If you’ve ever spent time on YouTube trying to listen the the best exhaust sounds a car can make, you’ll probably resonate (please excuse the pun) with what German YouTuber Maisteer is working on. You see, the man is building a custom exhaust to make a Mercedes-Benz V12 sound like an F1 car from the 90s or a Pagani Zonda!
If the hairs on the back of your neck stand up and cheer each time you hear a sweet exhaust sound, this story is for you—I’m sorry if you’ve ever had anti-social neighbors that made you feel differently and hope that never happens again, since engine noises can be downright therapeutic even when you’re not the one doing the driving. Correction: some engine noises, with the Pagani Zonda arguably being on everybody’s top three list, up there with Wankels and [I had to leave this one free so you can insert your own fav here]. Hey, they didn’t give this Ferrari 456 a rotary swap just to annoy Maranello, the soundtrack has a lot to do with it.
The problem here is that a Zonda costs over $5 million to buy, if you can find one. Sure, you may be able to convince Horacio Pagani to build another one-off for you, but there’s a much simpler and more affordable solution. This would be the Mercedes-Benz M120 V12 that powers the Zonda. In other words, the “civilian” version of the M120 that can be found on the Mercedes-Benz S-Class sedan and its coupe versions (e.g., CL), as well as on the SL roadster built from the early 90s to the early 2000s. There are also some limited edition with pumped-up engines like the 73 AMGs, but their rarity and pricing defeat the purpose.
Now, Makoto Sasaki, the man behind Japanese tuner Technical Garage Sasaki (aka Brilliant Exhaust) has already built a custom exhaust that will make the Mercedes M120 sing like a Zonda/F1 car. So people buy old S-Classes, fit his $12,000+ exhaust with a pair of six-into-one equal-length headers and stun traffic with the resulting soundtrack.
Maisteer’s mission to build an “F1 exhaust” for the Mercedes M120 V12
But Maisteer wanted to build his own Mercedes M120 “Zonda/F1” exhaust, which is why we’re here. The man’s adventure on YouTube started earlier this year. Still, at the time of writing, his channel remains massively underrated, with just 13.5k subscribers. However, the numbers can’t tell the story here, since this isn’t the kind of guideline-following channel that uploads on a regular or invites you to subscribe.
Instead Maisteer spent an insane amount of time researching and test-building a Mercedes V12 exhaust that would bring those cheeky neck hairs back into focus. In his quest, the man learned from other people’s mistakes, as well as from his own. This is why in the two videos he’s dedicated to the topic so far (you’ll find the first just below and the second at the bottom of the story), you can understand why some custom exhausts simply sound bad, even on V12s. Apparently, even Jean-Pierre Kraemer of JP Performance, which is probably Europe’s most famous car builder/vlogger, has yet to master this aural art…
Having first attempted to install such an exhaust on a Nissan drift car that’s no longer around, Maisteer has been experimenting with a custom exhaust setup for a friend’s 2000s R230 Mercedes-Benz SL drift car.
The man went from buying E34 BMW M5 headers to fabricating multiple custom designs. His conclusions? Much like Sasaki-san figured out, while the rear muffler impacts the decibel level, the quality of the exhaust sound is mostly decided by the headers.
And the recipe for a high-pitched, top-quality exhaust sound involves having as many cylinders brought together as possible via equal-length headers, and, finally, a merge collector. The idea is for the exhaust pulses to be sent out with minimal delay and interference.
What makes an exhaust sound
The man’s observations—he dug uber-deep on YouTube, read books and others—as well as his experiments take into account the many factors that influence exhaust note. The list involves cylinder count, exhaust manifold collector type (baffle collector vs merge collector) and design (angle and length), pipe diameter and length, firing order (odd vs even), crankshaft architecture (cross-plane vs flat-plane) and material (mild steel vs stainless steel vs titanium vs Inconel), plus some other factors like valvetrain configuration—these are arguably listed here in the order of their importance, at least according to his findings.
And since sounding fast while going slow is more trolling and less performance driving, the output of an engine also needs to be taken into account, as some designs can sap power. Then there’s the delivery, as larger exhaust pipe diameter moves the power higher into the rpm at the expense of low-end pulling. Conversely, shorter exhaust pipes bring low-end power while sacrificing high-rpm muscle.
In his quest to build a custom exhaust that makes the Mercedes M120 V12 sound like a Pagani Zonda/F1 car, Maisteer is currently experimenting with (you guessed it) two six-into-one equal length headers featuring merge collectors. The setup takes up a lot of space in the engine bay, but I’m sure it will all be worth it once that German V12 gets to sing its song.
And with projects like the Mercedes M120-swapped Mazda RX-7 LTO Widebody also on the horizon, this exhaust hack is only getting spicier.