The CLK GTR is one of the most impressive Mercedes-Benz race cars built to date. Engineered and manufactured to dominate the track, a minimum of 25 road-legal versions were manufactured as well, due to homologation requirements—so unlike other track-driven projects, the CLK GTR has graced public roads as well as European racetracks.

The Racecar

The 1997 CLK GTR was born from Mercedes’ desire to race in the newly formed FIA GT Championship series. Using the help of AMG (not yet a subsidiary), Mercedes was able to develop the new racecar from initial sketches to a finished project in just 128 days.

Engineers took an unorthodox shortcut to build the car on an accelerated schedule. The company privately purchased a McLaren F1 GTR, the dominant vehicle in other GT car series. The team replaced BMW’s V12 with its own 6.0L V12 engine and swapped the body panels with prospective aerodynamic pieces, testing limits with a pseudo-Mercedes. 

The McLaren-Mercedes test results drove development, so Mercedes was able to accelerate the CLK GTR production schedule. By the 1997 inaugural season, Mercedes was able to build two race-ready examples of the CLK GTR. Their first racing debut was far from spectacular due to braking issues. A tweaked CLK would show its colors in subsequent races, winning six of the 11 FIA GT races that year and the overall championship.

In between the FIA GT Championship seasons, Mercedes modified the CLK GTR to enter the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The new variant, dubbed the CLK LM, featured a higher-revving V8 engine and a longer and lower body for even better aerodynamics. While it did not win the 1998 Le Mans due to reliability issues, the CLK LM entered the 1998 GT Championship and won every single race. 

The Road Car

As part of the FIA’s homologation requirements, Mercedes had to produce at least 25 road-going versions of its CLK GTR racecar. At the start of the 1997 season, the first CLK GTR made its debut. The remaining vehicles were built between 1998 and 1999 by AMG.

The road car, known as the CLK GTR Strassenversion, had few differences from its racing counterpart. The road version featured an integrated rear wing, while the racecar had a much larger spoiler. Driver accommodations were limited, giving the driver an authentic racecar feel while reducing production costs. Deep leather bucket seats and amenities such as a radio and air conditioning were available. Powering the street-legal car was a 6.9L V12 engine, producing 604 hp and 572 lb-ft of torque. Mercedes claimed the car could reach 60 mph in just 3.8 seconds with a top speed of 214 mph.

Six roadsters were produced alongside the 20 coupes. The roadster versions were essentially unchanged from the race car other than a different front grille and two rollbars integrated into the headrests.

Five CLK GTR Super Sports were also produced later. These featured a much larger 7.3L V12 producing 711 hp and 580 lb-ft of torque.

The Legacy

Following two seasons of domination, Mercedes’ competitors backed out of the GT1 class, prompting the FIA to disband the class altogether. Since the start of the 2000s, Mercedes has placed their focus on Formula One and the more conventional GT3 class of racing, leaving no need for the homologation of bona fide racecars. 

While the street-legal CLK GTR has not had a successor, many are looking to the recently available Mercedes-AMG ONE as a street-legal racecar capable of carrying on the CLK’s tradition.