Grab some headphones, as our snapper has bought the most outrageous sounding car
Speed, silence, efficiency. This is what the future of modern motoring looks like, and it’s everything the Mercedes S600 is not. Or rather, this particular AMG-tuned example from honourable Japan.
It weighs in excess of two tonnes. Its engine throws around 12 cylinders displacing six litres every rotation. The word ‘consumption’ should only be used when describing its occupants’ meat-based diet, not some fancy fuel-economy malarkey. It is to modern motoring what the ‘grid girl’ is to F1 – hideously outdated and targeted by millennials… but quite good fun behind closed doors.
Words and Photos: Mark Riccioni
Brace yourselves; it’s about to get nerdy. The Mercedes S600 (or 600SEL before Mercedes changed the naming format in 1993) came with a 402bhp 6.0-litre V12 from the factory. Inevitably, AMG decided to do its own version, which was dubbed the S70 AMG, due to the fact the V12 now boasted a 7.0-litre displacement and 496bhp. You could even request this be taken up to 7.3 litres and 525bhp, if you paid AMG enough money.
The S600 AMG is relatively unknown. This was a Japanese-only model, as well as a genuine AMG ‘factory’ model. Aside from wearing an AMG bodykit, wheels and various other AMG trinkets, it featured a 6.0-litre V12 with new pistons, cams, rods and ECU to take power up to 439bhp. It’s unknown just how many of these models were officially produced for the Japanese market, but it’s rumoured to be fewer than 100.
Any consumer advice bureau will tell you it’s a terrible buy in today’s economy… because it is. But this isn’t your typical S600 – it might look ripe for an automotive care home, but its soundtrack rivals that of a Nineties F1 car. Back in the Eighties, during the peak of all things excessive, Mercedes haemorrhaged money into its S-Class programme. If you believe the internet, that figure is said to be in excess of a billion dollars by the end of its initial development. Can you blame ’em, though? The S-Class has for decades been considered the pinnacle of motoring.
The V12 fitted to the W140 S-Class (coded the M120) had serious status; it still does even today. Aside from providing waves of torque at any revs, the V12 engine configuration is perfectly balanced. In layman terms, you can place a coin upright on the intake manifold, rev it like only a possessed YouTuber can and witness zero movement in the process.
So over-engineered was the Mercedes M120 that it quickly found itself used in a variety of non-Mercedes models, most notably the Pagani Zonda. Early C12s used a bone-stock 6.0-litre M120 (producing 402bhp) while later models boasted an AMG-fettled lump with displacement taken to 7.0 or even 7.3 litres. The Zonda never sounded like an OAP Mercedes despite using the same engine, so does that mean a 23-year-old Mercedes can be made to sound like one of the best-sounding supercars ever made? You betcha, and that brings us nicely back to the car in question.
Internet die-hards may already be familiar with this car, the subject of countless blog posts dubbed ‘How to make a used Mercedes sound like an F1 car’. This is the result; the very car which shot to internet fame hurtling through Japanese tunnels at a very reserved speed and creating a V12 racket. It’s also just arrived at Southampton.
Turns out I was one of those internet geeks more than familiar with the car, just like the team here at Top Gear. In fact, I’d been speaking with Sasaki-san – the man behind this madness – for several years already. So when an email from him arrived in January, a few crucial phrases stood out. “Greetings dearest Mark-san,” a traditional hello. “W140 Mercedes AMG,” very relevant to my interests. “Now, I must sale,” wait just a minute. “Commodity of excellence noise,” ah, Google Translate strikes again.
Quickly we moved the chat to LINE, Japan’s equivalent of WhatsApp (which not only provides real-time translation but also the ability to chat entirely with emojis) and Sasaki-san was in fact selling the very car that’d bought him internet stardom. By coincidence, and not entirely facilitated by the car, I was planning to visit Japan for Tokyo Auto Salon a few weeks later. Even stranger, Sasaki-san’s workshop would only be 10 minutes from the hotel I’d chosen. The fact we were discussing shipping options, using nothing but boat and sea emojis, was purely chance…ish.
I’ve never bought a car from Japan before; I’m also really bad at buying cars because I tend to just say yes in advance. Short of it being on fire, there was no way I’d have left Japan without a deal. And even if the rear was engulfed by flames, I’d have nodded encouragingly while transferring a deposit across.
Truth be told, the entire process was made seamless by Ozz and the team at Harlow Jap Autos. Having previously bought Japanese cars from Ozz in the past, I’m aware there’s not an awful lot he doesn’t know about the process. From 1,000bhp tuned Skylines through to low-mileage future classics like the Evo 6 TME, Ozz is your go-to guy for anything cool and Japanese. The only issue dealing with Ozz so regularly is seeing all the new arrivals at his workshop and trying desperately not to remortgage your house.
Is the S600 AMG a terrible idea? Without a shadow of a doubt, but it’s also a fantastic way to have fun in a car without the danger of say, breaking the speed limit or launching your friend’s Lambo Performante into a tree along a busy road.
’Coz here’s a dilemma we all face as car fans. Modern performance cars are fantastically fast, to a point where even handy drivers will struggle to utilise that kind of power on the road. For the most part, they also sound fantastically turd (what with downsizing, turbochargers and electrification), so unless you’re lucky enough to own something Italian and expensive, you find yourself using phrases like “It doesn’t sound too bad, considering.”
Sound is an overlooked commodity disappearing from modern motoring. But a good sound will always make a car captivating, regardless of its available speed or your own driving ability. With our future clouded by mandatory speed limiters and downsizing, I can’t think of a better time to slow that pace down and fill in the gaps with a soundtrack reminiscent of one of F1’s greatest eras.