The teaching profession isn't renowned for its choice of vehicles. Educating a class of students doesn't lead many to want, or to afford, exotic transport. And yet there must always be the exception, and Joseph Galante from Seattle, WA is the rule-breaker with the 2008 Mercedes-Benz CLK63 AMG Black Series you see here.
Although he's a school principal, Joe has belonged to the modified car scene for many years, tracing his participation back to the early days of Hot Import Nights and being involved in several SEMA builds.
Beyond the academic, his achievements have included a 1000hp Toyota Supra that made the cover of Super Street magazine, as well as an R34 Nissan Skyline GT-R that played a minor role in F&F: Tokyo Drift.
For his next project, Joe knew he wanted something equally as rare and similarly performance focused. "Although the show scene was always about vehicle presentation and aesthetics, I always had a performance mindset," Joe explained. So despite never taking his previous cars near a track, they all had the ability to perform.
With many criteria to fulfill, Galante finally settled on the Mercedes-Benz CLK63 AMG Black Series. A scarce and insane vehicle, he vowed to keep it stock. Yet in the time it took him to find one, a set of wheels and suspension had somehow come into his possession.
With so few CLK63 AMG Black Series cars available, they were being snapped up fast. He only found this example after hitting refresh on his web browser. In that brief moment, a dealership in Santa Barbara, CA posted the vehicle and a flight was booked.
Only getting two speeding tickets on his way home was seen as a success by Galante, who clearly enjoys his driving but confirmed the lunatic reputation of his chosen transportation.
During the first month of ownership, a series of mild mods included Vorsteiner carbon pieces, wheels, exhaust, etc. "I had no idea it would get out of hand," Joe laughed as he recalled the early days.
Having built many show cars, Galante had secretly fostered a desire to create his own race team. "I had developed the notion that I wanted to be a racecar driver," he explained. He wanted a car that could compete for time attack and autocross trophies, rather than simply Best Paint or Best Wheels - the Mercedes CLK63 AMG Black Series was that car.
Stainless steel cage meets NASA regulations and includes aluminum driver protection zone
He admits to getting "caught up in the dream," going so far as to contact Fluid MotorUnion (FMU) in Plainfield, IL. He wanted an exhaust system and, after seeing the company's work online, flew co-owner/founder OJ Lopez to Seattle to discuss the project.
The criteria were simple: he wanted something unique and better than currently available. And while FMU was working on just that, Joe got word that Mobil 1 would exhibit his car at the SEMA Show.
This took everything up a notch and that led to the color change, swapping its silver hue for JG Grey Pearl paint. "JG" stands for Joe Galante, with the custom mix named in his honor. It was created by BASF, a company he'd worked with on numerous builds in the past, and this wasn't some quick fix. With the AMG Black Series engine and interior stripped, the car was painted inside and out, using a six-layer process that included a three-stage clearcoat.
While in the care of Fluid MotorUnion, a company with an enviable reputation for imaginative custom builds, OJ Lopez simply instructed the car's owner, "Trust me, I have a great idea..."
The idea was a version of what you see here, although the Mercedes-Benz has continually evolved over the three years of ownership. It started with a stage 2 supercharger from Weistec Engineering based on an M156 2.3-liter twin-screw compressor. The kit included an air-to-water intercooler, cast aluminum inlet manifold and throttle body inlet, new fuel rail, mounting brackets, serpentine belt and software.
Stage 2 was intended for cars with a high-flow exhaust system, which FMU took care of with its custom headers, X-pipe and exhaust system. It has a bypass valve, activated by a switch on the console labeled "silence" and "violence," creating the project's name in the process.
The idea was to allow the exhaust to be muted to meet racetrack noise regulations, but with the ability to be uncorked to scare small children, dogs, etc.
Wesitec claims 672hp and 662 lb-ft, and Joe reports seeing around 600hp at the wheels on the dyno. "In the past I used to pay attention to every horsepower but now I'm happy with enough," he laughed.
As for the stock seven-speed transmission, it wasn't designed for motorsport applications so the crew discussed a manual conversion. However, Weistec came to the rescue with its rebuilt 722.9 auto transmission that uses a hardened gearset and internals, an uprated clutch pack and valve body as well as revised control software that includes rev-matching for downshifts.
The stock 500hp CLK63 AMG already had a reputation as an untamable animal, so the extra horsepower didn't calm it down any. And as if to provoke the beast further, FMU stripped about 500 lb of weight by discarding the air-con, interior panels, insulation material, and radio/nav head unit (now replaced with a panel labeled "Genuine Cardboard Fiber").
"The car still weighs about 3400 lb," Joe proclaimed, "so it's not exactly lightweight, but then it never suffered from a lack of power either. It's definitely a handful to drive but we wanted to be able to overpower the chassis so the car could enter a drift event one weekend, and time attack the next."