SO, THIS is it. The last naturally-aspirated V8 from Mercedes-Benz AMG. It seems restless, idling at an impatient 600rpm. The 6.2-litre V8 is anything but Mercedes-smooth at this low engine speed, the whole car wobbling and shaking like an old-school eight with a hot camshaft.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that this C63 is doing a hot-rod shimmy at the side of the road here in the dry interior of California’s Mojave Desert. After all, this is the Edition 507, the C63 with a handful of SLS engine components that stands as a final tribute to the wonder of natural aspiration.
Following the industry-wide trend, the sublime M156 powerplant will soon be replaced by a smaller turbocharged engine. It’s already happened across most of the AMG range. In a few years’ time, almost every engine will be aided by turbochargers, superchargers or even electric motors. There will be fuel savings, but it won’t quite be the same.
Cars like the high-revving C63 will be treasured, stashed away and saved. Folks out this way hang on to two things: Their cars and their guns. The firearms get oiled regularly, but the cars are usually left to waste away while the owners hope for an economic miracle that would allow their restoration. The grass doesn’t grow up under these vehicles, but that’s only because it is too dry for grass to grow. I can imagine a stored 507 being dusted off by a future ‘Mad’ Max Rockatansky for use in a post-apocalyptic battle of good versus evil around here.
In fact, this coupe does a great impression of The Interceptor tearing along a road that stretches all the way to a vast, empty horizon. I know the real Interceptor was fitted with a supercharger in Mad Max, but it was actually faked (they used an electric pulley) and was really naturally aspirated, so I’m content with the analogy.
The roads out here in the badlands are almost empty. At one point, some tumbleweed actually rolls across the road in front of me. Seriously, I thought that only happened in the movies. This lack of traffic is a good thing, though, when you have so much horsepower under the bonnet. How much is there? Well, the name is no accident, as this swansong C63 produces 507hp. That translates into 373kW in the more civilised regions of the world, backed up by an impressive 610Nm of torque. They are mighty figures from a production car without any device forcing extra air into its gullet.
Now, it would be delightful to have all 373kW channeled through a manual transmission, but this is a car from Mercedes-Benz, a company that considers its customers too stupid, too old – or too stupidly old – to change gears. Instead, the 507 and other C63s come with a seven-speed traditional automatic, albeit one with a wet-clutch instead of a torque convertor.
It can operate in Driving Miss Daisy automatic mode, Sport, Sport + or Manual, with changes controlled by the metal-plated paddles on the steering column. The latter is the best option for fun and, thankfully the changes are quick. Mercedes says 100 milliseconds; I got a similar figure on my stopwatch… It is also able to double de-clutch on down-changes, allowing for more aggressive downshifts. Thank goodness. There is nothing worse than having a transmission/engine computer resist changing down until it’s too late, blocking the change and beeping in disgust. It’s not like I want to compression lock the rear wheels, I just change as if I was using a manual.
Not that this engine really needs many gears. Be clumsy with the accelerator and the rear tyres will light up faster than a farting firefighter. On fresh rubber, the 507 is able to lunge off the line without wheelspin if you are careful, but the engine’s strength means it can and will break traction higher up the rev range as well. You could leave the stability control on, but where’s the fun in that?
Switch it to Sport+ or off completely and the 507 is fantastically slidey, as I found out the day before at Willow Springs Raceway. Thanks to its power and optional electronic locking diff (up to 40 per cent lock), you can pretty much steer with the throttle, making the steering wheel largely redundant. The steering is adequately precise and the springs and dampers, lifted from the C63 Performance Pack, are firm enough to keep body roll under control.
Composite brake discs with six-piston calipers at the front and four-pistons at the rear help tame the grunt, with the pedal refusing to yield even after several laps of punishment. Maybe painting the calipers red helps.
The potent anchors come in handy out on the roads away from the track, where the ability to suddenly wash off speed is important. You’d never know it from most of the cars it produces, but the US has fantastic ribbons of road, eyeball-expanding corners with surprise extra apexes allied to exciting gradient changes.
Some of the crests actually qualify as jumps and sport the sump guard gouges to prove it. I hit one at a speed that my attorney suggests I do not disclose and comprehensively leave the ground leaving no option but to pucker up. I pray the car doesn’t come down off-line, grip up and fire me into a cactus field. I don’t like the idea of knocking on the nearest trailer for help. Out here, with all my teeth, I’d be considered ‘real perty’. Thankfully, the 507 lands straight and true, losing none of its composure.
Further along the road is a 1959 Ford Edsel coupe sitting in a run-down farmyard next to a 1973 Lincoln Continental land yacht and a bunch of junk, mostly obscured by billowing dirt. It’s like a scene from Steinbeck novel. I go to drive in and have second thoughts as a pack of wild dogs surrounds me.
A man in denim overalls with a Captain Caveman beard and a hat older than the Edsel appears out of the dust and walks over stiffly. His face is only slightly less menacing than his dogs, but it turns out old Joe Wealand is a gentle soul looking after an old alfalfa farm. He just gets cranky when folks turn up asking to buy the Edsel, which is not for sale. His dogs, part cattle dog, part shepherd and part wolf, express his objection to said barn-find hunters.
Joe is a Ford man but likes the look of the Mercedes. He takes a while to accept it has 507 horsepower. He waves as I drive slowly around the dogs and accelerate hard up the road. I’ve blasted away from a stop more than 100 times today and I still can’t get enough. Part of the appeal, no doubt, comes from the 507’s upgraded innards taken from the SLS. There’s a lighter crankshaft, new con-rods and forged pistons that save a combined 3kg, reducing the engine’s mass inertia and allowing it to spin freely to 7200rpm. There is also that instant response you get from a naturally aspirated engine.
It sounds so incredibly angry. I’m talking angry like Jabba the Hut finding nothing but crumbs in his cookie jar. This is not a ‘technical’ sounding engine like the newer AMG turbo V8s, it’s more guttural and certainly doesn’t need any M5-style electronic audio amplification. There is a fantastic ‘thrump’ that accompanies the up-changes and aurally-pleasing blips for the down-changes as well as some crackle and pop on lift-off.
I head along a straight stretch of road, out towards the Edwards airbase. There are some rugged rock formations and a wide, expansive salt plain, beautiful in its own lifeless way. But the view out the windscreen is cool no matter where you are pointed, thanks to the bulge in the bonnet that protrudes just far enough into your line of sight to remind you this is a high performance car. The bonnet and the vents are from the limited edition C63 Black Series.
This 507 is not as harsh or hardcore as that car. You could live with it everyday, although that would depend on the roads you intend to use it on. The freeways out of Los Angeles conspire with the dampers to re-form your skeletal structure every time it hits an expansion joint, yet, out here, the chassis is just fine. There are enough luxury features to make life comfortable, including supportive leather seats with cheek heaters. This car has light-coloured porcelain trim for parts of the doors and seat. This gives the owner a vast reserve of jokes about the pleasure of sitting on porcelain.
The sun is starting to set and it’s time to head back to the concrete expanse of Los Angeles. I follow seemingly endless straight rows of powerlines until the road starts curling again as it joins a canyon through the Sierra Pelona Mountains, rising and falling gently. The surface is smooth and the 507 is at home, its exhaust note reverberating against the rock walls.
But the traffic increases approaching Santa Clarita. We’re not in the outback now and I have to remember the apocalypse hasn’t happened yet. There are stillpPolice to watch out for and rules to follow. But when the day does come, I’m definitely going to track me down a 507.