FRANKFURT, GERMANY – The Frankfurt Motor Show is a once-every-two-years international car show, but it’s known as the place where German carmakers engage in a ritualistic pissing contest for the sleekest, sexiest, and quickest sheetmetal around. This year saw an unprecedented move from Mercedes-Benz with the Mercedes-AMG Project One, a $2.7 million, street-legal expression of an unbridled Formula 1 car.
As its description might suggest, Project One bears virtually no resemblance to conventional four-wheeled, A to B transportation, let alone the triumvirate of hybrid hypercars from Ferrari, McLaren and Porsche. Using a powertrain essentially plucked from an F1 car, this mind-bogglingly complex conveyance aims to recalibrate the upper limits of what a car company can build for fat-walleted, speed hungry civilians. Here’s what we learned about the AMG Project One from the mad scientists at Mercedes.
Outrageous Speed (And a Price to Match)
Boasting a sticker price of $2.7 million, more than 1,000 horsepower, and a top speed of 217 mph, the Mercedes-AMG Project One might initially appear to share much in common with the similarly priced, 1,500 horsepower Bugatti Chiron. But a closer look reveals a dramatically different beast.
Mercedes-Benz board member Ola Källenius told Men’s Journal, “There are quicker cars than Formula 1 cars in a straight line, but there are never quicker cars than Formula 1 cars on the circuit.” For emphasis, Källenius added, “The way you win a race is to finish the lap the quickest.” His explanation (and the unspoken, but implicit reference to the Chiron) suggests that while the outright thrust and straight-line top speed of the 16-cylinder Bugatti may be greater than the AMG’s, the creature from Affalterbach will be able to spank the 16-cylinder Bug around the corners. While the Chiron is electronically limited to a 261 mph, the AMG achieves 217 mph—again, numbers likelier to be seen on race circuits than drag strips.
Unlike the overtly ambitious Bugatti, the AMG is less an ultraluxury land rocket and more a sky’s-the-limit racecar with license plates. That said, what the Project One lacks in cylinder count it makes up for in fidelity to a real-deal F1 car. Borrowing the same tiny, turbocharged 1.6-liter V6 you’ll find in Lewis Hamilton’s rolling office, this internal combustion engine is capable of revving to a stratospheric 11,000 rpm. That speed only falls short of F1 levels because the powerplant must run on premium pump fuel, not exotic, race-spec stuff.
The Project One is powered by the highest revving engine in a production street car, and copes with those extreme stresses by swapping conventional spring valves for pneumatically actuated valves. To expedite spooling up that hardworking turbocharger, an electric system helps spool it spool to 100,000 rpm. Another electric motor helps drive the rear wheels, and two more electric motors drive the front wheels. Choose electric-only mode, and you can drive for up to 15.5 miles in stealthy silence until the gas engine kicks in.
“We learned a lot about EV packaging from the SLS Electric Drive,” explains Källenius, who says the late, great gullwing’s use of torque vectoring (ie, the practice of individually controlling power to each wheel in order to help it negotiate turns) helped it feel like it cornered “on rails.” Using a lithium-ion battery, the Project One’s gasoline-powered acceleration is aided by those electric motors, which contribute to a 0 to 112 mph time of under six seconds.
A minimalist interior lives up to the engine’s unrelenting focus on speed. Inside you’ll see plenty of structural carbon fiber components and an oval steering wheel complete with an array of buttons, switches, and shift lights. There are no conventional analog gauges and only two digital screens, one of which doubles as a virtual rearview mirror when backing up.
The Big Picture
Despite its performance claims, some Frankfurt show-goers were less than floored by the Project One’s appearance in the flesh. I, for one, happened to witness the unveiling from a second-floor balcony, where the car’s wasp-waisted body was delineated by a trick carbon fiber intake and aero fin. From above, the Project One looks undeniably badass. However, at ground level the car’s front end seems a tad underwhelming in contrast to the car’s astronomic performance levels. Walk around and peep the visible engine compartment, massive rear diffuser, and triple exhaust tips inherited directly from—you guessed it—Formula 1, and the Project One seems like it very well could live up to the seemingly hyperbolic performance claims. That back end is enough to leave its competition gawking as the aggressive, evocative shape disappears into the distance. As for those in front, slower moving traffic might not know what hit them.