Putzke's Passion – 1972 300SEL

Udo and Gisela Putzke
Gary Anderson and Stephan McKeown
Restoring a 1972 300SEL as a tribute to the AMG Red Sow that raced at Spa in 1971.

Putzke's Passion
by Udo Putzke with Gisela Putzke
Photographs by Gary Anderson and Stephan McKeown

Inspired by AMG’s famous Red Pig, gifted engineer Udo Putzke transforms a derelict 300SEL into an eclectic tribute to the storied racing sedan.
Cars are my passion. My fascination with automobiles and motorcycles started in my early childhood. I grew up in Germany and always worked on them, mostly succeeding in getting things running. Through the years, I’ve rebuilt two VW Vanagons into camper vans, tackled the restoration of a Mercedes 190SL, finished a 14-year frame-up restoration of an Austin-Healey 3000 and last (but not least) restored and rebuilt my 1972 300SEL inspired by the Mercedes-Benz touring car raced by AMG at the 24 Hours of Spa in 1971.

My technical know-how and electrical knowledge about cars landed me a job with Bilstein Shock Absorbers in Ennepetal, Germany. In 1992 I was transferred to fill a vacant position at the Thyssen Krupp Bilstein of America facility in San Diego as an R&D engineer. After becoming involved with Austin-Healeys, I developed a shock-absorber conversion system to mount Bilstein shock absorbers on these models. With my wife, Gisela, we formed Putzkes’ Fahrspass (from the German word for “driving fun”) to sell the kits commercially, and my position with them as senior technician allows me to address specific suspension issues.

In 2006, my Austrian friend Werner, who used to own Werner’s Mercedes repair shop in Hollywood, was forced to clean up his back yard, where he stored his collection of more than 20 Mercedes – all different models – after he closed his business. He let me pick a car out of the group. I chose a 1972 Mercedes 300SEL with 151,582 miles on it because I had worked on this car in 1982 on a visit to the United States, just after Werner had painted it metallic gold and fixed it up for his wife to drive. I paid Werner $200 for it.

Above (feature image): The 1972 300SEL Udo Putzke built as a tribute to the AMG Red Pig that he saw take second at the 24 Hours of Spa in 1971. His color scheme is not original, but is in the spirit of the DTM cars of the period. Note that the grille, now mounted on the body rather than the hood, unlatches to open the hood.

The car had been sitting outside for more than two decades. During that time, the California sun ate all the paint away. The leather interior was deteriorated to the point that it crumbled into dust when touched, and the varnish on the wood trim was mostly gone. However, the engine could still turn, and after a good cleanup, oil change, and injection system cleaning, I got it running.

At that point I decided not to restore the car to its original specifications. Instead, I remembered the Mercedes-Benz 300SEL 6.9 I had seen in 1971 at the 24 Hours of Spa, then part of the European Touring Car Championship, held at Le Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps. Built by then-independent AMG, that car, nicknamed the Red Pig for its bright red paint, has become the icon of the AMG brand.

The exterior is a combination of AMG-inspired gear and Putzke engineering. The tailpipe is made from a Dollar Store wine cooler.

I didn’t intend to build an exact replica – somehow that always seems a little dishonest – but rather to take the spirit of that car as my inspiration. I also admit to some inspiration from the variety of muscle cars built on Mercedes-Benz chassis that I saw in Germany while growing up.

I stripped the paint, gutted the interior – including seats, door panels, wood trim, head liner and dash board, and put my metal-working skills to work. Building the front fender flairs, all-aluminum floor pans and converting the mechanical air suspension control with a more modern electronic version were some of the easier tasks. During this time I found some original AMG wheels in Germany and had them shipped to San Diego.

Two small , but attention-getting touches, the little front flaps reduce front lift while channeling air to the brakes.

Remembering how often I had banged my head on the grille when the hood was raised pushed me to redesign the front hood opening system. Now, instead of being fastened to the hood, the grille is fastened on hinges behind the front bumper, and tilts forward slightly to allow the hood to open.

All the wood trim was in terrible condition, but because I’ve never worked with wood, I decided to refinish only the dash wood. Days applying more than 30 layers of clear lacquer, sanding after each coat, took some time and patience.

Not having the patience required to properly prepare the body, I outsourced the exterior paint job. Channeling the spirit of the designers of the original Red Pig, I decided on a deep red and silver paint scheme, with a checkered-flag top.

After the painting was finished, I started re-installing the new and reconditioned parts. With each day, it became more fun to see the progress. Because the original AMG builders hadn’t allowed themselves to be limited by corporate specifications, I decided I could deviate as well. I re-organized the engine compartment by relocating the battery to the trunk, moving the D-Jetronic fuel injection electronic control unit to the passenger footwell, and removed the big air filter to make the Mercedes-Benz V-8 engine more accessible.

The original air conditioner found a new owner in Germany – I live in San Diego and don’t need an a/c – which gave me more dashboard space for racing-style instrumentation installed in a custom-fabricated gauge cluster.

The interior of the Putzke creation is a pleasing combination of racing functionality, Mercedes style, and the couple’s creativity.

Two Recaro seats sitting in my garage for years found a new home in my car. The idea of leaving the rear of the passenger compartment empty, like the race cars, was interesting, but because my car had four doors, I needed four seats. The hunt for two more Recaro seats began. I was lucky to find two with more adjustment range, so the new purchases went into the front and the non-adjustable went into the rear.

Look and sound are more important than functionality, so I removed the rear muffler and replaced it with a straight 3-inch tube of stainless steel. Wanting a really big exhaust tip, I found my answer at a Dollar Store – a stainless-steel wine bottle cooler into which I cut a hole and then welded to the exhaust pipe.

The door panels were cut from hardboard and my wife Gisela covered them with fabric in a matching silver-red color. Because the car is a little loud, but we enjoy having music while we’re driving and relaxing, we fabricated a custom sound system with four amplifiers, multiple speakers, and an amplifier mounted in the dashboard.

Between the two rear Recaro seats is a large speaker, capable of providing music in competition with the sounds of the straight exhaust.

After nine months of work and some dollars, the $200 car not only looks like a race car, it’s also fun to drive. I drive the car to work most of the time and occasionally take it to car shows just for fun, enjoying the organizers’ confusion when they can’t figure out where I should park. That was certainly the case when we brought it to Legends of the Autobahn last summer, though we later learned that we could have entered it in the new MBCA Concours modified class.

The most unexpected pleasure I’ve experienced since I started driving this car around San Diego is the thumbs-up and a smile I sometimes get from older ladies driving their newer Mercedes-Benz automobiles.

Partners in business and life, Udo and Gisela Putzke

Udo’s Inspiration

In 1971, two passionate race car builders – Hans Werner Aufrecht and Erhard Melcher – working in a small shop in Burgstall, West Germany, took the already fearsome Mercedes-Benz 300SEL 6.3 and turned the volume up to 11 to race it as privateers in the 24 Hours of Spa. The car became known as the Red Pig. A young Udo Putzke was there that day and could never erase it from his memory.


1972 Mercedes-Benz 300SEL

  • 3.5-liter engine with D-Jetronic fuel injection
  • 4-speed automatic transmission
  • Original air suspension with electronic ride-height valves
  • Custom electronic shock absorbers with external reservoir, electronically controlled with three accelerometers, ECU, and speed-sensitive Bilstein ACD system
  • AMG 6Jx16 wheels with 245/50-16 tires
  • 4 Recaro BMW seats with 5-point harness
  • Custom door panels, sun visors and center console
  • Custom stereo with four amplifiers and dash controls
  • New old-stock Bosch driving lights
  • New old-stock Talbot mirrors
  • Raised rear end with shorter polyurethane
  • suspension stops  to reduce ride height
  • Custom front grille mechanism
  • Custom louvers in hood