In the entire history of the car industry, I cannot think of any one vehicle that has ever had a model range as wide-reaching, broad and hilariously expansive as the Mercedes-Benz CLK. There are boring ones. There are less boring ones. There are fast ones. There are really fast ones. And then … there are race cars. That’s plural. All under the banner of the Mercedes-Benz CLK. This would be like if Renault offered various versions of the Clio, spanning from a 2-door hatchback without air conditioning to their Formula 1 car.
Today, I’m going to show you exactly what I mean. And now, every single time you see a Mercedes CLK on the road, you can give it a happy little glance, knowing that lurking somewhere down there, underneath the brake dust and rapidly yellowing headlights, is the soul of a LeMans race car. Here goes. See the Mercedes-Benz CLK-Class models for sale near you
The Normal Ones
At the bottom of the Mercedes CLK range there are, of course, normal Mercedes CLKs. The U.S.-market CLK came out in 1998, and the smallest engine our CLKs ever offered was a 3.2-liter V6 — which originally offered just 215 horsepower. Foreign markets had even smaller engines: Europe got a CLK200, which used a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter 4-cylinder that made just 134 hp and delivered zero to 60 in eleven seconds.
Moving on slightly from the base-level "normal" versions of the CLK were the more powerful normal models. Those were the ones with V8s — originally the CLK430 (with 275 hp) and later the CLK500 (with 302 hp).
This, alone, would make for a pretty good range for a car: a 4-cylinder version, a V6 and a V8. That’s what normal people do. The CLK, however, was not normal.
The High-Performance Ones
In 2001, Mercedes came out with a high-performance AMG version of the CLK — the CLK55 AMG — which used a 342-hp 5.4-liter V8. When the CLK was redesigned in 2003, the CLK55 AMG stuck around — but it got a power bump to 362 hp. And in 2006, the AMG model got another boost: Although Mercedes dropped the CLK AMG coupe, it added a 6.2-liter V8 to the convertible, for a raucous 475 hp.
Surely this must be enough models: a 4-cylinder, a V6, a V8 and a high-performance AMG version. But it wasn’t.
Since Mercedes dropped the standard CLK AMG coupe in 2006, they decided instead to offer a wide-body version that resembled a touring car. Dubbed the CLK63 AMG Black Series — and, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful cars of the last decade — the new king of the CLK hill really did look like a race car for the road. It also ditched the model’s back seats and used a 500-hp version of the CLK63 AMG convertible’s 6.2-liter V8.
But the story doesn’t end there.
The Really High-Performance Ones
Above this entire lineup — above the base-level 4-cylinder, the V6, the V8, the AMG versions and even the race-car-like Black Series — were the ultra CLK models. These were models that were based on race cars, but were actually roadgoing themselves. And they were insane.
Least insane of the two was the CLK DTM, which was offered from 2004 to 2006 and used a supercharged 5.4-liter V8 — which made a monstrous 574 hp. Interestingly and inexplicably, this car was offered as both a coupe (like the race car) and a soft-top convertible (like no race car since the 1930s), with 100 coupes and 80 convertibles manufactured.
And then there’s the top of the CLK heap: the amazing CLK GTR, which was an actual race car for the road. Admittedly, the GTR didn’t share much with the regular CLK — it used, for instance, a mid-mounted 630-hp 6.0-liter V12 — but it shared some things… like the tail lights, and the headlights, and the CLK emblems. Oh, and the grille. So they’re basically the same car.
Although the CLK GTR is primarily known for racing, Mercedes did make roadgoing versions: There are 20 coupes and six open-top CLK GTR roadsters running around out there somewhere.
In other words: The Mercedes CLK range spanned from a 134-hp 2.0-liter 4-cylinder base model, with hubcaps and cloth seats, to a 630-hp roadgoing race car — with six distinct variants in between. It’s probably the widest range in automotive history. And it’s certainly hilarious to think about. Find a Mercedes-Benz CLK-Class for sale
Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.
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