On May 19, at the Côte d’Azur’s new Maybourne Riviera hotel above Monte Carlo, Mercedes-Benz capped off its Capital Markets Day summit for investors with a couple of groundbreaking reveals. Formula 1 racers Lewis Hamilton and George Russell helped debut the all-electric Vision AMG concept car in what would normally be a truly grand finale on any other occasion. It was, however, succeeded soon after by the unveiling of a 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupé, which became the most expensive car in history when it crossed the auction block for an astounding $142.8 million on May 5. The two cars are at seemingly opposite ends of the marque’s legacy, but only at first glance.
Further enforcing the automaker’s commitment to electrification, the Vision AMG four-door concept was developed to introduce the all-new AMG.EA electric platform that will drive future performance models from the Affalterbach team. Complementing the nascent power-train configuration are styling cues optimized by the lack of an internal-combustion engine.
Gorden Wagener, Mercedes-Benz’s chief design officer, alongside the Vision AMG.
“It began as a blank sheet of paper; we started that architecture from scratch, and it’s very important architecture because that’s AMG’s electric future,” says Gorden Wagener, Mercedes-Benz’s chief design officer, when asked by Robb Report about the concept’s inception. “For us as designers, proportion is everything,” Wagener says. “The problem with most electric cars is that you have six inches of battery, which makes the car higher and the center of gravity further up. This was a great opportunity for really different proportions.”
The motorsport-inspired Vision AMG is defined by its low-slung profile, long wheelbase and roof that tapers to an elongated, fastback-like rear, similar to that of the marque’s Vison EQXX concept, which recently covered more than 620 miles on a single charge.
“The rear of the EQXX is optimized for efficiency, while the rear here [on the Vision AMG] is optimized for both efficiency and performance,” says Wagener, who adds that he was inspired by the Le Mans race cars from the 1970s. He goes on to say: “As it’s an electric car, we put the hood super low, and that means we can do exposed fenders. I’ve always loved those, but with a combustion engine it was always difficult to do that because the hood is already high; to expose the fenders you would have to make it even higher. These are going to now be a signature for not only AMG but future electric Mercedes models in general.”
The motorsport-inspired Vision AMG is defined by its low-slung profile, long wheelbase and roof that tapers to an elongated, fastback-like rear.
Other new aesthetic standouts include six faux tailpipes that glow, and the latest reimagining of the automaker’s hallmark Panamericana grille, a design element introduced in 1952 on the automotive entrants in that year’s eponymous endurance competition in Mexico. This iteration, however, features luminous vertical bars set against a solid fascia.
“In the digital age, we’ve brought that [Panamericana Grille] to a car that doesn’t need a radiator anymore,” say Wagener. “We’ve kept it flush, integrated in body color and almost just as a light signature.” Part of that new signature incorporates minimalist headlamps shaped in the form of the three-pointed-star logo. According to Wagener, “the whole front end makes it look more like a tech device than a supercar.”
The new concept car features the latest reimagining of the automaker’s hallmark Panamericana grille.
Yet a supercar it is. For this particular concept, the AMG.EA platform is touted to comprise a bleeding-edge high-voltage battery setup paired with an equally advanced axial flux motor from Yasa, the EV-motor specialist under the Mercedes-Benz Group’s corporate umbrella. As far as output, Wagener will only hint that the Vision AMG is to have “insane horsepower.” To emphasize this point, the vehicle sits on the same F1 wheels used by the Mercedes-AMG Petronas team, which also inspired the livery.
“I was really excited to see what this was going to be like,” stated racer George Russell at the premiere. “When do we get to drive it?” he asked, looking around the group of attendees, “who do we need to ask?”
Lewis Hamilton (with George Russell behind) ready to join the Vision AMG on stage at the Maybourne Riviera hotel above Monte Carlo.
One would be hard-pressed to believe that a car representing such a pivotal shift for AMG could be upstaged, but indeed it was. Less than an hour after the Vision AMG was made public, Ola Källenius, CEO of Mercedes-Benz, officially announced what’s claimed to be not just the world’s most expensive car sold at auction, but the priciest period. On May 5, at an invite-only event presided by RM Sotheby’s from the Mercedes museum in Stuttgart, Germany, a 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupé fetched a record-obliterating $142.8 million.
This 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupé sold for $142.8 million at auction on May 5.
The car is one of only two prototype racers developed by engineer Rudolf Uhlenhaut and his team for the 1955 Carrera Panamericana. That year’s competition, though, was called off, and Mercedes abandoned motorsport entirely, all due to the infamous Le Mans tragedy where Pierre Levegh and his SLR catapulted into the crowd, killing the driver and 83 spectators. Uhlenhaut’s project was subsequently shuttered and this particular example, fit with a 297 hp inline-eight engine mated to a five-speed transmission, came into his own possession. The fact that its top speed was touted to be approximately 186 mph only added to this 300 SLR’s mystique.
Mercedes engineer Rudolf Uhlenhaut with his namesake coupé.
“As the saying goes, never say never,” said Källenius when breaking the news. “We have been approached many times over the years by collectors, museums and other interested parties wanting to buy an Ulenhaut; we’ve always said no. But it has become increasingly clear to us that having our heritage hidden away in the holy halls is, in some ways, a missed opportunity. These incredible cars are works of art and should be more widely celebrated. We thought, ‘wouldn’t it be interesting to see what it’s really worth . . . and what if we did something good with the money, something for society?’”
Only two examples of the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupé were built.
That thought process led to the formation of the Mercedes-Benz Fund, of which the Uhlenhaut Coupé became instrumental in starting. Renata Jungo Brüngger, a member of Mercedes-Benz’s Board of Management for Integrity and Legal Affairs, refers to the sale as “seed money” for what she describes in the official statement as a “global scholarship program supporting young people in their studies, commitment and actions toward a more sustainable future.”
Ola Källenius, CEO of Mercedes-Benz, stands with a new Mercedes-AMG SL.
It’s fitting that the location on the French Riviera, not far from where Mercedes first came to life on a racetrack in Nice back in 1901, was the stage for the world’s oldest automaker to spotlight these two disparate machines. Although separated by nearly seven decades, each now fulfills the same purpose of illuminating the three-pointed star’s road ahead.