1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing
$1,200,000 - $1,400,000
RM | Sotheby's - ARIZONA 17 - 18 JANUARY 2019 - Offered on Friday
- One of the most iconic sports cars of all time
- Features early bolt-on wheel arch ‘eyebrows’ with body color welting
- Attractively aged and well maintained
- Includes set of fitted luggage
Mercedes-Benz won the Carrera Panamericana in 1952 with a W194 300 SL coupe driven by Karl Kling. The number one importer of European brand cars into the U.S. at the time was Max Hoffman, based in New York City. Mercedes-Benz racing success prompted Hoffman to approach the company with the idea of using the tube frame of the W194, along with its high-performance three-liter engine and unique roof-hinged doors to create a road car based on it. It was a radical proposal, but Hoffman had a highly developed sense for the U.S. market and backed up his suggestion with his checkbook. He placed an order for a thousand luxury high-performance coupes based on a more refined version of the W194.
What Hoffman proposed was a relatively direct transformation of the multi-tube framed W194, retaining its roof-hinged doors, tall, wide sills, 45-degree canted triple-carbureted single overhead camshaft inline six, and fully independent suspension with more civilized accoutrements. The engineers at Mercedes-Benz improved the car further with the addition of the first direct mechanical fuel-injection system ever offered in a production automobile. Introduced at the February 1954 New York Auto Show, the 300 SL was enthusiastically received by the public and the automotive press.
The sensational curved doors of the 300 SL soon brought it the nickname “Gullwing,” which has stuck for well over half a century and been mimicked by many lesser automobiles hoping to emulate the 300 SL’s mystique. The body design was refined for the street and added eyebrow moldings over the wheel wells to signal an association with Mercedes-Benz’s later race cars. The driving position, steering wheel location, controls, and instruments’ visibility were carefully refined by Mercedes-Benz engineers to make the driving experience of the 300 SL most rewarding.
Mercedes-Benz would go on to produce 1,400 300 SL Gullwings over the next three years. The majority were sold through Max Hoffman in North America, validating both the reality of his vision and returning many times over the confidence he showed in backing its development.
Documents reveal that this 300 SL, chassis no. 5500154, was originally delivered in March 1955 to Brussels, Belgium. This car is somewhat unusual in that it is equipped with a number of features that were primarily found on the earlier 1954 models, but as the changes were gradual, some 1955 cars were built with earlier features. Most notable for this car are the bolt-on wheel arch “eyebrows” with body color welting, as the later style were welded in place and the seams filled with lead. This car also features the early-type Bendix Treadle-Vac brake booster, and it is optioned with items such as bumper guards, Becker radio, and SWF windscreen washer. Other desirable accessories include fitted luggage and dual Hella reversing lights.
According to the Mercedes-Benz data card and the 300 SL Registry, 5500154 was originally finished in DB180 silver-grey over a blue fabric interior. Importantly, it retains its original engine, no. 5500154. Little is known of the car’s earliest history in Belgium, though records indicate that in the 1970s it was registered to Mr. Richard H. Grant of Dayton, Ohio. A copy of Mr. Grant’s title shows he purchased the SL in 1975 from Herbert E. Von Fragstein, also of Dayton. Mr. Grant owned the SL for a number of years, and it is believed that during his stewardship, the 300 SL was cosmetically restored and the color changed to DB534 Red, which was a factory-offered color. Grant ultimately sold the Gullwing in 1993, when it joined the collection of the next long-term owner, where it has remained until recently.
The interior was restored some time ago using factory-style natural tan leather and correct-type square-weave carpeting, all of which presents in good condition. It includes fitted luggage, a side window storage pouch, original-type Becker radio, and correct original ivory Bakelite steering wheel. Driven sparingly in recent years, it has been properly maintained and possesses a faint but charmingly elegant patina. Original chrome bumpers wear optional over-riders which, along with the rest of the brightwork, remain in very good order both front and rear. Wheels are the correct factory original bolt-on magnesium/alloy wrapped in Avon Turbosteel tires and fitted with correct color-keyed hubcaps.
This legendary Mercedes-Benz is ideally suited for rallies, touring, or club events. The 300 SL Gullwing is widely considered one of the cars every collector must own and experience.