1998 Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR Roadster

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.

Jeff Zurschmeide

Jeff Zurschmeide - SCM Contributor

Jeff is a lifelong automobile enthusiast with a penchant for sports and racing cars. He has raced SCCA, local circle track, and stage rally as a co-driver. He makes his living as a freelance automotive journalist and is the author of six books on automotive topics. As a rule, he practices catch-and-release fishing when it comes to collectible automobiles, trying to leave each one in better condition than he found it. Enduring passions include his MGA and Austin Mini, and his 1969 Corvette. He recently purchased a 1920 Ford Model T Touring because “you just have to have one of these once in your life.”

Posted in German