Arizona | Lot 117
1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing
$1,155,000 USD | Sold
| Phoenix, Arizona
28 January 2016
- An original West Coast–delivery Gullwing
- Exceptional authenticity, including a largely original interior
- Original chassis, engine, and body numbers
- Shown in the Gull Wing Group and Eric LeMoine 300 SL Registers
215 bhp (DIN), 240 bhp (SAE), 2,992 cc SOHC inline six-cylinder engine with Bosch mechanical fuel injection, four-speed manual transmission, coil-spring independent front suspension, coil-spring and swing-axle rear suspension, and four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes. Wheelbase: 94.5 in.
THE LEGENDARY GULLWING
Mercedes-Benz’s 300 SL claimed 2nd in the Mille Miglia, 1-2-3 in the Sports Car Race in Berne, Switzerland, 1st and 2nd at Le Mans, 1-2-3-4 at the Nürburgring, and 1st and 2nd at La Carrera Panamericana. Yet more was to be desired. From his Frank Lloyd Wright–designed Park Avenue showroom, the company’s U.S. distributor, Max Hoffman, said that there was a market in America for a fast, sensual Mercedes-Benz coupe, and a production version of the racing 300 SL, complete with the fascinating and now legendary “gullwing” doors, necessitated by the unusual, tall “birdcage” frame design, would be it.
The “SL” moniker (translated to English as Sport Light) reflected the pioneering use of a welded, tubular-steel, ultra-light frame construction that weighed only 182 pounds. The car also featured fully independent suspension in addition to its fuel-injected, 3.0-liter (2,996–cubic centimeter), OHC straight-six with dry-sump lubrication, and the motor was inclined to the side in order to reduce the height of the front end. The power, rated at 240 brake horsepower at 6,100 rpm (SAE) and 215 brake horsepower at 5,800 rpm (DIN), with the factory-optional or dealer-installed “sport” camshaft, was delivered through a four-speed manual gearbox. A 161-mph top speed and 0–60 acceleration of approximately eight seconds, depending on the rear-end ratio selected from five options, made the 300 SL the fastest production automobile of its time.
Appropriate for an automobile that Max Hoffman had almost single-handedly willed into being, the production 300 SL made its debut in the United States, not in Germany, which was a Mercedes first. More than 1,000 of the 1,400 cars produced between 1954 and early 1957 were delivered through Hoffman, to whose showrooms the rich and famous flocked. The 300 SL was as much a status symbol in its time as it is today, as it was favored by everyone from Hollywood stars to racing legends to genuine royalty.
The 300 SL was also raced and piloted by the top drivers of the day, such as John Fitch, Olivier Gendebien, Paul O’Shea, Prince Metternich, and, of course, Sir Stirling Moss, who holds the “forever” course record for his famous Mille Miglia finish in 1955. It all added to the romance of a car that seemed destined to become a legend the moment production began. It had all of the right ingredients: incredible exclusivity, incredible speed, and an incredible price.
“A thoroughbred in every sense of the word,” advertising boasted, “and a car which will be recognized by all enthusiasts as the ‘last word’ in sporting automobiles; a car which puts indescribable pleasure into driving!”
CHASSIS NUMBER 198.040.5500548
The car offered here is recorded in both the Gull Wing Group and Eric LeMoine 300 SL Registers as having been completed on July 27, 1955, finished in Ivory (DB 608) with a Red leather (1079) interior. Unlike the majority of U.S.-delivery Gullwings, which were imported through Max Hoffman in New York City, this car was sent west as a special order through the distributor in Los Angeles. A subsequent long-term owner included Ottmar Thomas of Visalia, California. He owned the car from 1972 until 1990 when the Gullwing was aquired by Paul Russell & Company. It was later purchased by the well-known racing driver and Mercedes-Benz restorer Lothar Motsenbacher.
Before joining the collection of its present owner some years ago, the car was repainted the famous Mercedes-Benz Silver (DB 180), a finish that it still wears today. Aside from that older repaint, which shows the minor cracking and chips expected from age, the car appears very original. In particular, the engine bay is patinated but correct and honest, without the overdone polish of many modern 300 SL restorations. The bumper and chrome grille have been re-plated, but all of the remaining chrome is original. The interior is as worn-in and welcoming as one could wish for, with the original Roser leather broken-in on the seats but not cracked or split, although the floor mats are no longer present. Carpeting behind the rear seats has been replaced, but the original white steering wheel shows wonderful patina. Opening the trunk reveals the full-sized spare and tire, with accompanying jack.
Restored 300 SL Gullwings dominate today’s market, and they are wonderful automobiles. There is something to be said, however, for an automobile that has been selectively refinished only as necessary over the years, preserving so much of its original authenticity and character. It reminds the connoisseur of what once was, the Gullwings of the “enthusiast era” in the 1960s and 1970s when they were all broken-in drivers. The car offered is one such example, and it awaits a new owner to enjoy it as-is, with all of its considerable charm intact, in an era of enjoyment, born anew.