Mercedes-AMG is waving goodbye to its wonderful V12 engine in favor of developing V8s with an electrified twist. While the 12-cylinder engine will live on in Mercedes’ high-end vehicles, like Maybachs, it won’t be featured in AMG-branded things.
And that makes us sad, because the brand put the glorious engine in some of its best cars.
When it comes to V12-powered cars from Mercedes, the CLK GTR and CLK GTR Roadster have to be the craziest vehicles from the automaker. The car is in the same neighborhood as the Porsche 911 GT1 Strassenversion as a vehicle that has unjustly been forgotten.
As with a lot of great vehicles from the ‘90s, the CLK GTR was born from Mercedes’ need to go racing. Unlike other manufacturers, though, the brand didn’t come out with the supercar while it was competing. That, understandably, drew the ire of other brands, but Mercedes eventually kept their promise, coming out with the insane supercar.
But before we get to the supercar, it’s important to have an understanding of what happened on the track. Over a span of four months in the winter of 1996 to 1997, Mercedes built the CLK GTR race car. The thinking behind the machine was pretty clear – take the fight to the McLaren F1 GTR in the FIA GT Championship. It only took the automaker 128 days to design the CLK GTR and produce a world-class GT1 competitor.
Interestingly, Mercedes and AMG used a F1 GTR for testing purposes, as the automaker actually bought one of McLaren’s track weapons as a test mule for its race car. While that may sound a little sleazy, it was the the only way automaker could build the machine in a such a short time line, especially after the FIA took over the BPR Global GT series in ’97.
The race car was powered by a 6.0-liter V12 engine that cranked out 600 horsepower. With the engine, the track-oriented bodywork, and some talented drivers, the race car went on to win 17 out of the 22 races that it entered. For the ’98 season, the CLK GTR, with some help from the CLK LM, won all of the races in the FIA GT Championship season.
The cars were so good at racing that they essentially killed the GT1 class. For the ’99 season, no other manufacturer put its ring in the hat for the GT1 class, essentially killing the high-power, crazed machines. Going up against something that dominant can be disheartening.
To get a quick recap on how well the CLK GTR did on the circuit, check out Mercedes’ video below.
The GT1 class may have been killed off in ’99, but Mercedes still had to live up to its promise of coming out with road-going cars of the CLK GTR, which they did. The official number on how many homologation specials Mercedes built is up in the air, but 26 is about right.
When broken down, 20 were hardtop coupes and six were roadsters. Unsurprisingly, the machines were road variants of the race car, but they were more powerful and had larger engines. Instead of the 6.0-liter V12, the road cars were fitted with a 6.9-liter V12. Output for the V12 was upped to 612 hp. A few models, though, featured an even crazier 7.3-liter V12 that put out 655 hp. That engine would go on to find its way in the Pagani Zonda.
While the engine was one of the main reasons to fall in love with the supercar, the gearbox was also one of its highlights. The car shared a lot of the same the same features as the race car, including its hardcore gearbox. The six-speed paddle unit was rough and fired off shifts like a bolt-action rifle. While it came with a clutch, if you were good enough at rev matching, you could get away without using it. That, though, would require getting the transmission built every 500 miles.
The supercar, like a lot of high-performance vehicles, was all about insane numbers. It was built in limited quantities, had a price tag of roughly $1.5 million, could get to 60 mph in under four seconds, and had a top speed of over 200 mph.
The CLK GTR was built during a different time in the auto industry. It may have come out during an odd period of time, just after the likes of the Ferrari F40 and before the Enzo, but it’s still an incredible supercar by today’s standards. The CLK GTR was unlike any other car when it came out and Mercedes’ V12 helped it be special. No wonder the vehicles still fetch seven figures at auctions.
Don’t think the CLK GTR is special? Check out the video of a CLK GTR Roadster below and try not to smile.