Driving the Mercedes CLK DTM AMG | Thank Frankel it's Friday

30th May 2024
andrew_frankel_headshot.jpg Andrew Frankel

Twenty years ago I found myself at the Paul Ricard circuit to drive a Mercedes-Benz. And shamed as I am to admit it, I have literally no recollection of what it was.


Given that at least part of the test drive involved said Formula 1 track, I’m guessing it must have been quite a quick one. An AMG of some sort no doubt. But back then I was catching upwards of 120 flights a year in my efforts to keep up with the ever-turning hamster wheel of the launch circuit, and after a couple of decades most of the memories have either merged with others, or simply melted away.

But not this one. What I do remember very well is Klaus Ludwig giving demonstration passenger laps in a totally tonto device called the CLK DTM AMG, participation in which I immediately declined on the grounds that I hate being driven round tracks by anyone, even triple Le Mans winners. So off all the journos toddled to do their best not to throw up on Klaus while I got on with whatever I was meant to be getting on with. Until, that is, shortly before we were due to leave, a PR man from head office with whom I’d recently done a big drive through Mexico sidled up to me and said, ‘what if we let you drive?’ Which was all the encouragement I needed.


The deal was simple: I’d drive the nutty CLK while I followed Klaus around the track driving the then current F1 safety car and one more thing - under no circumstances was I to mention to any other journalist that I’d driven it until we were well clear of the circuit, on the plane, and going home. Which suited me just fine. Disinclined to smugness as I hope I am, I didn’t even mention it when the coast was clear.

I wonder if you remember the DTM Mercedes? It sounds quite tame now, but in 2004 I can assure you it was anything but. This was no normal AMG product, nor even a ‘Black Series’ model for it pre-dates all that. It was instead a highly modified but road legal track day version of the normal CLK55 AMG, produced ostensibly to celebrate Mercedes’ victory in the 2003 Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters championship, better known as the DTM. Both cars had 5.5-litre V8 motors, but while the standard car produced a chunky 367PS (270kW), this one was supercharged all the way to 582PS (428kW). It had almost race stiff suspension, brakes so big they needed to up the wheel sizes, dramatically flared arches, no rear seats, an enormous wing on the back, and a price tag even then of over €200,000.


But you were paying not just for a car, but exclusivity as Benz said total production would be limited to just 100 units, though as they all sold out at once, a couple of years later it did decide that another 80 roadsters would not be breaking its promise too much.

Now the numbers probably don’t seem that remarkable: 0-62mph in 3.9sec, 0-124mph in 10.9sec and a Nürburgring lap time Klaus estimated to be around 7mins and 45 sec. But that was within a handful of seconds of the McLaren-developed SLR hypercar which had an even more powerful motor and the hand of Gordon Murray in its design. Indeed it may even have provided the reason why Mercedes decided to limit the DTM’s top speed to 199mph, to stop it driving straight past the flagship…

It was far more fun to drive than the SLR too, which was meant to have meaningful amounts of downforce and was not the kind of car designed to be kicked about on a bootful of throttle.


The DTM absolutely was. Not only was it thunderously fast in a straight line and almost ludicrously eager to turn into any given corner, it was as keen to take instructions on how to address a corner from foot as from hand. It was set up to slide and, in a most un-Mercedes way, to do so even with the stability control switched on fully. But there was also a switch Klaus called ‘fun mode’ which would allow the back to drift out fully 30 degrees before the electronics thought it was probably time to save you from yourself.

To this day, of all the modern Mercedes I’ve driven in the 36 years I’ve been at this job, it remains the most fun. But predictably enough, given their rarity and cult status, values are robust to put it mildly, especially if it’s for one of the 40 right hand drive cars that were made. Prices seem to start at around £300,000 but fluctuate wildly - I saw one roadster that appeared to be on sale for close to $1 million. And good though it was, when you can get the only slightly less powerful, scarcely less fun CLK 63 Black Series, complete with naturally aspirated, bespoke 6.2-litre V8 for £100-£150,000, I know where my money would be headed.

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