Why The 1997 CLK GTR Will Always Be The Ultimate Mercedes

This CLK GTR is a road-legal racer that's the arguably the most extreme car the three-pointed-star has ever made.

Usually, following the rules and regulations results in sapping much of the fun from anything, but for racing cars, it can often have the opposite effect. Strict motorsport rules regularly highlight the need to build ‘X’ number of road legal variants of a racer for homologation, creating a handful of unicorn cars in the process. The Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR is one such creature built to appease the FIA GT Championship rule makers.

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During the late 1990s, Mercedes-Benz was looking for a means to prove its worth against the likes of Porsche and Ferrari. Charging its AMG division with creating a racer to take on Porsche’s GT1 and the dominant McLaren F1 GTR, the CLK GTR was born. Interestingly, this car was completed just 128 days after initial sketches thanks to AMG secretly purchasing a McLaren F1 GTR to test components before the Mercedes was even built.

The FIA rules dictated that to be eligible for the GT1 class, Mercedes-Benz needed to build a minimum of 25 road-legal CLK GTRs. Being designed for the rigors of endurance racing, the road car was a serious piece of kit that differed only slightly from the racer.

Retaining its carbon fiber construction and extreme profile, the CLK GTR road car made its debut as a prototype in 1997. Its cabin was spartan offering air conditioning as one of its few luxuries. This was effectively a racing car with registration plates, and as such cost its owners $1,547,620 when new.

While the aerodynamics were watered down on the publicly available CLK GTR, its engine displacement was actually larger than that of the racing car. Its mid-mounted 6.9-liter V12 was free to produce 604-horsepower without the need for an air restrictor, and easily clocked 0-60mph in less than 3.8 seconds. Top speed? An incredible 214mph.

AMG built 20 coupe examples, but those good with numbers will have already noticed that’s less than the promised 25. H.W.A, a specialist that helped AMG construct the first 20 cars was tasked with creating a roadster variant. Several modifications were made including the removal of the roof, additional chassis strengthening, an all-new aerodynamic profile for the rear of the car, and the inclusion of a large rear wing similar to that of the new CLK LM racing car. A total of six CLK GTR Roadsters were built, with the first painted black, and the second a distinctive shade of dark silver. The remaining four cars were finished in the traditional hue of the Silver Arrows.

As impressive as the CLK GTR and Roadster was, H.W.A also created and even more potent upgrade for the car that transformed the model into what’s known as a CLK GTR Super Sport. Chassis 1, 3, 13, 17, and Prototype 2 all became Super Sport cars that featured AMG’s powerful 7.3-liter engine seen in the Mercedes-Benz SL73 and Pagani Zonda. A new output of 655-hp meant that this road-legal homologation special could now outrun the racing car.

Today, these cars represent a bygone era of GT1 racing cars and fetch princely sums at auction. RM Sotheby’s sold a ‘regular’ CLK GTR for $4,515,000 at its Monterey auction in 2018. Super Sport models rarely come up for sale, by RM sold one in 2012 for $1,100,000 at the same auction — today the car is worth considerably more.

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