Mercedes' AMG division wasn't originally part of Mercedes; it originally started as a racing engine manufacturer. Hans Aufrecht and Erhard Melcher formed AMG -- an acronym derived from its co-founders' surnames and Aufrecht's hometown of Grobaspach -- in 1976. Mercedes became AMG's majority shareholder in 1999. AMG is now officially Mercedes' top gun tuning division, and the CLK 430 stands as one of its more refined offerings.
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First Generation CLK Basics
The CLK was essentially a coupe version of Mercedes' ever-popular C-Class sedan. The CLK hit showrooms in 1996 as an entry level sports coupe and convertible, priced above the standard C-Class but below the SL-Class sports car. The first generation (1996 to 2002) base model CLK200 came with an anaemic 134-horsepower 2.0-litre four cylinder, but Kompressor models, using forced induction, saw 190 horsepower in 2.0-litre form. The 3.2-litre V6-powered CLK320 produced 215 horsepower, the V8-powered CLK430 made 279 horsepower. Mercedes dropped the 4.3-litre option for the second generation.
AMG CLK Models
AMG built two different first-generation CLKs, the AMG55 and the AMG430. The first-generation AMG55 was the big dog of its day, producing an impressive 372 horsepower with a 5.5-litre V-8, which is quite a bit of power for a 3,200-pound coupe. While this engine could indeed produce low 13-second quarter mile time slips, it was a bit much for a sedan chassis originally designed to work with a four-cylinder. For those more interested in driving than powersliding, AMG applied a few of their performance tweaks to the CLK430, which used the engine from a larger E-Class sedan.
AMG CLK430 Chassis and Performance
The AMG430 wasn't a muscle car in the same sense as the AMG55; it was more of a sporty grand-tourer. The CLK430 was already a fairly stout performer by late-1990s standards, consistently turning in low 14-second times at the drag strip and a respectable 6.5-second run to 60mph. The AMG version mostly consists of a set of AMG aluminium wheels, a set of very aggressive tires and a bespoke AMG body kit. AMG's refinements were good for a solid 0.83-G skid pad rating, 66.5mph through the 200-foot slalom and a 118-foot stopping distance from 60mph.
The AMG CLK430 came standard with every option Mercedes offered except for an integrated cell phone, six-disc CD changer, power moon roof and Xenon headlights. True to Mercedes' reputation as a technological innovator, standard equipment for the AMG CLK430 included rain-sensing wipers, stability control, an advanced anti-lock "brake assist" braking system and a "Baby Smart" safety program that automatically deactivated the passenger-side airbag when it detected a child seat in that location.
What it Boils Down To
You could say that the AMG CLK430 wasn't a "real" AMG in the same sense that the AMG55 was; the fact is that AMG430 was primarily a fully-loaded CLK430 with AMG wheels, tires and badging. However, while Mercedes installed the engine, transmission and suspension, AMG still had a hand in the car's development. While AMG wasn't a wholly-owned subsidiary until 1999, the company had been helping Mercedes to engineer performance cars as far back as 1990. The 430 was no exception; with or without the badges, all 430s utilised AMG's engineering right from the drawing board. So, the difference between a standard 430 and an AMG 430: technically, aside from the badging, there isn't one.
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