That is certainly not the case for AMG - a car tuner company founded by (and named for) Hans Werner Aufrecht and Erhard Melcher, and for Aufrecht's German hometown of Großaspach. AMG just celebrated its 50th birthday.
The company made a big splash early on in 1971 with its 6.8-liter "Red Pig" Mercedes-Benz S-Class-based racecar, which won its class at Spa and placed second overall. Their "Hammer" E-Class of the mid-1980s was the fastest sedan on the market and could smoke contemporary Corvettes and Countaches. And the bored-out 12-cylinder AMGs of the Aughties created outrageously effortless cruising in S, CL, and SL classes.
But AMG's modern cars put all of these achievements to shame. Today's AMGs demonstrate remarkable enhancements in potency and performance - the one-off "Red Pig" racecar made 420 horsepower; the company will soon routinely build self-driving station wagons that produce in excess of 600 hp and rocket to 60 mph in just over 3 seconds. And as a wholly owned go-fast subsidiary of Mercedes-Benz, they're enthusiastically spreading driving pleasure across the Mercedes product line. There are now over 40 separate AMG models.
"Our portfolio wasn't broad enough, there wasn't enough variance," says AMG director Tobias Moers of the expansion. "If you want to invest in performance, you need to have more volume. The question is how to increase volume without diluting the brand."
Moers' strategy for accomplishing this, and moving forward to the next half-century, was to expand AMG's entry-level offerings. The availability of slightly less-intimidating performance capabilities at the bottom of the lineup not only allows broader access to the performance brand, but raises the bar in the peak performance cars as well.
"Making something at entry level means you can elevate the top end as well," Moers says. "You don't have to compromise."
With this recent model-mushrooming has come some interesting scaling, some of it seemingly outside of the obsessive hand-built AMG dictum "One Man, One Engine." The latest slew of AMG-branded vehicles features the new "43" engine, a twin-turbocharged V6 that is not specially assembled at the AMG factory in Afalterbach. Rather, it's just a re-flashed version of a production motor, built at the regular Mercedes plant. Moers challenges the notion that this countervails the brand's creed.
"'One Man, One Engine' is not the brand core of AMG. This may be a misunderstanding, maybe done in part by us," he says. "'Driving Performance' is the brand core. Pushing performance, technology."
Pushing performance and technology in the next 50 years is likely to present larger changes and challenges for the brand than where or how an engine is built. A few years back, in 2014, AMG produced the SLS AMG Electric Drive, a $500,000, 751 hp, special-order, battery-powered supercar that happened to be the most powerful AMG vehicle ever developed. ("One Man, No Engine"?) The forthcoming AMG Hypercar will feature an efficient F1 engine combined with four electric motors. The AMG GT Four Door concept shown in Geneva this week is a hybrid as well, with a rear-axle-biased electrical drive system.
Instant-on torque and silent operation make electric power an intriguing application for a stealthy performance vehicle. But how does the driver-centric AMG brand remain relevant in a world where cars drive themselves?
"I'm not against the idea of AMG combining performance and autonomy, as long as you define the target different, segment by segment," Moers says. "An autonomous city vehicle has never been within the realm of AMG and never will. But an AMG S-Class sedan with autonomous capability? No one likes to drive in stop-and-go city traffic. Let the car take over then."
Moers smiles. "As long as you have a button to switch it off, everything is good."