I really feel that the very earliest Mercedes-Benz “AMG” models look great today, 20 years after they first went on sale. To be clear, I’m not referring to the “AMG” modified cars of the 1980s or the earlier 1990s, but rather the very first vehicles made after AMG became an in-house arm of Mercedes-Benz. In North America, those vehicles were the C36 AMG and the C43 AMG.
For those of you who don’t know these models, the C36 debuted in 1995 as the performance version of the original C-Class, which came out in 1994. The C36 had a 3.6-liter 6-cylinder engine, hence its name, and it made 270 horsepower — a big number at the time, especially considering its size. Mercedes decided it wasn’t big enough, however, and replaced the C36 for the 1998 model year with the C43, which used a 302-hp 4.3-liter V8 borrowed from the E-Class and the S-Class.
I like a few things about how these cars look, but the thing I like most is just how subtle they are. Aside from the larger wheels, you’d never have any idea these are “performance” models, with far more power and better acceleration than the regular C-Class. They just look like normal cars — a big departure from the modern era, when it seems every “AMG” or BMW M car has to have huge wheels and a lot of other unique stylistic details to let everyone know how fast and special it is.
I also like the simple, boxy look, which is mostly what I think has aged well. These cars certainly don’t look modern, as you couldn’t release this car today and have it seem like a new car. But it also doesn’t look ugly and indicative of a certain time period. Instead, to me, it seems stoic and simple and not like it’s trying too hard. “Trying too hard,” to me, is a hallmark of cars whose designs get old fast — much like the original Mercedes-Benz CLS or the Infiniti J30, among many others. Not these.
Indeed, I really love the original C36 and C43 AMG models: they’re rare, they’re understated and they’re cool. In the 20-plus years since these went on sale, high-performance variants of cars has been a huge trend that’s exploded — but I always admire one of these when I see it on the street as a handsome, understated reminder of what once was.