Courtesy of Bonhams
A legend in its own — relatively short — lifetime, the car offered here is the first example built of the fabulous Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR roadster, an even more-exclusive, limited-edition, open-topped variant of the already super-exclusive CLK GTR coupe with which Mercedes-Benz had re-entered international sports car racing in 1997. At the time of its introduction, the CLK GTR roadster was the world’s most expensive production car, with a price tag of $1.5 million, a figure exceeded only recently by the Ferrari FXX. Mercedes-Benz’s decision to switch from touring to sports cars had been taken at the end of the 1996 season, leaving precious little time to develop a challenger for the FIA’s new GT Championship. The latter’s regulations stipulated that GT1 category cars had to be production based, and although the racer used the same “CLK” designation as the existing road car, it was in fact all new. Development was entrusted to Mercedes-Benz’s official performance division, AMG. Amazingly, just 128 days after design work had commenced in December 1996, the first Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR took to the track at Jarama in April 1997 for its initial test. Like Porsche’s 911 GT1, the CLK GTR bore a passing resemblance to its road-going namesake — the front-engined CLK saloon — but it was mid-engined and powered by an SL600-based, 6.9-liter V12 producing 600 bhp. Mated to a transverse 6-speed sequential gearbox, the engine formed a stressed member of the chassis, supporting the rear suspension. The monocoque tub itself was constructed of a mixture of carbon fiber and Kevlar. Unsurprisingly, Mercedes-Benz failed to get the road version homologated in time, but was allowed to race anyway, a dispensation that angered its rivals. The CLK GTR first won at the Nürburgring in June 1997, going on to win five more of the 11 rounds to take the GT Championship in its debut year. With a new CLK LM (Le Mans) waiting in the wings, the CLK GTR raced just twice in 1998, winning the GT Championship’s first two rounds at Oschersleben and Silverstone, before being retired from active duty after little more than a season’s racing — but with an impeccable record. During 1998 and 1999, Mercedes-Benz duly completed 25 road-going CLK GTRs. These closely resembled the racing version but developed only 550 bhp and dispensed with the racer’s separate rear wing in favor of a body-integral design. They were also better equipped and kitted out with more creature comforts than the spartan racer. With a headline-grabbing price tag of over $1,000,000, the CLK GTR’s exclusivity was surpassed only by its stupendous performance. In 1999, Daimler Chrysler acquired its longtime collaborator AMG, renaming it Mercedes AMG GmbH. At the same time, AMG co-founder Hans-Werner Aufrecht set up HWA GmbH in AMG’s hometown of Affalterbach, Germany, to continue the company’s racing activities. HWA’s first car was the ill-fated Mercedes-Benz CLR sports prototype, and since Mercedes-Benz’s withdrawal from international sports car racing, HWA has built and runs cars in the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters (DTM) series. It was HWA that conceived the idea of using six spare CLK GTR coupe chassis to create the ultimate roadster by the simple expedient of removing the roof and installing two rollover bars and additional strengthening. The roadster improved on the coupe’s specification in other ways too, boasting an engine uprated to 640 bhp (40 horsepower more than the racer) and a Formula One-style, sequential 6-speed transmission controlled by paddles on the steering wheel. One of only six CLK GTR roadsters ever made, this car was owned by Mercedes-Benz and kept in Stuttgart until it was sold to the current owner in 2014. Prior to delivery, the car was fully serviced by the factory (new fluids, belts, seals, gaskets, etc.) and given eight new wheels and tires. Presented in effectively new condition, having covered only 8 kilometers, it is the only one of the six roadsters to be finished in black. Accompanying documentation consists of German registration papers. An almost certainly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to acquire one of the rarest Mercedes-Benz models of modern times.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1998 Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR Roadster
Years Produced:1998–2006
Number Produced:35
Original List Price:$1,547,620
SCM Valuation:$1.5 million–$2 million
Tune Up Cost:$3,000
Chassis Number Location:VIN tag at windshield, plaque on console
Engine Number Location:Stamped on top of block
Club Info:Mercedes-Benz Club of America
Alternatives:1994–98 McLaren F1, 1996–99 Porsche GT1, 2002–03 Ferrari Enzo
Investment Grade:A

This car, Lot 340, sold for $2,380,209, including buyer’s premium, at Bonhams’ Goodwood Festival of Speed Sale in Chichester, England, on June 26, 2015.

When is a car not really a car? One answer might be “when it’s only been driven 8 kilometers in 17 years.” Most of us have owned cars like that at one time or another, but we didn’t pay $2.3 million for them.

Snarky jokes aside, this Mercedes CLK GTR sale is a perfect example of high-stakes investment car collecting. You’re not buying this high-zoot car to impress your friends at the next track day. In fact, the new owner would be crazy to put more kilometers onto this museum piece. For one thing, where would you drive it? Both the race track and the public roads offer dangers aplenty, and every kilometer logged on the odo at this point is going to carry a potentially high price tag.

Freezer burn?

This CLK GTR may have been preserved as a time capsule in the Mercedes-Benz museum, but even in a climate-controlled environment, time has a mileage all its own. The car might not even be roadworthy at this point, and certainly a smart owner would have every seal replaced and every component checked before taking it out to stretch its legs.

Let’s take a look at what the new owner just bought. Without repeating the auction house backgrounder too much, Mercedes built just 35 of these cars to homologate its racing program. The street version of the CLK GTR was equipped with a 6.9-liter V12 not found in the racing models, with output rated at something over 600 horsepower. Two of the road cars were gifted with a 7.3-liter V12 rated up to 655 horsepower. Power was delivered to the rear wheels through a 6-speed sequential paddle-shifted gearbox. The rest of the car is similarly state-of-the-art for a late-1990s exotic, with carbon-fiber everything plus some Kevlar and aluminum in the monocoque chassis. You also get a commensurate set of huge brakes and a race-ready suspension with traction control.

That’s all pretty cool stuff — if you could actually drive it without spoiling the value.

Ready to appreciate

Most of the 35 road-going examples of the CLK GTR were sold at the record-breaking sticker price of $1,547,620 soon after they were made. The model was marketed to the hyper-rich as a street-legal Le Mans racing car. The Sultan of Brunei bought one each of the coupe and the roadster, and had them built with right-hand drive — the only two examples so equipped. After the initial sale, every one of these cars disappeared into a collection, where they have mostly stayed. The SCM Platinum Auction Database shows one appearance at auction in 2003 (SCM# 230902), and that car failed to meet reserve at a bid of $1.3 million. In 2009, the sultan sold both his cars in London through RM Auctions. The coupe sold for $824,609 and the roadster sold for $973,834 (SCM February 2010, “Race Profile” p. 46).

Those prices could not have encouraged this year’s buyer, but this purchase is only marginally comparable to any prior sale because of the perfectly preserved nature of this example. For investment purposes, this is still a new car — and it is likely to remain so. Conventional wisdom is that collectible cars reach their lowest value at 15 to 20 years of age. If so, there’s nothing but upside in this car’s future.

What’s German for “Enzo”?

Perhaps the most accurate comparison would be to the nearly contemporaneous Ferrari Enzo. Both cars reflect the automaker’s experience in high-echelon racing, and offer the flavor of top-tier race-track technology in a road-going car. The sales history of the Enzo also points to continued strong appreciation for cars with this sort of pedigree.

So, when is a car not really a car? Maybe the best answer is “when it’s an ultra-rare supercar.” In the case of this Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR, it might also be when a car is the smartest buy of the year. ♦

(Introductory description courtesy of Bonhams.)

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