If someone told you this 2006 CLS 55 AMG was invisible to radar, would you believe it? DC Shoes co-founder, Ken Block, commissioned Ai Design (of Tuckahoe, New York) to build a car that would look stunning in matte black. Block was flexible with all sorts of other details, including the type of car, but the one requirement was the color. According to Ai's co-founder, Matt Figliola, he knew right away that Mercedes' four-door coupe would make an outstanding canvas. The car is long, wide and low-perfect for what Block had in mind.

Contrasting the matte black paint are the formerly chrome details that have been coated in a glossy piano black finish. The combination of matte and shiny black pieces is menacing and classy at the same time. A full Brabus body kit adds to the sleek appearance and Brabus' electronic lowering module enables the car to fly extra low and stealthily at the touch of a button. Very black 20-inch Radenergie wheels cover monster eight-piston orange Brembo calipers and 15-inch rotors in the front and four-piston orange Brembos with 13.6-inch rotors in the rear.

What's the use of being invisible if there isn't some extra oomph under that vented matte black hood? Figliola and the guys at Ai took the liberty of adding Brabus' K8 engine kit to the 5.5-liter supercharged AMG V8. By utilizing high-performance metal catalysts as well as modifications to the supercharger drive (with the help of a custom vibration damper and new pulley for improved belt drive looping), the K8 kit bumps power north of 550 bhp. This CLS has been improved in every quantifiable area of performance. Adding some DC Shoes flair to the project are various embroidered DC logos throughout the interior as well as a sculpted metal version (in piano black, of course) affixed to the trunk.

It's possible there's no trickier paint job than the matte finish. According to Ai, you only get one chance to get the process right. The nature of the finish means there are no opportunities for polishing, wet-sanding or blending after the paint is applied. The fact that you can study this car for hours and not see any flaws is testament to the quality of the work.

This year marks Ai Design's 15th anniversary. The 12-man operation has truly found its niche, specializing in building complete cars for a discerning clientele, all work done in-house. According to Figliola, the company is operated with exacting professionalism and attention to detail, and customers respond well to that approach. "We're not inexpensive," Figliola admits, "but you really do get what you pay for."


2006 Mercedes-Benz CLS 55 AMG
Layout
Longitudinal front engine, rear-wheel drive

Engine
5.5-liter V8, sohc, three valves per cylinder, supercharged and intercooled, Brabus K8 power kit, metallic catalysts, custom supercharger pulley

Transmission
Five-speed automatic

Suspension
Brabus electronic lowering module

Brakes
Brembo eight-piston calipers with 15-in. rotors (f), Brembo four-piston calipers with 13.6-in. rotors (r)

Wheels and Tires
Radenergie R10, 9x20 (f),11x20 (r)Michelin Pilot Sport, 255/30 (f)295/25 (r)

Exterior
Brabus full body kit consisting of front bumper, grille, vented hood, side skirts and trunk lid spoiler, all exterior panels painted matte black paint, glossy piano black trim, custom DC Shoes exterior badging

Interior
DC Shoes logo embroidered in headrests, Brabus sport steering wheel, custom vehicle side and trunk illumination, Valentine V1 radar detection with etched rear-view mirror display and iPod/MOST interface

Performance
Peak Power: 561 bhp
Peak Torque: 602 lb-ft

Founded in 1992 by Matthew Figliola, a man passionate about precision workmanship, Ai Design is now recognized worldwide by clients, the automotive industry, and the press as highly accomplished and dedicated in the field of aftermarket enhancement. A select team of specialists, all working at a state-of-the-art facility just north of Manhattan, drives Ai Design's vertiginous standards. This team maintains active partnerships with the world's leading aftermarket component manufacturers.

Immaculate and methodically laid out, Ai Design's 8000-square-foot premises has more in common with an operating room than it does with a traditional garage. Clients find it hard to believe that this spotless, brightly lit shop is really where all the work is performed. Tool benches surround the perimeter, with power, light and pressurized air all easily accessible to each technician. Ai Design maintains an in-house wood shop, a welding facility and a leatherwork station, allowing full control over nearly all aspects of customization. Shop equipment is the latest available, and the company feels that a polished workplace reflects the dedication of its team, earning it comparison to Ferrari's facility in Italy, as well as Mario Andretti's racing shop. World-class levels of organization and creativity are Ai's defining characteristics.

SOURCE
Ai Design
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By Brad Beardow
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