When Mercedes pulled the covers of the brilliantly bonkers AMG GT Black Series a few months back, it had been seven years since the last thusly-labelled car emerged. The Black Series badge isn’t one Mercedes rolls out every five minutes, and that makes it interesting. These cars may not have always hit the mark as well as they could have done, but hot damn, are they memorable.
They’re all so different from one another, picking a favourite is tricky. At least, it should be - for whatever reason, I’ve always found myself drawn to the CLK63 Black. I think a large part of that is the looks - the C209 is already one of the prettiest Mercs of the modern era, and with those hilariously wide arches and the squat stance, it’s spot-on visually.
It’s hard not to get all giddy when seeing it in the metal for the first time. This is a car I’ve lusted after ever since I watched a chap called Jeremy drive one on the TV, and I gather he used to own this particular 19,000-mile example.
Inside there’s a pair of deep bucket seats to fall into, but other than that, it’s not a particularly special cabin - the interior hasn’t aged anything like as well as the exterior. It doesn’t help that Mercs from this era weren’t exactly famed for build quality, and sure enough, everything feels a little cheap and plasticky.
"The traction control light flickers wildly as the rear end gently weaves, making the CLK feel hilariously overpowered"
The huge carbonfibre trim pieces on the door cards are a nice touch, though, and in any case, there’s only one part of the cabin I’m truly interested in right now: the start button. This awakes the M156 6.2-litre V8 with a notable lack of fanfare compared to the kind of dramatised (and admittedly slightly silly) start sequences we’re used to in modern performance cars.
This is fine, as I’m well aware of how special an engine sits just in front of the bulkhead. To say “they don’t make them like this anymore” isn’t strictly true, of course. The dry-sumped ‘M159’ version of the engine is still used in the AMG GT3 racer, but in a road setting, it’s long gone - the 6.2 departed the production car range back in 2015 after sticking around for just eight years.
It’s the first powerplant engineered by AMG from the ground up, and here, it produces 500bhp at 6800rpm, capping out at 7200. You’re looking at 0-62mph in 4.3 seconds, and a top speed of 186mph - numbers that still impress over a decade on from the car’s launch.
Drive is selected via the weird, stubby and stiff little lever, and as soon as I pull away, the firmness of the suspension makes itself known. It’s an uncomfortable car at low speeds, but once I’m out in the countryside and away from sleeping policeman and potholes, the ride soon settles.
Making full use of the long-travel throttle pedal for the first time, the Black Series’ back end has a minor hissy fit. This may have a 66mm wider rear track than a regular CLK63 (75mm bigger at the front), 285-section rear tyres and a mechanical limited-slip differential, but that’s not enough to tame the 500bhp and 564lb ft of torque being lobbed back there. The traction control light flickers wildly as the rear end gently weaves, making it feel - in stark contrast to the current C63 - hilariously overpowered. And that’s a nice feeling. It sounds good, too, if not quite as exotic as BMW’s 4.0-litre atmospheric V8 of the same era.
You can’t just stick your foot down and expect the goods to be delivered immediately. The CLK63 requires more thought, more delicacy. Once it does hook up, it feels fast, but perhaps not shockingly so. That’s inevitable after spending so much time with turbocharged performance cars with thumping mid-ranges - this M156 needs to be wound around much further before truly getting into its stride. Although, with much of its torque figure available from just 2000rpm and a typical N/A instant response, it’s ready to forcefully punt you forward wherever the revs are at.
The seven-speed automatic gearbox isn’t quite so immediate. It’s probably the worst thing about the car, with a noticeable pause between every squeeze of the car’s flimsy paddles and the cog shift happening. If you’re going for a last-gasp shift (and with this engine, you’ll often want to), it’s important to carefully time when the right-hand paddle is pulled. Do it too late and hit the limiter, and the upshift seems to take even longer.
Stick the CLK63 through a few corners, though, and you forget all about the dated gearbox. There’s some actual feedback through the steering, and unlike most modern AMG products, it’s not too light. It’s almost a little too heavy if anything. There’s a very slight hint of understeer on the initial turn-in, but nothing to worry about. What follows is an abundance of lateral grip, a lack of body roll, and the ability to push the rear end out ever-so-slightly on exit.
There’s more leniency in the ESP than I’d expected. It allows for a surprising amount of slip before intervening, and when it does, the system doesn’t spoil the fun by taking all the power away. A simple, single button press turns it off entirely, with no halfway house ‘ESP Sport’ mode. Ditching it should only be considered if you’re ready to react quickly to the Black Series’ wayward back end, and happy to pay for the tyre bills. I only try it briefly before turning the system back on, this being one of only 25 right-hand drive, UK market cars.
It may have a little too much power for its own good, but this is a car with a very well-sorted chassis plus the ability to completely shrug off its 1760kg weight figure. You could put this thing against a whole host of modern six and eight cylinder fast cars, and it’d hold its own, and maybe teach some of those younger upstarts a thing or two.
What AMG was essentially trying to do with this Black Series was create a Porsche 911 GT3 rival, based on a car that appears to be a wholly unsuitable starting point. And damn it, Afalterbach got closer than you’d think.