When boomers worship the halcyon days of homologated hypercars racing at Le Mans, they’re worshipping the Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR. It wasn’t the only example of this phenomenon in the late ’90s, of course — you had the McLaren F1 and Porsche 911 GT1 Straßenversion too, for starters. But it’s the one that springs to mind, perhaps because it was the most dramatic looking and among the rarest of the lot.
Only 26 CLK GTRs were ever produced — 20 coupes and six roadsters — and one of them will cross the block at Pebble Beach on the weekend of August 13. The particular chassis due for auction was built in 1998 and was No. 9 of the run. It’s had four owners up until now, though it’s pretty much guaranteed that the fifth will pay the highest price.
Gooding & Company, which is operating this auction, predicts the Silver Arrow will go for between $8.5 and $10 million. That’s around twice the $4.5 million the last buyer spent on it, via RM Sotheby’s during Monterey Car Week 2018.
The CLK GTR was a dominant force during its competition days, claiming the 1997 FIA GT teams and drivers championships — just as its successor, the similar-looking CLK LM, did in 1998. The CLR followed in 1999, but Mercedes doesn’t like to bring that one up all that often these days.
But there’s another reason the CLK GTR is so memorable for a particular generation of enthusiasts. It was synonymous with Need For Speed right around the time it was winning races, appearing as the car to beat and win in NFS III, NFS: High Stakes and, a bit later on, NFS: Hot Pursuit 2. In most of these games, the McLaren F1 was presented as the Mercedes’ sworn rival. No other cars could compete with the pair, and choosing between them was never easy. I’m speaking from experience, of course.
So you can imagine how very beside myself I was when I happened across a CLK GTR at the Amelia Island Concours back in May. I wasn’t expecting to find the car there — you never expect to see a CLK GTR, the same way you don’t expect to encounter astatine in your daily life. As soon as I caught a glimmer of its absurd wing from across the lawn, I stopped noticing all other vehicles in my periphery. That’s saying a lot, because next to it was a McLaren F1, Porsche 959, Ferrari F50 and Jaguar XJR-15.
One of the things that floored me most while studying the CLK GTR was how cramped the interior was, due to the width of those side sills. The ultra-wide perspective of the photos I took definitely embellish that characteristic, but even without the distortion, it’s really something to behold. It’s also totally at odds with the restrained, ordinary interior trim and quaint GTI-esque plaid upholstery. Then again, the CLK GTR wasn’t made to look ridiculous — it was made to win races. That’s what made the hypercars of its generation so special.