Those wonderful sporty street prototypes: Porsche 911 GT1 and Mercedes CLK GTR

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At Supercars Search Engine Altas Pertasciones we usually talk about sports cars, more or less powerful and fast and, almost always, very powerful and very fast. Machines designed to amaze you on the circuits, but above all to be enjoyed and displayed on the street, in addition to being practical for your daily journeys. Fortunately today, even the most exclusive and expensive sports cars have been tamed by technology to function safely and without problems in all kinds of off-road environments.

But today we want to talk to you about two racing sports cars that were conceived, as such, to withstand tough endurance races and win them, reaching over 330 km / h without disheveled on the Mulsanne straight (in the 24 Hours of Le Mans) and that luckily, for a handful of lucky ones, can be enjoyed on public roads, as if it were any utility vehicle.

In those years when manufacturers such as Mercedes-Benz and Porsche had shown a special interest in endurance racing and touring cars, the championship was born FIA GT and with it two spectacular supercars that would hit the streets in their corresponding limited runs of 25 units. And it is that, extraordinary as it may be, these sport prototypes they were also street sports, spectacular street sports.

That would be the birth of the Mercedes CLK GTR and the porsche 911 GT1 Straßenversion. The two protagonists that we have chosen for our High Performance delivery this weekend.

The irruption of the McLaren GTR it hadn’t done anything good at Porsche. That British sports car with a German heart had managed to dominate with authority the endurance championship of the time and to the shame and derision of those in Stuttgart, monopolize the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1995 scoring victory, third, fourth and fifth (and four first places in its category). The 962 platform had become obsolete and with it it was time to bet heavily on a new racing car with which to regain its throne. There is no doubt that Porsche would earn it.

Norbert Singer, an engineer who already played a key role in the development of other Porsche legends at Le Mans, would have the task of building a completely new machine, which would rescue some of the keys to the 962, but especially the Porsche 911. Without a McLaren F1 level street supercar, it would be up to Porsche to figure out how to build a racing sports car from virtually scratch.

McLaren: rival to beat

Actually the Porsche 911 GT1 was very lightly inspired by the nine eleven of those years, the 993, took advantage of the front section of its platform and a facing six-cylinder engine, with dry sump and liquid cooling instead of air, as was still the style in the 911s of the time. With only 3,200 cm3, the supercharging by means of two turbochargers did the rest to reach more than 600 CV of power.

Beyond its power, the best of this GT1 it lay in its almost ideal weight distribution, with the engine located just ahead of the rear axle, a carbon fiber body, just a ton of weight and aerodynamics that border on perfection.

The Porsche 911 GT1 made its first steps in 1996, took the first two places in its class at Le Mans – ahead of the McLarens – and only surpassed in the general classification by a LMP1 also of production Porsche.

While Porsche was already working on the first evolution of the GT1 racing, the birth of a new endurance championship, the FIA GT Championship, created a new scenario to continue increasing the track record of this car. Porsche had found the key to overthrowing the McLarens who, unlike the Germans, had created a racing car from a street sports car, which was essentially the philosophy that the category pursued. GT1 of the FIA.

From the circuits to the road. The Straßenversion

Thus, neither short nor lazy, they decided to tiptoe through the homologation requirements of the FIA and after designing, first, a racing sports car, later transforming it into a street car and marketing it in a limited edition of 25 units, the legal minimum for which the FIA I would recognize it as a road sports car. And, let’s be honest, the 911 tag in his name is almost an euphemism, since we already know that any similarity between the GT1 and the rest of his brothers, it is practically pure coincidence.

But if Porsche thought it would find a path of roses to victories, it was wrong. The Stuttgart automobile machinery had conspired so that the battle against the McLarens was served from a second front. Affalterbach was tasked with designing, building and testing a GT1 racing in a record time of just sixteen weeks.

Mercedes-AMG working against the clock

For their feat, they chose a 12-cylinder, 5.986 cm engine.3 that, like the Porsche, reached around 600 HP of power. They put it in a central position and took great pains to save weight, with a carbon fiber bodywork and good aerodynamic work. Mercedes-Benz worked on a supercar with certain features to resemble its brand-new coupe, the Mercedes CLK, with which it barely shared two groups of two round headlights on the front.

While the Mercedes-McLaren team struggled to score victories in Formula 1, Norbert Haug had a direct line with Bern Schneider and Alex Wurz, veteran and young motorsport promise who were already working hard to develop a race car that promised them. happy.

It is said that Mercedes-AMG did not hesitate for a second to seize the car of its rival, a McLaren F1 GTR, to put him to the test on the circuit, take times and finalize the set-up of his new racing machine and begin his walk through the circuits of half the world in 1997 with the title of the recently established championship FIA GT. At that time, and with the 1998 24 Hours of Le Mans in mind, AMG decided to prepare a new evolution that would replace the twelve-cylinder engine with a V8.

Vicissitudes at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and at the FIA GT

That year none of the CLK-LM crossed the finish line of Le Mans and in 1999, to make matters worse, Mercedes’ would put our hearts in a fist with the spectacular flight with a triple somersault that Webber and Dumbreck scored on the Mulsanne straight. (Note: as our readers warn in the comments, indeed the 1999 flight did not star in the CLK-LM, but his successor, the CLR. For a racing sports car to “take off” is not common. It was clear that this car had a serious aerodynamic problem. For a moment, Mercedes-Benz returned to recall the ghosts of the tragedy of ’55.

Returning to the subject at hand, it could be said that the law made, the trap made. Mercedes-Benz and Porsche already had a really competitive sports car and with their corresponding runs limited to 25 street units, the FIA I had no choice but to accept their approval.

Pending the other necessary homologation, for the street, the Porsche had to slightly reduce its power and both gave up some of its aerodynamic elements and opted for a little more discreet and suitable spoilers for a street supercar. Light makeup that in any case maintained the aesthetic essence of such exciting sportswear as these.

Improvising their sport prototype street

With such limited production, let’s not think that Porsche had thought of designing a specific cabin for this supercar. A look inside the interior of the Porsche 911 GT1 reveals that the adaptation went through moving, practically without changes, the dashboard and the seats from a 993 to a GT1 racing. To meet guarantees on the street, the Straßenversion slightly raised the suspensions, opted for a more “comfortable” setting and gear ratios more suited to driving on public roads.

In the case of the Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR the procedure was practically the same. The interior design of the CLK street moved to GT1 racing, an air conditioning system and brakes were installed ABS and the lack of a trunk was solved with a helpful but tiny space, integrated in the “gull-wing” style doors, to store a small bag.

But the Mercedes would still have some last minute surprises in store for us. Of the spin-off of AMG known as HWA (for the acronym of the founder of AMG, Hans Werner Aufrecht), at least two units of the Mercedes CLK GTR received the transplant of a more modern, advanced and powerful engine, the 7.3 V12 720 hp. We would know him as Mercedes CLK GTR SuperSport.

As if that were not enough, there were also at least five units of the Mercedes CLK GTR Converted into Roadster, which in addition to lacking a roof and receiving the relevant safety columns behind the headrests, they welcomed a new grill with the very large and present Mercedes-Benz star in the center.

Those units so limited and desired that in their day exceeded the equivalent of one million euros of those of now, are still seen by some of the most exclusive classic car auctions in the world and continue to close the bids in prices around one million of euros. Some also rest in museums, such as the Porsche in Stuttgart.

The case of Mercedes-Benz and Porsche is undoubtedly the most famous and surprising, but not the only one. To guarantee your participation in the category GT1 of Le Mans, other manufacturers also had to opt for helpful adaptations and convince the organizer, the ACO (Automobile Club de l’Ouest), that its prototypes could theoretically be street sports cars.

Toyota would build two street units of the GT-One, ensuring that with a smaller fuel tank there would be room for a small luggage rack.

Nissan also built two street units of the spectacular R390, easily distinguishable by lacking a rear spoiler. Back then, the Nissan R390 It would go on to become the fastest Japanese sports car on the face of the Earth and one of the fastest street sports cars ever built, reaching 362 km / h, not so far from the more than 390 km / h achieved by the McLaren F1.

Photographs courtesy of the respective brands and RM Auctions (1 and 2)


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