There’s much more to this C124 than AMG wheels and bumpers. We uncover a very special locally built Mercedes-Benz...
Online classifieds can be a rabbit hole. It’s where you can dream and search to your heart’s content and, if you’re lucky, uncover a real gem. These occasions are rare but that is exactly what happened to the owner of this Mercedes-Benz C124.
From a distance, only the most seasoned Benz aficionado would spot that this 300CE’s bumpers are from AMG. They would have absolutely no clue a 5,5-litre V8 lurks under its bonnet... The owner explains how he found the car: “I was looking for a 124-series Mercedes-Benz online about 11 years ago when this car came up for sale. The word ‘Hammer’ was mentioned in the advertisement. At the time I didn’t know about the history of the 124 Hammer and quickly read up about these special cars.”
This C124 (C denotes coupé) was advertised at a price only slightly more expensive than other 300CEs of its age, so he decided to meet the seller and have a look at the car. To cut a long story short, he bought it. At the time, he had no clue as to how special his purchase was. The story of this car began in 1986 when two employees at Mercedes-Benz South Africa had itchy fingers and wanted to improve the 300CE’s performance. At the time, Peter Lastrucci had a multifaceted job at the company. He worked in the dealer service department but, as district manager, he was also intimately involved with the technical side of the business. This meant he was well connected and had access to the company’s large parts bin.
This car originally belonged to his colleague, Dale Petty, the second Mercedes-Benz employee who played a pivotal role in the creation of this V8. After tracking down Lastrucci, I asked him where the idea came from.
“The root of this project was that typical conversation you have with your colleagues at the time: how to improve the car, make it faster and better,” Lastrucci explained.
He admits the pair was aware of the AMG Hammer but, without the existence of the internet, few people at the time knew the exact details and timeline of Affalterbach’s latest project. However, Lastrucci had visited AMG during those years and, as it happened, drove a Hammer with one of AMG’s bosses alongside him.
“We thought we’d like to do a local upgrade of the 124-series ourselves. You need to remember Mercedes-Benz was a conservative company at the time, quite unlike today. You couldn’t even put different hubcaps on your car. Mercedes-Benz Germany, however, knew nothing of our plans. At the time, during the mid-1980s, South Africa had high import duties, so the idea was to build a car similar to what AMG was making in Affalterbach.”
However, Mercedes South Africa didn’t quite approve of what they were about to do.
“They didn’t stop us but didn’t give us their blessing either. As things progressed, the company’s marketing department began to show interest,” Lastrucci explained. Needless to say, Lastrucci and Petty continued tinkering with this Mercedes, after hours, in their garage. “We had access to a lot of information but in terms of building these cars, we had no assistance from Mercedes-Benz. We were total enthusiasts and we made it happen,” he said, adding that their engineering backgrounds certainly helped their cause.
“The first car we built was a four-door and a lot of development was required. This included the rear axle which needed a new limited-slip differential that had to be hand built with off-the-shelf parts. Other updates included the brakes [although most of the parts were official Mercedes-Benz items]. Next up was the coupé and then another four-door was built, the latter converted and stripped out for racing purposes.”
Unfortunately, the fate of the saloons is unknown.
“Dale managed to purchase the W126 560SE running gear from Mercedes-Benz management in South Africa. That was done before any of the 560s had been delivered in South Africa and before local production began. This drivetrain, the engine and transmission came directly from Germany.” The 300CE’s 138 kW 3,0-litre inline-six was replaced with a 5,5-litre M117 V8 producing 220 kW, sportier bumpers were fitted at the front and rear, a five-spoke alloy bolted at each corner and a twin-pipe exhaust system installed. Bear in mind, a standard 300CE weighs 350 and 400 kg less than a 560SEC and SE, respectively.
The coupé’s interior is stock, except for one item. The 260 km/h speedometer was replaced with a 320 km/h unit. You would think installing this small part would be easy but it took quite some effort, as the C124’s mechanical speedometer arrangement had to be replaced by the W126’s electronic system. The motor emits a richer mechanical rumble than a six-cylinder engine. Blip the throttle and there is a deep-chested confirmation that a serious power unit has been installed under the coupé’s flat bonnet. As I pulled away, it quickly became obvious the level of urgency is on par with more modern AMG models, with 455 N.m of torque accelerating this two-door with gratifying ease.
Even though this coupé has 173 000 km on the odometer, it still feels remarkably solid. I pressed the throttle harder and watched as the rev needle quickly passed 4 000 r/min and then 5 000 r/min. The transmission unhurriedly selected the next gear … that’s just how these old four-speed autos operate. The same goes for the rather vague recirculating-ball steering system. But string a few corners together with enthusiasm and you quickly make allowances for its response.
The stiffened road springs limit body movement yet the ride is still wonderfully pliant and comfortable. There is enough mechanical grip but there is an abiding sense this is a weighty coupé; an over-exuberant corner exit is likely to have a less-than-ideal outcome.
Every time you press the throttle pedal, there is a corresponding burble from the exhaust and more rumbling from the engine. I wondered aloud how fast this car could go in a straight line and, fortunately, the owner had the answer: “I’ve seen 260 km/h on the GPS.” At that velocity, the speedometer would have shown around 270 km/h. Impressive. In the owner’s manual, it states: “Mr P Lastrucci especially prepared the vehicle which was tested on the Gerotek track and recorded a speed of 310 km/h.”
I asked Lastrucci about these tests. “I wasn’t part of them but, yes, they were certainly conducted. You have to remember the engineers played with various differential ratios and used other fuels, including aviation fuel.”
Adding to this car’s provenance is that none of these tests was ever conducted on the other two V8s, only on this specific one. Even when viewed conservatively, if the car hit an indicated 310 km/h, it likely still achieved a true speed of 295/300 km/h. The C124’s drag coefficient is lower than the 560SE’s and no doubt contributed to its higher top speed.
Having driven this wonderful project car, I find it surprising Mercedes-Benz never officially built such a performance-oriented 124-series coupé. As many will know, the 500E/E500 saloons were about as close as Mercedes-Benz got to creating such the equivalent of a modern, hair-raising AMG.
FAST FACTSEngine: 5,5-litre, V8, petrol
Transmission: 4-speed automatic
Power: 220 kW @ 5 000 r/min
Torque: 455 N.m @ 3 750 r/min
0-100 km/h: <7,2 seconds
Top speed: see text
Compression ratio: 10:1
Weight: >1 500 kg
Number made: 1