Mercedes-Benz has always been capable of achieving more with less and that maxim certainly applies to the CLK series that made its Australian appearance 20 years ago.
The first models to arrive here in 1997 cost around the same as a decent house in Dandenong. For their $102,000, owners of a 2.3-litre CLK got to sit on well-shaped leather seats with air-conditioning and a CD stacker for entertainment. Protecting those in the front Ė the rear didnít provide an awful lot of room and usually accommodated shopping Ė were a selection of air-bags and of course ABS brakes.
With its supercharged engine the CLK230 delivered a satisfying 142kW. Those wanting a bit more power and to dispense with the blower needed to wait a year for the arrival of the big-selling CLK320 or a CLK430 with the V8 and 205kW.
CLKs let their buyers pay a bit more and upgrade from Avantgarde to Elegance trim. However, after 20-odd years of depreciation any difference in initial value will have been obliterated by factors like distance travelled and any major repairs due or already done.
Handling wasnít overtly sporty, at least from the 2.3 and 3.2-litre cars, however the chassis engineers seemingly found a bit more budget when developing the CLK430.
Tested in the USA where magazines have a mania for discovering a carís ability to generate g-force the 430 sent Motor Trendís lateral acceleration measuring gear all the way to 0.83g. Thatís just 0.03 of a G worse than a 2015 C63 S. Backing its credentials as a tamer of supercars, the 430 also clocked 14.8 seconds for the standing 400 metres and stopped from 96km/h in just 36 metres.
Even with a V8 under the bonnet, CLK coupes weigh less than 1600kg. All-disc brakes with ABS are well up to the task of stopping them, even when pushing hard. Just make sure when test driving that the anti-lock hasnít succumbed to old age.
If you want an elegant coupe with the kerb appeal of a Benz badge and also to have some club-day fun at the track, the CLK430 is easy to find and reasonably affordable.
Cabriolets wonít attract performance-oriented drivers in the same way, however they will certainly drive the neighbours insane with envy. Just donít let slip how little you paid.
Choose a supercharged soft-top in excellent order and the spend is unlikely to exceed $10,000, Take your chances on one with high kms, cracked leather and a few carpark knocks and the bidding will stop well shy of $5000.
The leather seats in M-B models are traditionally less sumptuous and enfolding than those in a Jaguar or some high-end Japanese cars but thatís for a reason.
Benz has maintained since back in the days of MB-Tex that its firmer seats do a better job of combating fatigue on long-distance drives than those that encourage an on-the-move snooze.
Cars like these have diminished so far in value that they often cost less to buy than a slightly more recent Corolla, Commodore or SUV. However the maintenance schedule and parts prices remain linked to the original purchase prices so be cautious.
BODY & CHASSIS Benz bodies were well-protected but panel repairs, exposure to salt and neglect will allow rust to get a hold. Most significant and likely to write off a cheap car will be rot around the rear sub-frame mounts which needs to be checked on a hoist. More obvious will be bubbling to the wheel-arches and sills, around the windscreen and sunroof aperture. Ensure that the electric top on Cabriolets operates without shuddering and that it can be secured to the windscreen without excessive force.New body panels are still available but second-hand when refurbishing a low-value car is best.A used grille costs less than $250. Look hard at headlights for deterioration to reflectors. These might skate through a roadworthy inspection but leave the buyer with a $1000 bill for two new light units.
ENGINE & TRANSMISSION These engines can cover more than 300,000 km before needing significant work. However a full rebuild will exceed the value of a low-cost car. Exhaust smoke at start-up is likely due to worn valve stem seals but a constant stream of blue means serious internal wear. Overheating is a known problem, especially if the radiator is clogged. Early 2.3 cars have a clutch activated supercharger, those built after 1999 use a clutchless design. Cars that seem OK still need a check by a specialist technician, but if the supercharger drive is noisy or the it doesnít activate, look elsewhere. Check for contaminated oil and coolant that can mean cylinder head replacement. The fivespeed auto is robust but if it fails a rebuild it could send cheaper cars to the wrecker.
NUMBER BUILT: 226,173 (all CLK 1997-2001)
BODY: all-steel integrated body/ chassis two-door coupe & cabriolet
ENGINE: 2295cc four cylinder, 3199cc six cylinder, 4266cc V8 with overhead camshafts and fuel injection some supercharged
POWER & TORQUE: 205kW @ 5750rpm, 400Nm @ 3000rpm (CLK430)
PERFORMANCE: 0-100km/h Ė 7.1 seconds, 0-400 metres 14.8 seconds (CLK430)
TRANSMISSION: Five-speed automatic SUSPENSION:Independent with coil springs, control arms, telescopic shock absorbers and anti-roll bar (f) Independent with multi-link location, coil springs. telescopic shock absorbers and anti-roll bar (r)
BRAKES: disc (f) disc (r) power assisted with ABS
TYRES: 205/55VR16 radial
SUSPENSION & BRAKES Excessive bodyroll is likely due to weakened springs, worn shock absorbers or both. Look out for cars with sagging suspension. Rear sub-frame mountings that are worn will allow the wheels to deflect rearwards under hard acceleration Ė have an assistant watch for wheel movement as you accelerate the car from rest. Complete sub-frames sell for under $250 each, with bushings at $80-100 per set. Labour can be 5-10 times the cost of parts. Edge-worn tyres front or rear indicate component wear. Test, on an empty road, that ABS-equipped cars stop straight and without locking any of the wheels.
INTERIOR & ELECTRICS Air-conditioning problems in these cars are very costly to fix so make sure that air is flowing from all vents and feels cold. Feel around the footwells for dampness from a leaking evaporator.Test the seats to ensure the electric adjusters are working as they should. Providing the structure of the seats is sound, cracked and worn leather can be revived and sections replaced rather than resorting to a full retrim. Look at the hood-lining in cars with a sunroof for signs of water leaking through tired seals. If the sunroof doesnít slide easily, the channels may be warped or cracked.