The Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR was developed in just 128 days to compete with the Porsche 911 GT1 and the McLaren F1 GTR in the then-new FIA GT Championship. The Mercedes would prove dominant in the series, taking back-to-back Championship wins in 1997 and 1998.
A road-going homologation version of the car was developed, known as the Straßenversion, German for Street version. Just 28 would be made and at the time of their release in 1998 they were the world’s most expensive production cars according to the Guinness Book of World Records.
Fast Facts – The Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR
- The Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR was conceived as a purpose-built race car for the FIA GT Championship. The project was a collaboration between Mercedes-Benz and AMG. The car was developed in just 128 days to meet the requirements of the GT1 class and aimed to compete against other high-profile manufacturers in endurance racing including McLaren and Porsche.
- In its debut season in 1997, the car dominated the FIA GT Championship, winning six of the eleven races, including four 1-2 finishes. It would win the Championship in 1997 and 1998, and establish itself as an icon in the process.
- The CLK GTR was developed around a lightweight carbon-fiber and aluminum honeycomb monocoque chassis. The race version was equipped with a 6.0 liter V12, while the road version received a 6.9 liter version of the same engine. A version of this engine later used in the Pagani Zonda.
- In order to homologate the CLK GTR for racing, Mercedes needed to build a minimum of 25 road legal examples. The road-going version was called the Straßenversion, German for Street version, and it featured a number of comfort upgrades including soundproofing, a stereo, air conditioning, and an improved interior with upgraded upholstery and carpeting throughout.
Developing A World-Beater in 128 Days
The development program of the Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR is one of the most remarkable in sports racing car history. The company is said to have gone from a blank sheet of paper to a completed design in just 128 days – under fourth months. The car wasn’t a dud either, it would become the most dominant design in its series.
The truth of the matter is that Mercedes did have a little help with the development of the CLK GTR. They bought a secondhand McLaren F1 GTR race car from Larbre Compétition, a privateer racing team. They would then use it as a development mule – swapping out the BMW engine for one of their own and adding all new body panels.
This McLaren F1 GTR mule be used in secret test sessions at the Jarama circuit in Spain before driver Bernd Schneider crashed it. Interestingly the car would be restored back to original specification, including the BMW V12 engine, and it now resides with an owner in Britain.
It’s not known exactly how much Mercedes borrowed from the McLaren, what we do know is that the car they developed would trounce the British supercar on the track – once it had been through some additional development and teething issues of course.
The Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR
The Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR was developed by Mercedes-Benz and AMG, and built by AMG’s Special Vehicle Construction Office and HWA AG.
The car was based around a central carbon-fiber composite tub with aluminum honeycomb and carbon-fiber body panels – this was to ensure a low weight and excellent rigidity. The engine was mounted in the rear and acted as a stressed-member, power was sent to the rear wheels via a six-speed sequential transaxle.
The engine chosen for the CLK GTR was the pre-existing Mercedes 6.0 liter M120 V12, it was sourced from the S and SL Class road cars but significantly modified including the addition of titanium connecting rods and a compression ratio increased to 12:1.
In race trim this engine was capable of 592 bhp and 516 lb ft of torque, giving the car a 0-60 mph time of 3.8 seconds and a top speed of 205 mph. Suspension consisted of front and rear double-wishbones with pull-rod coil springs and adjustable shock absorbers.
Braking was achieved with six-piston brakes with hefty carbon-composite rotors that were designed to withstand 4+ hours of punishing use in the FIA GT Championship.
It had been decided early on to give the car some level of resemblance to the Mercedes road cars of the time, so the headlights, taillights, and rear grille were all sourced from the mass-produced CLK. Essentially everything else between the front and rear lights was made just for the CLK GTR.
In order to homologate the car the FIA rules stipulated that a minimum of 254 road-going versions needed to be produced, and they needed to be as close to the actual race cars as possible. The production of the road cars began in 1998 and concluded in 1999, 28 would be made in total including two prototypes, 20 coupes, and six roadsters.
These vehicles would be fitted with a slightly different version of the same V12 engine that had been stroked from 6.0 to 6.9 liters with power subsequently raised to 622 bhp and 539 lb ft of torque. Several changes were made to make the cars easier to use, including the fitment of ABS, air-conditioning, a stereo, bins for cargo under each door, sound proofing, carpeting, and tartan, leather, or Alcantara seats.
With an asking price of $1,547,620 USD in 1998, the equivalent to $2,922,333 USD in 2023, the Guinness Book of World Records recognized the Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR as the most expensive production car on earth – a title it held until the release of the Ferrari FXX-K in 2015.
The Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR + CLK GTR Roadster Shown Here
The two cars you see in this article are both due to roll across the auction block with RM Sotheby’s in Las Vegas on the 17th of November. It’s rare to see a CLK GTR come up for auction due to how few were made, so to see two come up for sale with one in either specification is entirely unique.
The CLK GTR Coupe is one of the original 20 examples that were made by AMG’s Special Vehicle Construction Office and HWA AG and it currently has fewer than 7,015 kms (4,358 miles) on the odometer. It comes with over $71,000 USD worth of service invoices from DK Engineering, and it was federalized for US road use by JK Technologies in October of 2017.
The car has a price guide of $8,000,000 – $9,000,000 USD and you can visit the listing here if you’d like to read more about it or register to bid.
The CLK GTR Roadster is one of the original six, it comes with the fitted luggage in place, and amazingly it has just 170 kms on the odometer, or 105 miles.
It has a price guide of $10,500,000 – $13,000,000 USD and you can visit the listing here if you’d like to read more or register to bid.
Images: Neil Fraser ©2023 Courtesy of RM Sotheby’s
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