AMG: Big in Japan.
Prior to Mercedes-Benz rule, AMG was not limited to providing its services to just the products bearing the three-pointed star. A 51% subsidiary of Mercedes-Benz since 1999 and completely taken over and wholly integrated six years later, the company established by Hans Werner Aufrecht and Erhard Melcher (the G stands for Grossaspach, the birthplace of Aufrecht) has for obvious reasons been strongly associated with Mercedes-Benz from the outset.
To be sure, some sanctioned outside co-operations with Pagani and lately Lotus and Aston Martin has taken place but before AMG became part of the Stuttgart giant, there was nothing to stop them from working with any carmaker they pleased.
And AMG did indeed work with other brands, although the fact that the results of those co-operations were only sold in their respective home market and/ or were produced in countries geographically far removed from Western Europe has ensured they remain obscure – neither AMG’s website nor its Wikipedia entry makes any mention of them.
The first non-three pointed star manufacturer AMG collaborated with was only a few clicks removed in the rolodex: Mitsubishi. The vehicle to receive the AMG treatment was the large Debonair V 3000 Royal AMG in 1987. The German firm’s contribution was limited to outward appearance changes only – the three litre V6 engine with, depending on the version, an output of between 150 and 210 horsepower remained untouched.
A long wheelbase variant of the Debonair could also be AMG-ised and was known as the Debonair V150 AMG (the 150 representing the amount of the stretch in millimetres – or six inches). A bodykit with widened wheel arches, dual exhausts, alloy wheels and a new steering wheel as well as a liberal sprinkling of AMG badges frankly did little to enhance the car’s appearance, since overt sportiness had previously not been part of any Japanese luxurious executive car’s vocabulary.
The Debonair V 3000 Royal AMG – which judging by the available photographic evidence seems to have been available only in white, was a difficult sell: just over 300 were sold in four years and it is therefore quite rare today.
The second car born out of the Tokyo-Affalterbach co-operation in 1989 was a much more serious proposition. Based on the sixth generation Galant (1987-1994), this one was much more like the complete article as more than just a bodykit and some tinsel were applied; this Mitsubishi AMG was what it said on the tin.
The 2 litre naturally aspirated DOHC four-cylinder engine was augmented significantly by AMG’s engine technicians: different pistons (cooled by oil injection), more aggressive camshafts, titanium valve springs, increased compression ratio, a retuned ECU and new exhaust system enabled the engine to raise its redline to 8000 Rpm and deliver an output of 168 horsepower. This was all very nice but still some way short of what Mitsubishi’s in-house developed, turbocharged Galant VR-4 brought to the table: between 200 and 235 Hp and four wheel drive to boot.
Both the AMG and VR-4 look quite similar at first glance although the bodykit parts are different; the Galant AMG was available in two versions. Available once more in one colour only, black metallic – this time – named Type 1 and Type 2. Type 1 was fitted with a larger rear spoiler and a two-tone interior. Type 2 sported a more modest appliance on its bootlid and monochromatic upholstery.
Each version was also treated to its own style of light alloy wheels; mechanically both were identical. The Galant AMG was available on the Japanese domestic market for four years during which time 1395 were produced; when the seventh generation Galant bowed in 1993 a VR-4 was again part of the lineup but the AMG was gone, never to return.
Another obscure AMG version of a Japanese car was the result of one partner looking to enter the market and the other wanting to increase their production numbers as well as offer a more affordable vehicle in its showrooms.
In the early eighties Honda wanted to gain entrance into the South African market. They were scarcely known there, without a dealer network and did not have any production facilities, which is where MBSA (Mercedes-Benz of South Africa) came in. Mercedes-Benz was already firmly established in South Africa at that time and produced its vehicles for the domestic market in a modern factory.
A deal was struck whereby MBSA would produce the Honda Ballade (Civic 4-door sedan in some other markets) and sell the car alongside the W201 and W124/ W210 in its showrooms to attract a broader range of customers. Aside from bread-and-butter Ballades this also resulted in nowadays extremely rare AMG versions of the car; both the fourth and fifth generation Civic/ Ballade were offered in AMG guise.
Two versions were available (160i and 180i), fitted with an Eibach suspension lowered by 1.6 inches, Remotec Aluline or Remotec AMG alloy wheels, a boot spoiler and of course AMG badging. Some sources speak of an engine tuned by AMG increasing its output from 160 to 173 horsepower but this can not be independently verified; likewise there is also no data available on the number of AMG Ballades sold.
What is a fact is that MBSA stopped producing the Ballade in 2001, and as Mercedes-Benz had acquired a 51% share in AMG by that time. This of course also marked the end for the Honda AMG collaboration.
Et tu, Volvo?
Finally there is this mysterious undated photograph of a set of renderings of Volvo 480s with proposed AMG bodykits; it is unknown if this photo was taken in a Volvo design studio or at AMG’s premises. In any case nothing ever came of it, relegating it to the unsolved mysteries folder for the time being.
11 thoughts on “The Hidden Side of Affalterbach”
Good morning, Bruno. I was only aware of the Debonair AMG. The Galant and Ballade were completely unknown to me until now.
As far as I know, Volvo supplied a bodykit for the 480, but only for a very short time. It was quite restraint if I remember correctly. There were a few tuners out there who supplied bodykits, though.
Thanks Bruno, the Ballade AMG was completely unknown to me.
I´m curious about the French number plates (from the prefecture of Paris, it seems) on the Galant AMG, a RHD car that was never sold outside Japan. I remember early ´90s Honda ads for the domestic market featuring RHD cars with French plates, even Swiss ones. I suppose “European chic way of life” was a good sales argument in Japan, even for domestic car makers.
Good morning Bruno. The Debonair AMG is hilariously ‘wrong’ in that I cannot think of a less suitable candidate for the addition of aerodynamic aids. The fact that it only came in white exacerbates its extreme boxiness and makes me think of domestic appliances. Still, it made me smile on a dismal December morning, so thank you for that!
Seeing that Debonair AMG, it´s difficult to find a more accurate definition of “tarted-up”.
Still, it was 1987, and as the rap and hip hop music popularity was rising, perhaps Mitsubishi lost an opportunity not selling this car in Los Angeles…
It reminds me that AMG and Mercedes were dating and it generally went well. But during their W124 period Mercedes started seeing posh Porsche. So AMG took a long holiday settling in Marunouchi Park, the famous “lost weekend” as documented here, though soon returned home thenceforth gracing the Swabian countryside with wild wings, copious scoops, and curious lip mouldings.
AMGs aready were tasteless in the W115 or W123 era
At least these old AMGs weren’t much faster than the base cars despite of being considerably more expensive
They couldn’t even leave their fingers off the W198
A one off based on an original W198 but with 4.5 litre V8 and suspension from W116 built for German industrial magnate Flick.
Hi Dave, I hope it is OK to like the orange car, though the execution is heavy handed, if not crude, and certainly irreverent.
Today’s subject matter gave me pause to consider what tuner cars were ever tastefully executed? I’ve always respected Alpina, but for the decals. Granted that in that sector one must toot one’s own horn to an extent, and on that note I was disheartened to learn that Hartge is now defunct.
This W198 monster was indeed exquisitely engineered and the cack handed looks were mostly dictated by its owner. The car was based on an example sourced from Argentina that at this time was considered a write-off (and would be worth millions today) with extensive clearings in its space frame to accomodate the new suspension and drive train. AMG found out that the chrome molybdenum steel tubing of the frame was the same as on Maico moto cross competition bikes and sourced it from there.
Good Lord, an AMG Ballade. I imagine they do all they can to forget about this particular tie up.
Many years ago, I had a summer job at a Honda dealership. The custom was to commandeer one of the lower value trade ins for use as runaround vehicle for staff errands.
That summer, we were given a Ballade for these duties. Everyone hated it, so each member of staff that used it drove it as unsympathetically as possible in the hope that it would break and we would be given something more interesting instead. But it was simply unkillable!
TLDR: The Ballade is exceptionally boring but very reliable.
It beats me why Mitsubishi would want an AMG Galant when they already had the Galant VR-4.