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Mercedes-Benz CLK55 AMG buying guide, history and review

Words: Matthew Hayward

During an era when AMG is phasing out V8 engines in all but its top sports cars – in favour of turbocharged four-cylinders with hybrid assistance – I often take solace in the fact that there are so many magnificent V8-powered cars, handbuilt in Affalterbach, still available on the used market. Broadly speaking, these engines – especially the older naturally aspirated and supercharged ones – live forever. While the lure of a big saloon or estate is strong, there’s one coupé model that is particularly appealing: the C209-generation Mercedes-Benz CLK55 AMG.

Today the CLK55 AMG is strangely, and undeservedly, a bit of a forgotten hero. These cars don’t have the same kind of following as the more track-focused E46 BMW M3s, but if you get a good one it can make a fabulously fast and surprisingly cheap modern classic. Just don’t expect the fuel economy to be great! Here’s what you need to know.

Development and history

Based on the W203-generation C-Class saloon, albeit stiffer, the second-generation CLK was a significant step up from its predecessor. Build quality was improved, and dynamically it was a lot sharper thanks to multi-link suspension and rack-and-pinion steering. And, given the fundamentally improved platform, the CLK 55 AMG was considerably closer to the competition at launch.

Mercedes-Benz CLK55 AMG buying guide

Its party piece, as with any AMG, sits under the bonnet: 5.4 litres of handbuilt, naturally aspirated M113 V8 engine – proudly displaying the signature of its builder, and producing 342bhp and 376lb ft of torque. It’s an interesting piece of engineering, with three valves per cylinder and 16 sparkplugs. Funnelled exclusively through a five-speed automatic gearbox, it could propel the CLK to 62mph from rest in 5.2sec and continue to its 155mph limiter rather quickly.

The AMG treatment also included a slightly sportier suspension set-up, although it remains as compliant as you would expect from a Mercedes. Housed behind the beautiful 18-inch AMG alloy wheels are a set of uprated, autobahn-approved four-piston brake calipers. The AMG bodykit consists of a subtle rear lip spoiler, deeper bumpers and side skirts. Dual twin-exit tailpipes complete the transformation.

As well as the coupé, Mercedes also offered this powerhouse in convertible form, which allows drivers and passengers even more opportunity to enjoy the guttural soundtrack. In many ways the CLK55 made a lot of sense as a soft-top, especially in the USA.

Although there was no Black Series version of this generation, a much more hardcore DTM edition was launched in 2004 as a celebration of the car’s victory in the DTM Championship. Only sold in Europe, it featured wide ’arches, larger wheels, bucket seats and a 574bhp supercharged version of the 55’s engine – with an official top speed of 200mph. Only 100 Coupés and 80 convertibles were built.

Production of the CLK55 came to an end in 2006 after 2893 had been built, when the CLK range was heavily updated. From that point, the 475bhp CLK63 represented a major step up in performance and price, although in many ways the non-AMG CLK 550 matched the old 55 for power and specification.

Mercedes CLK55 AMG common problems

• If looked after, these large, unstressed engines are bombproof. Check for oil leaks and general signs of neglect. Worn engine mounts will cause excess movement and reduced power.

• Ensure the transmission shifts smoothly. If not, it might need a new torque converter.

• Like so many other Mercedes of this era, electronic faults are the real Achilles’ heel. Check that everything works, especially the traction control, ASR and ABS systems. Expect a big bill if they need repairs.

• Corrosion issues are not as disastrous as with the previous generation, but wheelarches and sills (behind covers) are still prone to rot

What to pay?

If you want a usable car with a few niggles, then these start from around £6000. There are plenty of tidy, average- mileage cars from £8000, with clean examples costing between £10,000 and 15,000. While convertibles tend to cost a little more due to lower mileages, prices are largely similar.

Mercedes-Benz CLK55 AMG buying guide

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