The CLK GTR: My Hero Car
The Dominator

The Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR is a stunning creation. It was also an incredibly successful one. The car’s dominance in the 1997 and 1998 FIA GT Championship seasons resulted in literally zero GT1 team entries for the 1999 season besides Mercedes-AMG. No Porsches, no McLarens, no one at all.

Completed in 1997 for the all-new FIA GT Championship series, the CLK GTR found its way to both a constructors’ championship and a drivers’ championship. The following season in 1998, the only car to win a race in the GT1 class was a Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR. After this in 1999, the FIA just did away with the GT1 class and Mercedes took the CLK GTRs to Le Mans (with catastrophic results using the derivative CLR).

But never mind the somersaulting Mercedes; when you love something as much as I love the CLK GTR you just pretend that sort of thing didn’t happen. Instead, you focus on the high points, like the fact that this car materialized from rough sketches to two race-ready prototypes in just 128 days.


Apparently Mercedes started with their new CLK, but I think all this means is that Mercedes drew four CLK-inspired circles for the headlights and then clearly went at least a little insane in the styling department.


Besides that fact that it was the best — forcing BMW, McLaren, Porsche, and whoever else to go home crying after 1998 — I love how this car has been formed by function. The ’90s were an interesting time in terms of an advancing, yet limited, understanding of aerodynamics. Simulation technology wasn’t there yet, so Mercedes did the only reasonable thing: They secretly purchased a McLaren F1 GTR.


After acquiring the McLaren, Mercedes went to work engine-swapping the car with their own AMG LS600 V12 power plant. They also managed to attach new bodywork to test both the engine and the aero that their new car would use. Whatever they did was working, so much so that the now even faster McLaren found itself in a tire wall.


That was fine though, because Mercedes was looking to build a Mercedes, not a McLaren.


They clearly succeeded, and while this is obviously the road-going homologation version — excuse me, Straßenversion — of which only 25 examples were ever made, I was still drooling over all of the racy details. If only I’d been allowed to take a look at that 6.9L V12, although I probably would still be standing outside the Monterey Convention Center if that was the case.


Producing 612 horses at the wheels, some 400rpm before a howling 7,200rpm redline, the Straßenversion hit 100kph in just 3.4 seconds, before carrying on to a top speed of 214mph (344km/h). The car looks fast standing still and I’d give anything to put the hammer down in it. Just being next to the thing gave me total tunnel vision; all I could see was this Mercedes.

Hero Car

You may have noticed a couple other cars bordering the CLK GTR in the background of my photos.


Just one of two McLaren P1s finished in MSO Liquid Silver, sitting alongside an incredible Bertone Countach, a highly-desireable ‘low-body’ LP400 S Series II. But they might as well have been a pair of S2000s for the attention I gave them.


And I didn’t even bother looking behind the CLK GTR. I still can’t take my eyes off this thing to really tell what they are, and I really don’t care.


I only had about five minutes with the car before the guard received a phone call. As it took a bit of convincing to get inside the cordoned-off area in the first place, I knew this was coming. “Time’s up, that was the boss,” he laughed.


After showing me out, the guard asked me for some gum. I didn’t have any, but after being given the opportunity to get up close and take photos of what might be my all-time favorite car I went across the street to the corner store to hook him up. Best three dollars I’ve ever spent.


I continued to shoot the car from behind the fence, thinking of when my love for this thing really started.


But I was interrupted in my thinking when Spider-Man appeared on the sidewalk beside me. How is it that not one, but two of my heroes were here at RM Sotheby’s? Many, many questions came to mind, but never mind that.


Confused, I turned my attention back towards the incredible CLK GTR. What is it about all those horizontal lines contrasted with the harsh curves of the rear end that culminate in the wicked street-version wing that are so attractive to me? There’s something about it, and suddenly it hit me…

I was 12 or 13 years old, outside an exotic dealership in Los Gatos, California. A large transporter pulled up, and a car was slowly being lowered down. I saw the wing, then the top of rear quarter panel first.


It was nothing less than the championship-winning, Mobil 1-sponsored CLK GTR. It was captivating, and I’ve always been drawn to both the race and street versions ever since. Some 15 years later at RM Sotheby’s Monterey, I properly met my hero, as one always should.


This girl seems to agree, and so does Spidey.

Trevor Yale Ryan
Instagram: tyrphoto



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I share your enthusiasm for this car! I graduated HS in 97 and this car still holds a special place in my heart along with the Nissan R390. I remember building a Tamiya model yet attempting to turn it into a "street" version with plaid seats and all. I also vividly remember seeing the video of that big crash when the car back flipped. The CLK GTR has aged really well and you have to love that they just pulled the lights and grill out of the parts bin.

Great feature and photos! Thanks for sharing.



Thanks! I like it more than I should. I think it's just as you say, a matter of timing.

Daniel P Huneault

sorry but that's one ugly front end...


I won't disagree with you...


Hey trevor if you see a kid who owns ford focus rs with a grey and purple camo wrap and a ultramotive window banner say hi to Jack for me.


this was the first model car i had as a child. so beautiful!


"After this in 1999, the FIA just did away with the GT1 class and Mercedes took the CLK GTRs to Le Mans (with catastrophic results)."
That is pretty much wrong in every way. Mercedes didn't take the CLK GTR to Le Mans after FIA GT1 ended, they'd already used it at LM in 97 and 98. They 99 car that backflipped was the CLR, which was a derivative of the CLK but very much a different car.


You're right, but I thought they went there after the fact, switched to a V8, then rebuilt the car as a CLR (which is the one that flipped as you say). Remembered that wrong all these years, though, thanks.


Sorry, misremembered, they didn't do Le Mans in 97. And of course, the 98 Le Mans car wasn't a CLK GTR, it was a CLK LM. Differences include some aero changes and a Group C V8 engine. The LM was used for the FIA GT rounds after Le Mans as well.


That´s what I wanted to write: The 97 car was the CLK GTR, the 98 car was the CLK LM and the 99 car, which flipped, was the CLR.

Well, the CLK GTR was always one of my childhood hero cars. Why? In 1997, I was 10 years old and I had a model car of this and the 98 CLK LM later on. I never ever saw the Straßenversion in real life, but when given the opportunity, I´ll forget everything around me - just like you did, Trevor. :) Thank you for this awesome article.


Yes, updated the story with the detail on the CLR. I always sort of forget about that thing. I've only very briefly seen the race version and now this would. Would absolutely kill to get a chance to shoot either one properly. Or the roadster ;)


Bravo, well done! Porn baby!


Sounds so weird. Why do you call him Porn Baby?? I feel dirty just writing it..."Hey Trevor! Well done...Porn Baby!" Gross!

Jay Soh Tsu Chung

Criminal activities must be really low that Peter Parker now take photos of such a rare car for Jonah Jameson. LOL! XD


Need for speed hot pursuit 2 and a hot Wheels is where I discovered this car. Probably my favorite homologation car ever. Love it so much, but I have yet to see one in person.


Came here for this. NFS Hot Pursuit made me fall in love with this car.


Haha for me it was NFS III, good times.


The glorious CLK GTR road car was always my favorite Mercedes Benz model of all time. (It never gets old!)
I really love these GT1 homologated road cars(like the CLK GTR, 911 GT1, R390GT1, etc) because they can bring you the true, raw, race car experience for the road.
Forget about nowadays supercars, hypercars which they often had tons of electronic programmed assists to make you go fast, these are the cars for ones who had REAL driving skills. (This is a car for MEN, not for KIDS who just plays paddle shifters and launch control.)
(When you kids driving in Aventadors, Mclarens or Paganis and thinking yourself is cool until you see this appears in your rear view mirror, you'd better let your way out) LOL
Thanks for sharing this wonderful piece of automotive greatness.


One of my all time favorite cars. Just the front license plate holder has to go. Awesome from any angle.


Yeah seems really silly on this thing doesnt it?


Mercedes needs to make these again!!!! ASAP


Big love for all 90's GT1 cars. Especially the road versions. The CLK GTR and 993 GT1 are all time greats. The other 2 cars behind the CLK are Aston Martin Zagato's by the way.