1998 Mercedes-Benz CLK
Year of manufacture1998
Mercedes, and then Mercedes-Benz, spent the early-to-mid 20th century deeply committed to motor sports at its highest levels. From its earliest Grand Prix sports cars circa 1908 through 1914, to the SSK of 1929, to the silver arrows that dominated Grand Prix and sports car racing both before and after WWII, the incredible might of the company’s racing department was at the fore of its efforts for nearly 50 years. The terrible tragedy that unfolded at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, in 1955, saw a sudden withdrawal from factory-supported racing efforts for anything wearing the three-pointed star. Subsequent years saw privateers carry the Mercedes-Benz torch in competition – some with backdoor factory support – and the might of Mercedes-Benz was pivoted to making the world’s greatest luxury cars.
From the 1950s to the 1980s, Mercedes-Benz was morphed into a juggernaut based on quality, comfort, and a reputation of solidity. Performance was not ignored, but long gone were halo sports cars such as the Gullwing; excessive resources were instead spent on projects like the Grosser Mercedes. Both sales and market share increased, and the company maintained its iconic status as builders of some of the world’s finest motorcars.
Started in 1967 by former Mercedes-Benz employees Hans Werner Aufrecht and Erhard Melcher, AMG would become an ever-present organization in the story of Mercedes-Benz performance and racing efforts. AMG started campaigning a 300 SEL 6.3 sedan, nicknamed the “red sow,” in touring car competition and the 24 Hours of Spa in 1971. Its continued success both on the track and off – with its business of offering bespoke products to customize Mercedes-Benz road cars – brought AMG commendation from Mercedes-Benz, and, for 1988, AMG was named an official Mercedes- Benz partner, entering 190E-2.3 sedans in the Deutsche Tourenwagen Meisterschaft (DTM, or German Touring Car Championship). With its DTM exploits and partnership with McLaren as an engine supplier in F1 beginning in 1995, Mercedes-Benz was inching towards an official return to racing’s highest levels.
Following the success of the BPR championship that ran from 1994 through 1996, the FIA and promoter Stéphane Ratel introduced a new series called the FIA GT Championship for 1997. This would be the ultimate jumping-off point for Mercedes-Benz, and AMG was engaged to develop a car for the series based on the new CLK coupe. In just 128 days from the time the project was green-lighted, AMG had test mules on the track developing what would become one of Mercedes-Benz’s most iconic racing cars of the century, the CLK GTR.
The mid-engine GTR was built on a chassis developed by Lola Composites in the UK, and powered by a modified, six-liter version of the M120 V-12 that was offered in numerous Mercedes-Benz road cars. It shared little with the road-going CLK apart from its general silhouette. Engine development was completed in clandestine fashion and facilitated by the secret purchase of a rival McLaren F1 racing car, which was turned into a test mule for the V-12.
The 1997 season went well for Mercedes-Benz, with the team winning six of the series’ 11 rounds and claiming the FIA GT championship against stiff competition from BMW Motorsport and Gulf Team Davidoff, both of which raced McLaren F1s; and Porsche AG, which had developed an equally intriguing version of their 911 called the GT1.
1998 brought utter domination in the GT1 category for Mercedes-Benz which, after the second round of the the season, upgraded from the CLK GTR to the CLK LM, an evolution of the original design. The departure of factorysupported McLarens, and Porsche’s lack of pace, meant that Mercedes-Benz won every round of the 1998 championship.
One of the unique requirements of the FIA GT series was that to homologate a model for inclusion in the championship, manufacturers were required to build no fewer than 25 road-going versions of the cars to be raced. The incredible road cars that this rule created have become the most collectible and desirable of the era, and include the Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR Strassenversion (Road Version) offered here. The ninth of 25 built, which includes 20 coupes and, remarkably, five roadsters, this GTR capably demonstrates everything that was and is right about this era of motor sports, and it is roadworthy.
The GTR is based on the same architecture as the racing cars, but has subtle changes to make it more roadworthy. The engine is actually larger and, at 6.9 liters and named the M297, produces the same level of horsepower as the racing GTR. The suspension remains the same wishbone design, but with a higher ride height and softer springs and dampers. The interior is trimmed just like any Mercedes-Benz/AMG road car, with leather and Alcantara or suede covering all necessary surfaces. The dashboard is typical 1990s Mercedes-Benz, with the analog gauge cluster looking peculiarly pedestrian in such a wild machine. The sequential manual gearbox is controlled by paddles behind the steering wheel and air-conditioning is fitted.
The overall presentation is pure race car, and the CLK GTR makes an incredible impression on all who are lucky enough to witness it. While intensely purposeful, the car is relentlessly attractive. While festooned with scoops, vents, and aerodynamic appendages, the car still somehow remains a Mercedes-Benz through and through.
This Strassenversion was sold new in 1997 to Hermann-Dieter Eschmann in Germany. Stamps in the car’s service book show regular maintenance by the Mercedes-Benz racing experts at SPS Automotive Performance. Mr. Eschmann owned the car until circa 2005, when it was sold to a private collection in Hong Kong. In 2017, the Mercedes-Benz was purchased by Cheval Trust, based in Seattle, and imported to the US utilizing the NHTSA Show or Display exemption. The GTR was shipped to the experts at JK Technologies, who handled all pertinent EPA paperwork, copies of which are on file. Further documentation shows that Mark Kienle from the Mercedes-Benz experts at Kienle Automobiltechnik inspected the CLK around the time of this sale. The report notes that the Mercedes-Benz showed just 1,439 km at the time and retained all of its original finishes.
The consignor bought this CLK GTR in 2018, and at the time of cataloguing, the odometer displayed just 1,442 km. Accompanying the Mercedes-Benz at auction are a plethora of important and fascinating items originally delivered with the car. In addition to its manuals and the original carbon front undertray, which was at some point replaced, the car is offered with its hard shipping case containing its numbered battery charger, a torque wrench and socket for the wheels, and wooden blocks to rest the car on while using its onboard hydraulic jacks.
This seminal Mercedes-Benz comes to auction at a time when enthusiasm for homologation specials could not be stronger. The obscure byproduct of a motor sports regulation, the CLK GTR nonetheless exceeds expectations, perfectly capturing the essence of a legendary racing series and offering those qualities in a road-going car of serious character and quality. Whether to be driven or displayed, this Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR Strassenversion could not possibly do anything more to attract your enduring attention.
*Please note that this vehicle was imported into the US in 2017 under NHTSA’s show or display exemption. The buyer may be required to comply with NHTSA and/or other applicable requirements and complete additional paperwork in order to effect transfer of ownership, including a show/display permit application. Please also note that this vehicle will not be sold for use or resale in California or to a non-dealer California resident.