The California Highway Patrol man parked across the width of Spunky Canyon Road wouldn’t have needed a radar gun to clock my approach speed. He’d have heard the hard-wrung AMG V8 echoing up the canyon from some miles away, leaving time aplenty to finish his Dunkin’ Donuts and manoeuvre his Crown Vic to block my only escape route. All he had to do was wait.
The V8 that had just incriminated me in such spectacular fashion was voted by you as one of the greatest of the last decade. It’s not hard to see why - AMG’s first ground-up engine embodies all of its expertise and character in 6.2 litres of high-revving, naturally-aspirated wonder. Never did it sound as good as it did in the CLK63 Black Series - this badass version of the CLK63 permitted the full vocal range of the F1 Safety Car that inspired it. And it all came together so beautifully a few years ago on a fabulous stretch of tarmac called - really - Spunky Canyon Road.
LA was a good place to launch the CLK Black. It takes a strong V8 to make its voice heard in the States but, tuned to be audible over the din of an impatient F1 grid, the Black Series’ German interpretation of the classic muscle car was in its element.
A loud exhaust wasn’t the only gift the F1 Safety Car gave to the Black either. The wide-track stance and fully adjustable suspension was contained within carbonfibre wings at the front, with the bigger bumper housing additional coolers for transmission and power steering. The carbonfibre rear diffuser and the chrome-tipped exhausts were also lifted straight from Safety Car driver Bernd Maylander’s weekend ride. Between them sits a dedicated cooling system for the “highly-stressed” rear axle and limited-slip differential, clue enough to the CLK’s handling balance. OK, the road-going Black Series didn’t get the full 150kg weight saving of the Safety Car and was in fact five kilos heavier than the standard CLK63. But it drove like a completely different car.
The impression with the Black Series was this was the AMG guys loosening their ties and demonstrating what their 6.2 was really capable of when not dressed in the business attire of mainstream ‘63-badged AMG models. I’ve had the AMG team described to me as ‘beer and steak guys’ - if that’s the case the Black Series was definitely signed off after a few cold ones.
It remains such a special engine too, power uprated for the Black from the standard CLK63’s 474bhp to a more sturdy and vocal 500bhp. Mooching through LA’s endless ‘burbs, the Black’s seven-speed automatic didn’t seem such a hindrance, despite it seeming an odd choice for a track-focused machine of this type. Chance to explore this side would come later with ducks and drakes round Willow Springs behind the bright orange CLK DTM-bodied mules AMG had used for the M156 engine development programme. Between the urban sprawl and there lay Spunky Canyon.
Appropriately enough when LA ends it’s like reaching the edge of a film set, the abrupt transition from endless grid-patterned suburbia to twisting canyon roads rousing us out of our slumber. Ahead of us was one of the Germans from the AMG support staff in a CL65. With 600-odd horsepower at his disposal he was gone in a whistle of turbos and chirrup of tyres, obviously familiar with Spunky Canyon’s delights. My driving partner and I looked at each other. The game was on.
Let’s just say the drive that followed was a little way beyond spirited. And it sealed a love for the CLK Black Series that’s lasted to this day. The revelation here was an AMG that was about more than a big engine. It could do corners too, most of them with a reasonable amount of opposite lock given the aggressive differential and commendably relaxed configuration for the ESP. The CL in front of me had the firepower to blitz the straights. And though the road was narrow he clearly knew which way it went.
But I was making sure every time he reached a corner he had mirrors full of CLK, the reassurance in the steering feel and utter authority of the wide-track suspension giving me huge confidence. And, oh, the noise! Pillarless windows dropped, the sound of the V8 reflecting back off the rock walls was just epic. Low-rev bass erupted into seriously angry top-end and punctuated by ripples, volleys, crackles and bangs on every shift. For a first visit to California this was shaping up very nicely indeed.
And then the heart-stopping sight of the black and white car parked across the road, tan-uniformed CHP standing in front of it in mirror shades and flat-brimmed hat. And our colleagues relaxing in the sun at the coffee stop just beyond him. Oh god. He must have heard EVERYTHING. But he just smiled and waved us through. What the…?
Clutching our coffees we exchanged pleasantries with our CL-driving AMG hotshoe. “Cool that they closed the road for us, huh?” Ah, yes. If only we’d known, we’d have gone a bit faster…