The FIA GT Championship of the late 1990s was great for fans of hardcore homologation specials. Who couldn’t enjoy the fact that they could wander into their local car showroom and slap down a deposit on a Mercedes CLK GTR, Porsche 911 GT1 or McLaren F1 LM. OK, it wasn’t quite like that… but a full-house GT racer wearing numberplates and a tax disc is enough to tickle your funny bone, surely? The fact that the Mercedes had regular CLK styling cues adds to the effect. In reality, 26 road-going CLK GTRs were built, their number including six roadsters and the rest coupés. You’re unlikely to see on one Auto Trader (although one did famously appear on eBay in 2012).
Mercedes was motiviated to go into the FIA GT Championship following the demise of the DTM series at the end of 1996 (the saloon car series came back in 2000). Mercedes gave themselves just 128 days to take the GTR from design sketch to first test session. During that process, a Mercedes ‘silver arrow’ had its first Grand Prix victory since 1955 in the form of a McLaren-Mercedes, while its engines were also performing in the USA’s Kart series. The GTR would be the third point in its motorsport star.
They had a headstart on the basis that the GTR’s 6-litre V12 engine was based on that found in the S600 and SL600 road cars, albeit tuned to produce over 600bhp at 7000rpm. By April 1997, the car was ready for its first race. During its career, the GTR chalked up 17 wins from 22 races. One of the first six drivers was Klaus Ludwig, and he’ll be back behind the wheel of a 1998 version of the car at the Festival of Speed later this month.
We wonder whether Mark Webber will be keeping a close eye on his performance? After all, he has some CLK GTR history of his own…