Lot 159

1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing

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$2,040,000 USD | Sold

United States | Amelia Island, Florida

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Chassis No.
198.040.5500693
Engine No.
198.980.5500736
Body No.
A198.040.5500672
Documents
US Title
  • One of 87 examples produced in September 1955
  • Prominent Southern California ownership since new including Knox Ferrand, Bruce Meyer, and Robert E. Petersen
  • Finished in period-correct Fire Engine Red (DB 534) over tan leather (1068) by Junior’s House of Color
  • Retains its original body and numbers-matching engine
  • Presently indicates fewer than 18,650 actual miles at time of cataloguing
  • Treated to a thorough servicing by 300 SL specialist Rene Luteraan in August 2020

The unmistakable flowing silhouette that marks the signature doors of Mercedes-Benz’s 300 SL Gullwing would form the basis of a sports car icon. With its unique “birdcage” frame that facilitated the fitment of the lift-up “gullwing” doors, the 300 SL revolutionized both contemporary car design and sheer performance of sports cars made in the 1950s. Its lightweight construction—or Super Leicht, from which it derives the “SL” part of its name—was intertwined with the power derived from the straight-six, 3.0-liter M198 engine for an enthralling and spirited driving experience.

In the years leading up to the 1954 unveil of the production-spec 300 SL (W198), the famous German marque would hone the W194, the competition-ready predecessor to the roadgoing car, on motorsport circuits around the world. Notable victories at some of the world’s marquee races were earned by legendary works drivers including Juan Manuel Fangio, Stirling Moss, Hans Klenk, Karl Kling, and Hermann Lang.

In recognition of the United States as a critical market, the German marque launched the W198 at the 1954 International Motor Sports Show in New York as the first Mercedes-Benz ever shown overseas before being revealed in Germany. The US-based Mercedes-Benz dealer, Max Hoffman, would deliver more than 70% of the 1,400 300 SL Gullwing examples produced between 1954 to 1957, distributed to his dealership sites across the United States.

SO-CAL PETROLHEAD ROYALTY

This particular Gullwing was purchased new via Mercedes-Benz of Hollywood by Knox Farrand, an attorney and former president of the Automobile Club of Sothern California. It was completed at Untertürkheim on 2 September 1955 (one of 87 chassis completed that month) outfitted in the special-order color scheme of Low Gloss Light Blue Metallic (DB 353) over red leather (1079). Additional specifications included a front windscreen washer, English instrumentation, sealed beam headlamps, and bumper guards.

For almost the next 20 years, Mr. Farrand maintained the car in his Hancock Park garage in central Los Angeles, accumulating a mere 12,000 miles. In 1974, it came to the attention of a name almost synonymous with Southern California car collecting for more than 40 years, Mr. Bruce Meyer. Mr. Meyer was still in the early years of his collecting then, and negotiations for the car were protracted. The two parties eventually agreed on what might then have been a world-record $15,000 price—but only if Mr. Ferrand threw in an unused set of factory luggage he had acquired, which is still with the car.

Despite the staggering price, Mr. Meyer wasn’t in any way done spending money on his Gullwing, and he chose to have it repainted. Naturally, this wasn’t a back-alley job; this was the very best that Junior’s House of Color could do in 1979, which was $25,000 of period-correct Fire Engine Red (DB 534). Red over red did not work, so an interior change was also in order, which included a new set of code 1068 factory tan leather Mercedes-Benz hides installed by Thomas Interiors. The car was reassembled by 300 SL expert Jerry Hjeltness, and then it hit the show circuit.

If this 300 SL ever took Second Place at a Southern California car show, it is not recorded—it was probably the finest car of its type. Not long before parting with it, Mr. Meyer even bought it some jewelry: the finest set of Rudge-style disc knockoff wheels he could find. Getting it away from Bruce Meyer was no easier than it had been getting it away from Knox Farrand.

MEYER TO PETERSEN, AND BEYOND

With Mr. Meyer’s reputation added to the car, it was a tempting prize for many collectors, but none managed to entice him to sell. After many unsuccessful attempts, it took one of the world’s foremost collectors to do so: In 2001 it joined the stable of publishing magnate Robert E. Petersen, Meyer’s good friend and co-founder of the eponymous Petersen Automotive Museum. Though Petersen only enjoyed this Gullwing for several opportune years prior to his death in March 2007, it remained part of his automotive legacy when title was passed from his estate to the museum. The interceding years saw the car carefully preserved and rarely displayed until it was deaccessioned from the Petersen Museum’s holdings in 2013, then showing fewer than 17,770 actual miles.

At that point it was acquired by yet another prominent Los Angeles-area collector. During his fastidious ownership, maintenance and servicing was exclusively conducted by 300 SL specialist Rene Luteraan of Van Nuys Sports Car Service in Sherman Oaks. This exceptionally well-known Gullwing was thusly acquired hence by its current owner. Routine maintenance has remained Luteraan’s exclusive responsibility, and in 2018 Junior’s House of Color was also commissioned to provide over $100,000 in cosmetic refurbishment to the car’s striking Fire Engine Red paint and tan leather interior.

A recent inspection reveals that its previous restoration while within Meyer’s care has aged exceptionally well, with a superb level of detail inside, outside, and underneath. Observation of this Gullwing’s body and engine reveal them to be numbers-matching to those units listed on the accompanying copy of its factory data card. The fewer than 18,650 miles indicated at time of cataloguing are believed to be accurate, in accordance with documentation within the car’s history file.

With its remarkable provenance, superb condition, low indicated mileage, and storied ownership by some of Southern California’s foremost automotive enthusiasts, this particular 300 SL Gullwing would surely be an ideal acquisition for any post-war sports car collector. The 300 SL Gullwing is undoubtedly revered as “the sports car of the century,” and this esteemed example is a Hollywood celebrity among its 1,399 brethren.