-a-skunkworks back in 2006 with this, the SLK55 Black. Is this where Christopher Nolan got the idea for Inception? Of course not; that’d be ridiculous. He cribs from anime, like all good westerners.
But, before we besmirch the name of the man who gave you a very croaky Batman, let’s get back to the beginning of the Black Series. The SLK Black was about as reserved as things in AMG’s skunkworks got, to be honest, with just a few complementary bolt-ons to take power from 360hp to 400hp. There was a meager 11Nm boost in torque as well, but when the final number is 520Nm, and it’s delivered via the medium of a small convertible, you sit up and take notice.
Ah, yes, one small thing: To save weight, the SLK55 Black didn’t... well, convert. To cut down on the kilos, the 55 Black was a fixed-roof coupe, with carbon weave entering the fray in the name of saving even more mass. To their credit, the bods at AMG made sure the slimming was put to good use, with fully adjustable suspension and big brakes for a spot of unleashing the beast at the nearest racetrack. Or the farthest. Your choice.
2) Mercedes-Benz CLK63 AMG Black Series
Most famously owned by some tall lad who used to work around here, the CLK63 is likely what most think of when the Black Series is mentioned. And that’s for good reason, even without a celebrity endorsement.
The front wheel arches alone deserve to sit in the pantheon of all-time great curves, along with the Eames Lounger and the objectivist remark you were expecting to read next. Proportionally, the CLK Black is about as bang-on as the E46 M3, and praise rarely gets higher than that.
And, as with the Bimmer, the Black’s reputation hinges on its phenomenal engine—in this case, one of the all-time greats: the 6.2-liter V8. In the CLK63 Black, it was good for more than 500hp, less than six months’ worth of tire life and a grin about as wide as Jack Nicholson’s Joker. Thank a magnesium dual-intake manifold, free-flowing exhaust, and the sheer force of will of the bods at Affalterbach for that.
Almost needless to say, there was quite a bit of re-engineering of the standard executive coupe to live up to the ideas the AMG workforce had in mind. We’re talking wider, beefier axles, bigger brakes, different gears in the steering gearbox, fully adjustable suspension, forged alloy wheels, and a whole heap of bracing.
And bracing, coincidentally, is a fairly bang-on description for the driving experience. Mostly because the actual words you’d use are unsuitable for a family website.
3) Mercedes-Benz SL65 AMG Black Series
Since its inception, the SL has always had a bit of a sporting bent. The SL65, on the other hand, is bent so far toward sport that a casual observer could reasonably assume it would spontaneously sprout hockey sticks and a mouth guard.
The bad news here is that such overt sportiness isn’t really what the SL was about, given that it was already a very expensive Mercedes convertible, which tends to be bought by people who’ve blown out their fair share of candles. So, it’s something of a hard sell to offer the SL65 Black with suspension only slightly less forgiving than a headmaster with a hangover. Oh, and one-piece bucket seats that offer all the pliancy and comfort of a hollow block.
But AMG’s hand-built, twin-turbo V12 engine did absolutely everything in its considerable power to right the wrongs of the masochistic leanings of the rest of the car, delivering an easy 660hp and nearly 1,000Nm. This is an insane amount of torque, until you realize that the V12 was capable of a gearbox-shredding 1,220Nm and had to be limited from the factory so it didn’t...well, shred gearboxes. Even with the limited torque, AMG still had to reach for an old five-speed auto, which could take more strain than the newer seven-speed.
Notwithstanding this stymying of potential performance, you had a simple choice when accelerating in the SL65 Black: constant interference from the traction control, or instant interface with the nearest immovable object. Which you would approach with nearly irresistible force. We’re not really selling this as a concept, are we?
4) Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG Black Series
The C63 Black might be the only safety car to have more power than the race cars it was there to protect. And yet, this entirely unlikely scenario did happen. And not in the ‘Just for Funsies Miata Cup’ or anything, but DTM. Yes, Germany’s answer to ‘but what if you just gave touring cars more power?’ was itself outshined by the 517hp C63 Black safety car.
If this is giving you a bit of a flavor of the car in question, consider the next part the full cinnamon challenge. That 517hp was backed up by a resounding 619Nm, or about one and a half times what could be considered remotely necessary, but enough to launch a luxury coupe from standing still to 100kph in about 4sec. Reining that back in meant brakes the size of a pizza oven, let alone the pizza inside it, and a locking rear axle with an optional cooler. That AMG expected your rear diff to get hot speaks volumes about this thing’s intended use.
Oh, and as for its merits out on the track? Our contemporary road test of the C63 Any-Color-You-Like had this to say: “You might think the engine would be the focus in a car with 517hp. But that’s not the case...the C63 Coupe Black Series handles like a well-sorted touring car.” Guess it was up to the task at DTM, then.
5) Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Black Series
And here we have the best (at least so far) of the Schwartz Series. Can the new boy, with its flat-plane crankshaft, tower of power, and styling best described as ‘a mechanical soul-eating device with wheels’ live up to one of AMG’s greatest hits? We don’t know, as we haven’t driven it yet. And this is something of an impediment when it comes to making decisions about things.
But here’s what the ‘if he dies, he dies’ of motor cars will have to beat: the glorious 6.2-liter AMG V8, taken to its road-going extreme with 100hp per naturally aspirated liter. It certainly doesn’t help the new one that the SLS Black is rather better-looking than it is. But there can be no beauty that doth not have some strangeness in its proportion, or indeed the same basic styling tenets—a huge mouth and many gills—as a basking shark.
But let’s get back in black (yeah, sorry) and consider the SLS Black, which took the already-gorgeous SLS and festooned it with spoilers and accents that looked a touch chintzy at the time, but have aged like wine. Also taken out were 70 errant kilos that were sitting around doing nothing (add in your ‘just like my ex!’ should you feel it necessary) and any lingering notion that Black Series cars were all about more power and less usefulness.
The Black put the regular SLS to shame in the handling stakes. And, while no one would argue that the standard car lacked for power, AMG still pushed for 622hp and a redline at 8,000rpm. This was, in no uncertain terms, the 6.2 V8’s swan song. And good grief, did it sound good.
NOTE: This article first appeared on TopGear.com. Minor edits have been made.