Mercedes-Benz rolls with a certain panache that the 136-year-old automaker has worked hard to achieve and maintain, and it ain’t got shit to do with building cars that look like Satan’s chariot. But Ken Block couldn’t care less about what the MB suits have to say about his adaptation of the CLS; Our boy KB has his own swagger to worry about. While DC Shoes, the skateboard apparel company he co-founded, has made him more than enough cash to flash, he’s not tryin’ to be that dude. “I wanted to build the opposite of the Bentley I had on 22s,” Block says. “That car just got too much attention.” Somehow, he thought a $90,000 luxury car that resembled a stunt vehicle from Mad Max wouldn’t stand out on Cali’s I405.
When it came time to upgrade himself, he knew his Continental GT replacement had to be a Benzo. He has been infatuated with the German car company for as long as he can remember. His first three-pointed-star car was a 190E on BBS rims that he copped just after he started DC with partner Damon Way in 1994. He also has a G55 on 22s that he uses to get around at his home in Utah, a mini snowboard resort known as the Mtn.Lab. “To me, a Mercedes is a very high-end performance car, but it’s function-driven,” he says. “Maybe it’s ‘cause of my German heritage, but that function-meets-fashion principal is ingrained in me. I don’t like Ferraris, really, because they are trying to be too sexy.” The CLS, though, was his back-up date to the dance. He originally tried to import a CLK-DTM—Mercedes’ street-legal race car—to no avail. “It was a little too pricey and too difficult to get legalized in the U.S.,” he says. He was then tipped off by a close friend (ahem, at RIDES) about Brabus’s CLS Rocket that was fast as hell and looked tougher than blood-drenched knuckles. He began hatching a plan. “I liked the Rocket, but I didn’t think I needed a car that would do 217 mph just for my commute to L.A.,” he says. Another problem with securing a Rocket was that there were only two available, and they both belonged to Brabus. Luckily, most of the aerodynamics could be had for a price and the K8 supercharger pulley upgrade would prove to be more than fast at 550hp. The only question that remained: What color?
Spend a few days with KB, and you will notice one thing about him: he likes no color better than black. “I don’t wear blue jeans,” he’ll tell you. And aside from a few camo prints, the man is usually decked dark. His style has even partially influenced a line at DC called Black Water. Can you guess the theme? But his love for ebony, especially sans gloss, stems from rally racing, his other obsession. “On safari rallies, in order to cut down the glare on the windshield, they would paint the hoods flat black, and I liked that look,” Block says. “So when this project came up, I envisioned doing it over the entire car. I wanted only one thing that popped, and since I spent the money on some nice Brembo brakes, they needed to be orange.”
Everyone knows flat-paint jobs have been done before, from old-school hot rods to drift cars, but what separates this CLS is the quality of the spray: This is no rattle-can job. Believe it or not, it’s actually harder to lay a perfectly flat color than the wettest candy. “When you paint with normal paint, if you get dust in it, it can be polished out,” says Matt Figliola, owner of Yonkers-based Ai Design, where the CLS was built. “With a matte finish, you can’t do anything to fix a mistake. There is no secondary process, so there can be no flaws.”
As if spraying a matte color weren’t hard enough, maintaining it can be straight impossible, so Ai tested out a bunch of finishes before finding one that was the perfect shade of black and could be easily cleaned. Despite the apparent headache, it’s been worth it to KB. “The paint itself and the tone of the flatness is perfect, but it’s really that the CLS has amazing lines,” he says. “And I don’t think you see the lines as much in a gloss color because of how light reflects off of it, so the matte finish makes the lines stand out more.” But if you really probe Block about maintaining the car, he admits to simpler motivations: “I am just lazy,” he says. “All I need to do is wash this thing, no waxing or polishing. Which gives me more time to drive it—drive it real fast.”
Story Walter E. Gogh /// Photography tony harmer