In 1997, it took AMG engineers just 126 days to design and build the awesome and barely street-legal CLK GTR. Two decades later, the gestation process of the Mercedes-AMG Project ONE hypercar, which has just been revealed ahead of its debut at the 2017 Frankfurt auto show, has taken years. The long-awaited result? More than 1,000 horsepower of Formula One inspired, hybrid-electrified design at roughly $2.53 million a copy (or 2.275 million euro if your bank account is in that denomination).
It began with the divorce from McLaren and with the need to eventually come up with an in-house replacement for the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren. True, the AMG GT lineup has accomplished a volume-generating and brand-shaping mission, but even the range-topping AMG GT R isn’t a true hardcore supercar, let alone a mind-blowing hypercar like the Project ONE.
What AMG aimed for was a one-of-a-kind machine even more outrageous than the McLaren P1 and LaFerrari, the ultimate fusion of combustion and electrification. Originally known as X1 and initially dubbed AMG R50 to celebrate AMG’s then-upcoming 50th anniversary, the project was kicked off in late 2014 by an undercover team led by AMG’s chief engineer at the time Tobias Moers, who later replaced Ola Källenius at the top of the Mercedes satellite.
In March of this year at the 2017 Geneva auto show, a fiberglass model without an interior was shown to selected customers. The private viewings took place in an anonymous cordoned off tent on the lawns of the high-end La Reserve hotel, where the gunmetal over black two-seater was heralded by Moers as the next big step towards the future of high-performance motoring.
Out of a pool of more than 1,000 applicants, Mercedes accepted six-figure deposits from 275 carefully selected friends of the three-pointed star. Before the first car will be delivered in early 2019, a group of 12 pre-production prototypes have been queued up for demolition in comprehensive EU and U.S. crash tests. “As far as passive safety is concerned, we pulled out all the stops,” states Moers. “There will be at least four airbags — maybe six — and the monocoque is strong enough to absorb the pole during side impact.”
Shaped by Mercedes chief designer Gorden Wagener, whose recent works include the flamboyant Vision 6 concepts, Project ONE is indeed a striking piece of kit. Less extreme than Aston Martin’s Valkyrie and more track-oriented than Bugatti’s Chiron, it is visually — and in content — in league similar to the Koenigsegg Regera and McLaren’s planned BP23 three-seater.
The most striking feature is perhaps its full-length vertical aero blade, which is said to enhance directional stability at very high speeds. Wide and low, the new King of the Autobahn boasts a coke bottle plan view, uncluttered flanks, narrow cutlines as well as low-drag wipers, door openers, and wheels. Smoothly integrated in the beautifully sculpted architecture are slim LED headlights, bigger-than-expected doors, smaller-than-expected air intakes, and several active aero aids. Up front, we find a pair of selectively blocked louvres; in the back, two flaps and the dual-mode wing balance lift and downforce.
Unlike the Nurburgring lap record-setting Nio EP9, which is all purpose and no comfort, Project ONE caters to rich poseurs as well as professional racers. Common to both cars (and the LaFerrari) is the blend of fixed seats and adjustable pedals. One can also alter the position of the steering column and the backrests, and there are three different seat sizes to choose from. While certain elements of Benz’s COMAND infotainment system look familiar, images taken by the roof-mounted reversing camera are displayed in the rear-view mirror. Instead of a conventional instrument cluster, AMG opted for two LED monitors — one in front of the driver, the other in the center stack. The quartic steering-wheel is equipped with two controllers that tweak vehicle dynamics and tap other functions.
Cabin space is not exactly abundant, but there are door pockets, a convenient storage bin with a transparent lid, and small recesses behind the seats big enough for swimming trunks, a bikini, and a couple of spare T-shirts. The materials of choice are carbon-fiber, various metals, leather, microfiber fleece, textile mesh, and signature yellow stitching. It’s a purposeful driver environment, minimalistic in places, comprehensive elsewhere.
The detail we can’t wait to put our finger on is the starter button that rests between the seats next to the window winder switches. Push it and your garage will instantly turn into a Formula One pit, guaranteed. But even though the 1.6-liter V-6 does sound vaguely like the engine in Mr. Hamilton´s company car when revved, it normally settles on a lower rung of the decibel ladder and blipping the throttle doesn’t automatically trigger a rain of paint chips from the ceiling.
“It certainly plays its own tune,” says the pensive CEO Moers. “But the turbocharger makes still too much noise, and the exhaust note at high revs is, well, not quite legal yet.”
Underneath, Project ONE is a complex animal that takes modularity to a new level. Highlights include a steel platform that supports its carbon-fiber tub, an adjustable multilink suspension with transversely mounted pushrods and a spring-damper unit replacing the anti-roll bar, all-wheel drive with torque vectoring, rear-wheel steering, magnesium wheels with featherweight aero blades, and no fewer than five different cooling circuits. The 10-spoke wheels are staggered in size, with the rears being larger and wider than the fronts, and wear bespoke Michelin Pilot Sport 2 tires sized 285/35ZR19 and 335/30ZR20, respectively. On the inside are massive golden calipers that straddle sombrero-size carbon-ceramic brake discs. While the rear suspension assembly bolts on to the engine and eight-speed automated manual transmission, the front suspension and electric motors are supported by a compact subframe.
There are four electric motors in all, each governed by its own performance electronics. While normal motors rev up to 15,000 rpm, the AMG versions redline at 50,000 rpm. There are two front-wheel motors, each good for 161-hp and attached to its own single-speed transmission; the layout sharpens turn-in and handling and supports an energy recuperation at a rate of up to 80 percent in normal road use. The third motor also makes 161 hp and is attached directly to the V-6’s crank via a helical gear, while the fourth sits inside the turbocharger, where it splits the cool compression side from the hot exhaust element.
Capable of spinning at 100,000 rpm, the 121-hp motor inside the turbo eliminates lag while kicking butt whenever you floor the throttle. In F1 slang, this feature is known as a MGU-H — Motor Generator Unit Heat. Another F1-related windfall, the so-called MGU-K (Motor Generator Unit Kinetic) spur gear, generates electric energy that can be stored or passed on to the engine-mounted motor.
As for the internal combustion engine, it comes straight from Mercedes-AMG High Performance Powertrains, the Brixworth, England-based skunkworks team that builds Mercedes’ F1 powerplants. The direct-injection, single-turbo mill is by and large a blueprint of what’s installed in the AMG Petronas race car. While the four overhead camshafts are still driven by spur wheels, pneumatic actuators replaced the mechanical valve springs. To allow the car to operate on pump gas, the rev limit is capped at 11,000 rpm, which still marks a world record for a road car engine.
At more than 670 hp, this small-displacement six-cylinder is more potent than the 6.0-liter V-12 that powers the S65. Total system power adds up to “over 1,000 hp” — and that’s before you call upon the 50 hp freed in overboost mode. While a F1 engine must be rebuilt after four or five races, its tamer Project ONE sibling is good for 30,000 miles, so don’t even think of using this car as daily driver despite the extra durability.
AMG remains tight-lipped when it comes to the final power output and performance data. The Affalterbach grapevine suggests a curb weight of around 2,650 pounds, which is remarkable in view of the roughly 925 pounds the battery packs and electric motors add to overall package. Regardless of the final number, Project ONE’s estimated performance figures are suitably impressive: 0-60 mph acceleration time should be in the area of 2.6 seconds, 0-124 mph takes less than 6.0 seconds, and top speed is electronically limited to 218 mph. When fully charged, it reportedly has an electric-only range of around 15 miles.
As the bleeding edge of Mercedes’ rapidly accelerating electrification efforts, Project ONE serves as a technological test bed as well as a halo for AMG and the Mercedes brand as a whole. While the hypercar will only be available on the secondary market to all but the ultra-lucky few, expect tech from it to trickle down to future production AMG models before long.