I’m always intrigued by stereotypes. Take the Germans. Now, I’m very fond of the Germans. I spend a lot of time in das Varterland and I like the way its people go about things. And contrary to popular belief, most of the ones I’ve met – and I’ve even dated a couple – don’t meet the dour stereotype at all. Generally speaking, I find our Teutonic brethren jolly funny and highly engaging company. Yet when it comes to cars, national stereotypes do tend to work.
Think about it. Italy makes things that are beautiful but fragile, France does the quirky but sometimes maddening, and Germany prides itself in providing an oasis of calm dependability. Its cars aren’t over-styled; they’re simple and elegant, and they don’t break down. Or at least that used to be the case.
These days of course, most German car makers are acting a bit like those corporate entities that insist their staff have ‘fun’. What they end up enacting is a kind of forced fun, which isn’t fun at all. Looking at some of the latest car designs from the big-hitting Germans, they seem so over the top I find myself wondering whether the top-down edict of ‘make it exciting’ has been derived from an algorithm, rather than the free-thinking, creative mind of a human being.
This came to my mind the other day when I parked next to a W208 CLK. Now, I realise this was not a point in Mercedes’ history when its cars were built like the doors of a nuclear bunker, but I was struck by its pure and flowing form. It is elegant. That’s why I started searching around the classifieds for one, and I found this, a CLK 55. And even though this was the Brutus of the range, with a thumping 5.4-litre V8 wedged in its nose, it hasn’t been ruined by someone’s uninformed notion of what a performance car should look like.
There’s nothing too outlandish about this 55. The only things that separate it from the lesser CLKs are a pair of barely brawny bumpers, extended side skirts, a set of rather attractive five-spoke AMG alloys and two oval tailpipes sticking out the back. I suppose if you want to be picky about it, those side skirts, with the odd twist two-thirds the way along, look a bit Ripspeed, but they hardly constitute gauche. Not when the forthcoming M2 leaves you feeling sorry for those dubious tuners, which have nowhere to go in screwing up a design because BMW has done the job in-house.
I also like this CLK because it has the air of relative simplicity about it. The naturally aspirated M113 V8 is complemented and generally able to shrug off big miles as long as it’s well serviced, and there’s no air suspension, no electronic diffs or other complexities of the modern age. That means it shouldn't drive a fat wedge between you and your bank manager as you ask him or her for a, well, fat wedge to keep the thing going.
I’m not saying you should buy blind and all will be fine. As I’ve said, this era of Mercedes’ products can be sketchy, with electrics and gearboxes a known weakness. And of course, the panels perforate to form little brown doilies out of otherwise solid structures - but this one looks okay on that front. There’s some bubbling around the arches to be aware of, but as long as the tin worm’s not travelled too far behind that it should be salvageable – and there’s nothing in the MOT history to suggest it has. While it’s at the bodyshop, get the wheel rims refinished and you’ll have a very tidy-looking 54,000-miler for under ten grand.
That’s not a lot of money for a 350hp AMG coupe, is it? One that’ll bat off 0-62mph in 5.4 seconds, with a soundtrack to shake the putty loose in a few windows as it thunders by. There’s also something very charming about this era of AMG. Sure, it’s not a car that’ll clip every apex with precision, but it’s not a track car. It’s a road car, and the well-known unstickability of its rear tyres is what makes it fun. And not fun in inverted commas; the proper kind, spelt FUN for good measure.
Specification | Mercedes CLK 55 AMG (W208)
Engine: 5,439cc, V8, naturally aspirated
Transmission: five-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 347 @ 5,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 376 @ 3,000rpm
CO2: 281g/km (NEDC)
MPG: 23.9 (NEDC)
Recorded mileage: 54,000
Year registered: 2000
Price new: N/A
Yours for: £7,450
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