To celebrate the reveal of the latest 2024 Mercedes-AMG GT at Monterey Car Week, Mercedes brought out a collection of classic vehicles to drive on the coastal roads around Pebble Beach. The lineup included older cars like a 1967 230 Sedan, several SL generations ranging from 1969 to 1982, and even some “modern classics” such as a 2017 Maybach S 650 Cabriolet.
Being born in the ’90s, I gravitated towards the 2008 CLK 63 Black Series, finished in a luscious shade of Mars Red. Calling this car a “classic” might anger our older audience, but the CLK Black Series is old enough for a classic plate in some states.
It may not be the first Black Series car (that honor goes to the SLK 55 Black Series), but the CLK 63 Black Series was the first of AMG’s most hardcore models sold in the United States. Only a handful of Black Series variants have been built since then, and each one has become a big-ticket collectible based on rarity.
After a short sting behind the wheel of a CLK Black, I could easily understand why someone would want to invest in this car.
Why It’s Special
The CLK 63 Black Series is so special partly because of how pedestrian the model it is based on was. The CLK Series was a two-door, four-seat coupe/convertible model that sat above the SLK but below the CL. It was later split into the C-Class and E-Class Coupe/Cabriolet models and recently recombined into the Mercedes-Benz CLE. The second-generation CLK was built from 2003 to 2010, offering a V6 or V8 engine in the US market.
In 2006, the CLK 63 emerged in coupe and convertible form with a 6.2-liter M156 V8 engine producing 473 horsepower and 465 lb-ft of torque. One year later, the Black Series improved on the performance with a whopping 500 hp, which was herculean at the time for a normally aspirated engine.
This was the closest thing you could get to a street-legal DTM car in 2007. Mercedes only imported 349 of these into the US (500 globally), making them extremely rare and collectible.
A Practical-Ish, But Dated Interior
Stepping into the well-kept interior of the Mercedes-owned CLK Black Series, I was instantly transported back to a time when the computing power of a NASA shuttle was not yet available in your pocket. There is an infotainment interface, but it comes from a period where you either had to pay $0.99 per song on iTunes or illegally download it from LimeWire.
I didn’t bother trying to use the system, which does not have a touchscreen, as the only music I wanted to hear was the exhaust note from that brutish V8.
Despite being in pristine condition, the CLK has a familiar smell that many mid-2000s vehicles exhibit. Like many European cars of this era, the cabin has a whiff of melted crayon. I kind of like it, and it feels nostalgic. The rest of the interior looks modern, especially with bits of carbon fiber on the center console and around the gauges.
US-spec cars received more conventional leather seats with power adjustment, not the race car torture devices used in the European ones. The back seats are deleted on the Black Series, but that space is pretty useful for a few duffel bags.
Amazing Engine, Mid-2000s Transmission
With the fantastic advancements in turbocharging and transmission technology, it’s easy to forget a bygone era when there was no replacement for displacement, and a manual gearbox was crucial for driving enjoyment.
Though it’s been outclassed by AMG’s modern 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8, this 6.2-liter unit is still an unhinged beast. Peak torque doesn’t hit until 5,250 rpm, an eternity by current standards, but 370 lb-ft at 2,000 rpm was more than enough to light up the rear tires and give car spotters outside Pebble something cool to post on TikTok. 0-60 takes around four seconds, which is outmatched by many performance crossovers today, but the top speed is a respectable 186 mph.
AMG has worked wonders on its boosted engines, making them sound snarly and aggressive despite the muffling effect of the turbos. A brief stint in the CLK Black Series reminded us that the angry roar from the M156 engine is still challenging to beat.
The engine is hampered by a seven-speed transmission that feels very much of its era. What must have felt snappy in 2007 now feels sluggish and poorly programmed. It’s the lone Achilles Heel on what is an otherwise fantastic powertrain.
An Angry Cruiser
Every review I read or watched of this car in-period described it as an angry death machine designed to be less comfortable than a bed of spikes. Those reviewers may have leaned too hard into hyperbole, but you can certainly sense the underlying anger.
The standard 19-inch wheels aren’t massive by today’s standards, and the ride is no less comfortable than any modern AMG car of this size. Compared to the over-assisted electric steering in today’s sports cars, the heavy steering in the CLK Black Series felt pinpoint accurate, and satisfying to operate.
The car also feels mechanical. Following a cold start, you can hear the rear differential groan as it heats up. There are no trick aerodynamics, and the traction control is either on or off. It’s such a playful car, wanting to oversteer every time you so much as breathe on the throttle. But that’s part of its charm. It comes from an era when health and safety took a backseat to pure enjoyment.
As an added bonus, Mercedes left in the ability to lower all four windows. Since the CLK never had a B-pillar, this creates an airy experience beautifully complimented by the growl from the 6.2-liter V8.
With fewer than 350 units in the country, finding a CLK 63 Black Series near you won’t be easy.
A national search through the classifieds yielded nine examples ranging from $105,000 to $165,000, depending on mileage. Sadly, none of the examples were finished Mars Red and were instead painted in the more subtle colors (Artic White, Iridium Silver, Black, and Obsidian Black). 85% of all cars were finished in black or silver, so if you find a red car or one of the few finished in a custom color, we advise you to pull the trigger and buy it.
Spending six figures for a 15-year-old car might seem like a poor investment, but considering these cars sold for around $135,000 when new, they have held value exceptionally well.
With the recent push towards electrification, collectors are looking to invest in the kinds of cars that will never be repeated. As turbocharging, active stability control, and multiple driving modes have become the norm, the CLK Black is refreshingly old-school in all the right places. It’s not yet old enough to be a hassle on a longer road trip, but the lack of a touchscreen on every available interior surface is a blessing.