Johan Ackermann is building an incredible Le Mans AMG GTR dream
Most people take it easy when they reach retirement age. Some car fans may go touring, build and collect model cars or even spoil themselves with a special sportscar. Not my Facebook friend Johan Ackermann from Johannesburg, South Africa.
Five years into his retirement, Johan is putting the finishing touches to his third recreation of a classic Le Mans prototype racer on the trot. Johan’s full-sized, soon to be V12 powered Mercedes-Benz ELK GTR, as he now calls it, is however something completely different, as you will read anon.
It was so good on Granturismo that I Built One!
“I have always been passionate about race cars and had already built a few special road cars over the years,” Johan explains. “I converted an old Mercedes 280 S to a 2-door convertible and my first home built sportscar was based on an old Audi 100. The Sauber C9 however so inspired by being one of the most exciting cars to drive on Granturismo 4, that I decided to build my build my own street legal version as a retirement project.
I used pictures of the real cars and copied a 1:32 scale model to build a strong spaceframe chassis using Mercedes suspension and I fitted a turbocharged Mercedes V8 to it. My next project was a recreation of the Le Mans-winning BMW V12 LMR. I built it on a similar basis and fitted a genuine BMW V12 to it. But I prefer Mercedes and I am a huge fan, especially of their race cars, so I decided to do something completely different this year. I built a replica of that BMW’s Le Mans rival CLK GTR. You know the one, the car that Mark Webber so dramatically flew out of the 1999 24 hour!
Ackermann’s ELK GTR is Totally Unique
“The original GTR was built out of a street CLK-class coupe, so I decided that rather than do another fiberglass shell on a frame chassis, that I’d build my GTR out of a regular streetcar. Unfortunately, I could not find a suitable CLK, but the local scrapyard had a W210 E-class and a coupe roof. So, I thought what the hell, let’s just use that. Obviously, it could never be exactly the same as the real CLK GTR using a W210 as a base car, but I took the chance, found a model and some pictures to copy and got on with it!”
Once he had the model and the photos up on the wall, Johan set off to the scrapyard, where he scrounged the old 1998 Mercedes-Benz E280 that had reached the end of its useful life, along with the separate coupe roof, and pushed it into his garage. Working under the supervision of his beloved cats, Johan started by removing the sedan roof and cutting the donor car around its beltline to remove a large proportion of the sheet metal below that.
Johan Cut the ELK GTR Short Around its Beltline
He then spliced it back together in lowrider spec, before fettling the coupe roof on top. Of course, it was not that simple. As he would do countless times anon, and will probably keep on doing, and as he did with both his Sauber and BMW builds, Johan went slowly, step by step as he considered each bit of progress. If he wasn’t happy with the outcome of any facet, he’d cut it back and redo the step. Sometimes three or four times, before he was satisfied and moved on.
Soon the body was cut down, the roof was on, and Johan was getting excited as the silhouette of his dream started to emerge. Learning as he went, he welded a rudimentary bar frame on the side to get the shape of the front fenders and pulled and shaped the metal over that. Stopping, looking, cutting, reshaping, referring to his model and looking again, Johan perfected the angle of the grill, bonnet, and headlamps to bring the look as close as possible to the real CLK GTR.
Try, Try & Try Again Brings Great Results
Working the left side first, the first fender came out too low and flat. So, Johan cut and raised it, and added more of a radius to the top. He also rounded the doorline and created his own GTR light insert and bumper side vent. Johan then spent an inordinate amount of time at the back creating that huge wing. He moved on to the right side, using templates off the left side. And loved every moment of the cut, grind, and weld.
“The great thing about metal refabrication is that I don’t have to wait for it to dry compared to working with fiberglass,” Johan explains. “So, I can work quicker. I also find so much motivation from sharing the job on Facebook and social media, where my friends comment and suggest changes. For example, someone said the taillight looked wrong, so I looked closer and agreed, cut it out and repositioned it. Now it looks right.”
AckermanN’s ELK GTR is a Labour of Love
Working through the Easter weekend, Johan took four bites to get the right front fender symmetrical and balanced with the left side before moving on to detail aspects. He crafted the roof intake but found an issue with the windscreen frame. A detail fault on his reference model was not aligning with the pictures. Three days later, Johan had modified the A pillars and sorted the problem while also fitting aftermarket motorcycle mirrors.
Next was to craft the intricate rear engine cover and side louvers from metal and the bumpers out of fiberglass. Other changes required the seats to be mounted lower, the steering angled down. The brake booster had to be mounted far lower to allow the bonnet to drop by 2 inches. Johan kept at it, eventually giving himself a fine present with a productive day as he completed the basic metalwork, ready for flatting and primer on his birthday.
You Hardly Notice the ELK GTR Differences
Never satisfied, Johan tinkered with several small aspects, including reworking the panel and side gaps. He also found the correct radiator grill and taillights to make it look just like the real CLK. Being based on an W210E class, there were always going to be differences to the original C-based GTR. The rear overhang is longer and the rear hood opening big enough to drop the engine through once ready. Once finally happy with its proportions, Johan finally applied the final silver paint and clear coat.
Talking about that engine, Johan has subsequently acquired a 6-liter Mercedes M120 V12 (below). He is currently plotting what gearbox to mate it to. He’s considering an automatic to make it better as a daily cruiser. Muhammed at 4 Aces Scrapyard meanwhile sourced a set of brake callipers. And handed Johan a pair of SLK seats, black carpets two front door panels and a complete dashboard, on the house.
Johan is Still Not Satisfied With His ELK GTR
Johan is still not satisfied though. As he did with his previous builds, he wants to perfect the look of his ELK GTR. He believes that the nose should be longer and painted or not. Ackerman has plans to slice the front end off ahead of the front wheels and stretch it 4 inches. Johan will tilt the grill and headlights a little more to soften those fender curves and the overall look. He also plans to cut the rear off behind the wheels and shrink the hood and rear quarters.
“I am delighted,” Johan concludes. “My ugly duckling is a gem. I took a wild gamble, just kept on dreaming and hoped that something special would emerge from that old W210. It has turned out unique and while not quite the same as real CLK GTR, what we now call the ELK GTR is certainly close enough to cause some confusion once it soon drives past, alive with the sound of that Mercedes M120 V12!
He Had No Idea How His Car Would Look!
“What makes this build so special is that I had no idea how it would look when I started off. I was aiming to get it as close as possible to the CLK GTR, but I did not quite expect this the car to work out so close! “Sure, there are some areas I could have done better, but wow, I’m floating on cloud nine.
“I must thank to all my friends and social media pals for all the support so far through the build, but I hope to have it completed and running by the end of the year.” Click here to follow Johan’s further progress with his ELK GTR.