CLK430 With Manual Transmission Swap Improves Already Great Car
One enterprising tech replaced an automatic transmission so he could row his own. It produced a heck of a car that Benz should’ve built.
Oh, what could have been. In the 1990s, Mercedes-Benz built a fantastic engine in the 4.3-liter M113 V8. With 275 horsepower and a wonderful noise, all that was missing from, say, a CLK430 was a manual gearbox. However, Matt Farah of The Smoking Tire test drove what may very well be the only CLK430 with a six-speed and, dang, did we miss out.
The swap was done by David at Concierge Autoworks in Southern California, and he refers to it in the video as “Project Sex Change.” No, it’s nothing that extreme, but David suggests that the CLK430 became a totally different car after the manual swap.
The swap came about out of convenience, oddly enough. With the original five-speed automatic transmission on its way out, David wanted something other than rebuilding the slushbox. It “felt like it was always in the wrong gear” anyway, he said, so he started exploring stick-shift options.
He eventually discovered the SLK-based six-speed gearbox from a Chrysler Crossfire would bolt right up to the 4.3-liter V8. Because he was breaking new ground on it, he picked up an entire crashed Crossfire for parts harvesting.
What followed was a trial-and-error process. Mechanically, everything worked just fine: transmission, pedals, mounts, hydraulic lines. The ECM proved the toughest nut to crack, but David found there was a way to convince it to work. When it was done, not only was the power more usable, but it also improved gas mileage by several mpg.
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Farah seems slightly skeptical at the beginning of his drive, but he clearly enjoyed the swap after a few minutes of driving. He makes a lot of interesting points about the setup, but none is probably more relevant than “The whole thing makes sense.”
That’s some wonderful hindsight, but we wish that Mercedes had been thinking so far ahead in the late ’90s.