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My Mercedes CLK55 AMG and ML55 AMG: The Forgotten (and Cheap) AMGs in Hoovie's Garage

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Used 2001 Mercedes-Benz S-Class
Used 2001 Mercedes-Benz S-Class
$4,000
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author photo by Tyler Hoover December 2016

Last week, Doug covered a pair of forgotten AMGs, the C36 and the C43 AMG. I read the article with great interest, excited to hear Doug's take on a car I once owned and loved. Everything was going great -- until he listed the cars made after them: "The E55 AMG came out in 1999, and the S55 AMG, the CL55 AMG and the SL55 AMG soon followed."

He completely skipped over the two AMGs currently in my garage. Maybe he doesn't like them, maybe he forgot to mention them, or maybe he thought the article would flow better by not listing every single AMG that followed the C43. I still cried myself to sleep that night.

So, after a few sessions with my therapist, I felt composed enough to create a response. Here's a look at my two forgotten AMGs, the CLK55 and the ML55.

My 2001 CLK55 is a car I always lusted after. In my collection of automotive magazines and brochures I gathered growing up, I kept a copy of the CLK55 brochure as well as 2001 edition of Car and Driver that pitted the CLK55 and the BMW M3 head to head. The M3 clobbered the AMG in the performance tests -- it wasn't even close. Also, considering the CLK was priced at $70,000, which was $20,000 more than the M3, it's no wonder enthusiasts bought the BMW and completely forgot about the AMG.

Fast-forward 15 years, and the BMW M3 is worshipped like a god, with pricing to match. Currently, there are 87 BMW M3s for sale on Autotrader spanning the years 2001-2002 with an average asking price of $16,105. If you search for the same year range of CLK55 AMG coupes, you'll find only seven for sale -- with an average asking price of $9,400!

A 342-horsepower, 5-second 0-to-60, limited-production, hand-built German coupe with a sexy yet understated body suddenly becomes very appetizing at under $10,000. The other thing that makes these AMGs so attractive is they're built out of the same material as Thor's Hammer.

While M3 owners put up with the unreliable SMG transmission, something inside the engine called VANOS that likes to vamoose with their wallets and various fragile components from the subframe to the cooling system, the only problem an old AMG owner worries about is getting overlooked at Cars and Coffee.

Mercedes-Benz CLK55 AMG

My CLK55 has been completely reliable from the initial maintenance after I bought it a year ago until now, with almost 10,000 miles covered -- including a cross-country trip to California. For this trip, I drove 21 hours straight with only quick stops for fuel, averaging 26.1 miles per gallon during its flawless performance spanning 1,500 miles. Complete reliability is a common theme among AMG owners of this era. Unfortunately, this honeymoon of reliable AMGs did not last: The introduction of airmatic suspension, SBC electric-controlled brakes, superchargers and some engineering fumbles made later examples just as fiddly as the BMWs.

I find the CLK55's lines of this magical era of AMG to be more attractive than the E55's styling, but the sedan is still a solid choice. If you're more of a wagon guy or want some utility, my other forgotten AMG will certainly tickle your fancy.

Mercedes-Benz ML55 AMG

My 2000 ML55 shares the same fantastic V8 engine from my CLK, along with the sexy body kit, 5-spoke AMG wheels and handsome interior. This is another total bargain when compared to other AMG wagons. The few 2005-2009 E55 or E63 AMG wagons for sale on Autrotrader have an average asking price of over $30,000 -- and if you can find one of the few 2007 R63 AMG wagons in existence, be prepared to pay up to $50,000. Nice ML55s regularly sell for under $8,000, a pittance in comparison. I paid $3,500 for mine, which was a bit of a project.

My favorite part about this generation ML is the old-fashioned frame on chassis design. While it seems antiquated and unnecessary on paper, it gives this SUV a completely different ride than any of the normal unibody competitors. If you want a heavy, planted feel of a truck in a midsize SUV with good handling, the early Mercedes ML will be the love of your life.

There are some quirks to this first generation of ML that don't take away from its reliability. It's engineered with typical German excellence but was built in Alabama, and a few things got lost in translation between "German" and "Redneck." But these problems -- such as no fold-flat cargo area, a few ergonomic oddities and laughably large body-panel gaps -- weren't annoying enough to stop me from buying one.

So, I have a combined total of $130,000 original MSRP worth of Y2K-era AMG cars in my stable for less than 10 percent of that figure. Both have been completely reliable, both are beautiful to look at, and both are a blast to drive. Am I crazy, or should everyone be doing this?

Mercedes-Benz CLK55 AMG

Tyler Hoover went broke after 10 years in the car business and now sells hamburgers to support his fleet of needy cars. He lives in Wichita, Kansas.

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Used 2001 Mercedes-Benz S-Class
Used 2001 Mercedes-Benz S-Class
$4,000
This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
My Mercedes CLK55 AMG and ML55 AMG: The Forgotten (and Cheap) AMGs in Hoovie's Garage - Autotrader