From the September 2023 issue of Car and Driver.
Blue Ridge Mercedes, near Atlanta, specializes in AMG-modified Mercedes-Benzes from the time when the tuner operated independently. Proprietor Jonathan Hodgman, 45, got his start repairing Benzes after sorting out a broken-down, 400,000-plus-mile 1978 280E offered to him on the condition that if he could fix it, he could keep it.
In the early 2000s, Hodgman replaced that 280E with a 1980s 560SEL. And not long after that, he rediscovered the early cars tuned by AMG. Autobahn legends like the body-kit-clad W124 E-class Hammer and the 6.0-liter W126 S-class caught his interest.
Over time, these cars earned a reputation for being finicky to keep running, difficult to repair, and challenging to source parts for, which kept their prices relatively low, but that only drew Hodgman in.
He started buying old AMG cars and fixing them up. He acquired a 560SEL with a DOHC 6.0-liter V-8 for $14,000. He purchased a Hammer sedan, in pieces, for $4500. He found a narrow-body 6.0-liter SEC with AMG monoblock wheels for $2500. (These are all six-figure cars now.) His online activity and proselytizing earned him a reputation for doggedness, and owners began flocking to him to work on their early AMGs.
Hodgman loves these cars for their performance and their à la carte, custom-built specificity. “Every one of them is different,” he says.
Affalterbach Mechanic Gabs
Car and Driver: What’s the most challenging repair you’ve done?
Hodgman: One 500E comes to mind. It came to us from out of state after three other shops couldn’t fix it. When it turned into corners, the rear would step out. After considerable poking and prodding, we found that the rear subframe was shifting around. Repairs had been tack-welded in about four places, and the rest was held together with seam sealer, panel bond, and gravity. That was chassis repair beyond anything we’ve seen before or since.
What’s the most common problem you see?
Everything is common now. If I had to pick one, it’s the fuel system in cars with CIS or CIS-E fuel injection. Ethanol has destroyed them all.
Tell us about a specialty tool you use.
When AMG M117 DOHC V-8s need their valve-lash shims changed, it’s only possible with the cams installed if you have the special valve-adjustment fixture. I got mine (below) many years ago from a friend, and I thank him every time I use it.
Brett Berk (he/him) is a former preschool teacher and early childhood center director who spent a decade as a youth and family researcher and now covers the topics of kids and the auto industry for publications including CNN, the New York Times, Popular Mechanics and more. He has published a parenting book, The Gay Uncle’s Guide to Parenting, and since 2008 has driven and reviewed thousands of cars for Car and Driver and Road & Track, where he is contributing editor. He has also written for Architectural Digest, Billboard, ELLE Decor, Esquire, GQ, Travel + Leisure and Vanity Fair.