As I stood at the side of the runway, a speck of silver appeared a couple of hundred meters to my left. The vehicle that were approaching bounced a bit on the uneven tarmac, gaining speed every second. As it got closer, a howling whine accompanied with a deafening roar reached my ears. It had a quite vulgar appearance. It was Low, wide and the forms of a upside-down airplane wing made it a spectacular sight together with the now almost cartoon-ish speed. As it passed me I was almost thrown to the ground by the shock wave of air the car shoved in front of it. Stunned, I watched as it disappeared in the distance, with the sound considerably darker. At this speeds the Doppler effect is quite spectacular. The car was the utterly mad Mercedes CLK-GTR.
I guess I'll give you a short history lesson.
Born deep within the special operations bureau of AMG, the original idea was to build a car for the Group C series. That idea was scrapped at an early stage and the development of a GT1 class racer took its place. In 1997 the car competed with a shaky start but it all ended in tremendous success. Dominating both the McLaren F1 GTR and the Porsche GT1. Luckily, it also had to meet homologation rules. Which means that they had to build at least 25 road going versions. Said and done. The result was a monster beyond a child's wildest fantasies. Cornering capacity and handling way beyond anything realistic and looks that makes your neck hair stand on end. Basically, it's the GT1 racer with a patch of alcantara and a extremely simple anti-spin program (that had huge problems handling the engines power). Back to the airfield. When the car had done its fly-by it turned back and stopped in front of us. Time to take some shots of the car. The photographer (www.petergunnars.com/) asked the people around us to open the bonnet. Two guys unclipped some metal clips on the sides and just lifted the whole back part of the body. No fancy gas-springs here. This operation revealed some pure pornographic car nakedness. Starting from the back, there is two stupendously huge sound dampeners trying to tune down the howling engine. Moving forward reveals the 6-speed sequential racing gearbox and racing suspension. Sadly, the AMG-people put a box over it. However, since the box is made of carbon fiber makes it more acceptable. In front of the suspension there is a huge blob of Carbon fiber with a silver Mercedes star on it. This is the engines air box connected to the air-scoop on the roof. Firmly placed beneath it, just behind the driver and passenger, there is a 6,9L AMG V12 with 612hp and a stomach-turning 731nm of torque.
Some shots were taken and the photographer now wanted to take some more speed shots. The driver asked if I wanted to join him for a ride. As water filled my tear-canals I carefully approached this legendary monster. The door is exceedingly small and if you are larger than a T-72 tank crewman, it's a rather unflattering procedure.
As I tangled myself into the cockpit I wondered what I have gotten in to. Getting out in a emergency situation will not be easy. I pushed away the thought and was surprised that the seats were made of leather instead of the expected racing seats. The interior was simple but functional. I guess they could not fit more things in it, since it's so small. The size reminds me of the cockpit of a Vampire Fighter jet I flew.
The driver also squeezed himself down in the cockpit and firmly placed himself in the driver seat and started to buckle himself with the 4-point harness. Silently, I scanned the inside. Going right to left reveals... well nothing until the middle console that has a couple of buttons. One for the hazard light and one for the Anti-spin program. Below the buttons was a small silver plaque. It said "CLK-GTR 10/25 Limited edition" Those words made me feel a bit uneasy but it also made me excited. Not that many people get to ride in a car like this and a sting of shame crept up my throat. But I decided to shake it away and concentrate on the excitement for now.
Even further down the middle console there was a silver sphere. At first I thought it was the gear stick, but it was far to small for that. It later turned out that it was the "lever" for the reverse! I guess you learn something new every day. Above the buttons, a radio shined with its unnecessariness as I would later understand. Over to the left there was a small alcantara-clad steering-wheel with even smaller steel shifter paddles. The rev counter and speedo were extremely simple and charmingly analogue. At the drivers extreme left there was a tiny hole with some kind of "grille" over it. Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be a speaker for the radio. If you ever feel worthless, remember that there is a radio in a CLK-GTR.My driver finished his safety inspection and asked me if the seatbelts fitted. I nodded a nervous "yes" and he turned his attention to the key in the ignition. He turned it and the engine turned over a couple of times and then an angry rumble clattered my teeth. "Quite the engine eh?" The driver said. I nodded another shaking yes, and happy with our situation, he engaged a gear. Starting from zero in this car is not like driving a normal car. We jumped away under a deafening "ynnj ynnj ynnj" from the straight cut gears in the gearbox. He slowly set the car up on the runway and at this point I did not think it was that bad. It was actually quite civilized.
Then he gave it full throttle. The feeling is extremely hard to describe. The g-forces pushed my teeth back to my neck and the sound of the engine coupled with the straight cut-gears raised every hair on my body. Fuzzy as a bird during winter, I was totally taken by the moment and no sound other than a "eek" left my lips. The acceleration stopped for a split second when the gearbox engaged next gear. It felt like being hit. By a sledgehammer. It continued with unabated force and soon the sledgehammer came down again as we blasted down the runway with everything around turning frighteningly blurry. I could barely see the photographer as we roared past. Partly because the view out of the car was non-existant and partly because of the absolutely ridiculous speed.
When we reached the half way down the runway the driver shouted that he would brake now. I prepared myself for the oncoming procedure. I did not prepare enough. You want to know how it feels to fully press the brakes in a CLK-GTR? Gather 30 of your strongest friends, tie a rope around your stomach. Facing away from them, they should jerk the rope as violent as possible. My arms and legs flailed wildly towards the windshield. Luckily the seatbelts stopped me, otherwise I would have been fired out of the car and continued several hundred meters. Another thing that amazed me was the stability of the thing. We went from 300+ to almost a standstill in what seemed just a couple of meters and the driver barely had to touch the wheel. He turned the car around and the roller-coaster started over again, pushing the air out of my lungs each gear change.
When we arrived back to the group of people, I rolled out of the car and quickly checked my bone integrity. To my relief they still held together. During my recuperation on the ground, the car stood a couple of meters away, silently judging my apparent inexperience with the extreme. I smiled back. As a car, the CLK-GTR is about the worst you can find. You can barely see out of it, it's way too low for normal roads, the battery discharges in a traffic jam beacause the generator is connected to the rear axle not the engine, you will get whiplash when pulling away from standstill, you will break your back because of the suspension, you will loose your eyes when they pop out during braking, you will loose your hearing, it's ugly, it's unnecesary, it's impractical. But then, if you ever get a chance to get close to it, you will love it. It's a true Supercar.
All Photos by Peter Gunnars www.petergunnars.com