Before AMGs were so overtly aggressive in their design, there was a svelte coupe that packed a meaty V8 punch...
I've always been a fan of the C209's design - I like the frameless side windows in particular - and for me the 55 AMG has just enough visual muscle to pull off the "sleeper" effect. In fact, for an AMG model, the CLK 55 is relatively discreet and unlike later models from the stable features a single pair of exhaust outlets, instead of the now-traditional double pair. They do emit a lovely sound, though, easily one of the car's most lovable characteristics.
The "demure" styling hides serious performance punch. The naturally-aspirated 5.4L V8 engine packed 270kW and 510Nm, enough to blast the CLK 55 AMG to 100 kph in 5.2 seconds, pretty impressive for the time.
This was a great car to cover long distances in, and also an easy car to drive fast, even though though it rewards a precise driver more than one just stabbing away at the throttle and jerking at the (somewhat vague) steering.
The drivetrain is relatively uncomplicated - there's lots of torque low-down, and the 5-speed automatic (with Speedshift manual changes) is creamy smooth. It's like a muscle car, to be honest... you mash the throttle, it roars and moments later what used to be the horizon rushes towards the windscreen. That's if you haven't switched out the traction control of course...
Inside, there are only a few AMG badges and special instrumentation to remind you that you're in something special, but again, this design restraint may actually appeal to some buyers (it does to me). The cabin has, however, aged in the sense that there are so man buttons, but it was a solidly built car when new and the few examples I've sat in since have worn the years well.
Being the flagship of the CLK line-up, the standard specification was near full-house, so you're not only getting a muscular performance car, but also a comfortable luxury coupe - just make sure everything works! A number of options were available to South African buyers, including a TV system, Parktronic and... for something really old-school... a Nokia hands-free car-phone kit.
Though you'll have to do your homework on any prospective purchase (electronic gremlins are common), it is possible to pick up a CLK 55 AMG for less than R200k. That makes it a heck of a performance / luxury bargain.