How the sighting of an extremely rare three-pointed star gave Tim Dunlop a DTM fuelled daydream, prompting him to delve into the history of the all-conquering Silver Arrow. Images courtesy of Mercedes media.
It's just before 5pm a few days into February and I’m on the spirit-sapping drive back from the office, the bleakness of the grey sky matched only by the bitingly cold, blustery air. The heater is working overtime - the sun has receded beneath the protective blanket of the horizon, the dying embers producing just enough light to form long, distorted shadows as my fellow commuters jostle impatiently for position.
I blink, fighting away a yawn when suddenly, the rush hour traffic parts like the Red Sea, a distinctive Silver Arrow clearing a path, using its motorsport-sourced chin spoiler to maximum effect. Its driver certainly isn't being aggressive, but such is the aura of this machine all who come into contact with it bend to its will. My brain struggles to comprehend the sighting, I know it to be true, but such is the rarity of this car, and so absurd the timing, I check and triple-check the details.
Due diligence performed and thus sufficiently giddy, I transport myself behind the wheel, and teleport the car to the autobahn in something that costs much more than my bank balance allows. The only thing left to do is press the loud pedal with every fibre of strength I can muster...
So, what transformed a dull drive through Stoke on Trent into a deserted stretch of German motorway? That would be none other than a Silver Mercedes CLK, but not just a run of the mill CLK, this is a CLK DTM AMG. Certainly not what I expected to see in front of my daily driver in an area more famous for its Wedgwood than winged touring cars. This is a seriously rare car, and I am not ashamed to say that rather than passing it I stayed next to it for what the driver perhaps thought was an uncomfortably long time as I awkwardly stared at its beauty.
Now you are forgiven if at first thought the CLK DTM is not a car that you can instantly picture. It’s a car that has flown largely under the radar, having been largely eclipsed by the latest Black Series releases. The CLK DTM AMG is also approaching 20 years old, made at a time when the first Black Series model (the R171 SLK, another unicorn in its own right with seriously limited production) was still a few years off.
Let me help jog your memory on how the CLK DTM came to be. The year is 2003 and Bernd Schenider (legendary touring car driver) has just been crowned champion in the DTM (think British Touring Car style racing but with bigger cars, larger engines and body styling turned up to 11), this would be his third DTM championship having also won in 2000 and 2001. 2003 would also see Mercedes take to the top step of the podium in nine out of the ten races on the calendar leading to them also successfully defending the constructor’s title having also won in 2002. Certainly, something to celebrate.
And boy do Mercedes know how to celebrate. They could have thrown the mother of all parties, complete with endless steins of beer, oom-pah bands, lederhosen, and copious amounts of wurst but instead they did what they know best. They used their heritage and road/race car knowledge to create a limited run of 200 cars as a celebration of their dominance in the DTM. Who needs a party anyway?
Both body styles of the CLK would be given DTM AMG variants, first up 100 coupes which sold out almost within minutes of them being released in 2004, these were followed a year later by 100 cabriolets. The two variants would be powered by a 582-hp AMG 5.5-litre, supercharged V8 engine. In the coupe this would see a 0-60 time of 3.9 secs and a top speed of 199mph, the cabriolet would be slightly slower to 60mph (4 secs) and have its top speed electronically limited to 186mph (300km/h), at the time this made the cabriolet version of the DTM AMG the fastest four seater convertible in the world.
Rather than being a standard CLK with some bits stuck on the DTM would receive a newly designed chassis, redesigned rear axle with stiffer bushes, new hub carriers, reinforced driveshafts and redeveloped adjustable suspension plus aerodynamics refined in a wind tunnel to include large air intakes, gorgeous flared arches, boot mounted wing and a rear diffuser. The car would also receive mismatched wheels with 19 inch and the front and large 20 inch at the rear to help put the power down and selected body panels made from Carbon Fibre helped reduce the overall weight. As you would expect from a road car inspired by the racing version, the transmission was a paddle operated automatic, in this case the AMG "Speedshift" 5 speed auto with shift paddles mounted on the steering wheel.
Although race car inspired the interior was more akin to a road car. AMG sports bucket seats trimmed in leather/Alcantara would provide driver and passenger with superb support with the oval rimmed AMG steering wheel being finished in Buckskin. Dashboard and switchgear were all standard Mercedes giving the driver the impression of being in a motorway muncher rather than a limited release race car for the road, that is until they realise the four-point harnesses holding them in give them just enough flexibility to grab a quick look over their shoulder so they can notice the rear seats have been deleted, taking them straight back to the race track where this car was honed.
Despite the limited run Mercedes recognised the need to offer the car in both left- and right-hand drive with 40 cars having the steering wheel on the side we are more used to, something many manufacturers overlook on low volume ‘specials’ due to the disproportionate re-engineering costs (are you listening Jaguar, you really should have made the Project 8 in RHD). The fact this was a race car inspired road car means you might not be surprised when I tell you that Jenson Button owned a CLK DTM AMG Coupe, as did Kimi Räikkönen and Takuma Sato, with Juan Pablo Montoya and Mika Häkkinen opting for the wind in their hair with the later cabriolets.
Unfortunately, the DTM as us petrolheads once knew it is no more, the series collapsed with the departure of the manufacturers who had propped it up for years with Mercedes joining Audi and BMW in leaving the series, leaving no factory backing and no privateers to bolster the series. DTM still exists but is now a GT3 spec formula (and there are plenty of these) meaning a car like the CLK DTM AMG will probably never come around again so if you see one bow down and worship as with only 200 existing globally you might not get to see another. Hopefully, it will brighten your day up as much as it did mine.