The Petersen Automotive Museum Auction | Lot 199
1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing
$1,270,000 USD | Sold
| Los Angeles, California
8 December 2018
- Presented in its original combination of Light Green Metallic over red leather
- Exceptionally attractive and unusual color scheme
- Accompanied by matching fitted luggage, spare wheel, and jack
- Includes copy of its original factory data card
- Retains its original engine
The design of Mercedes-Benz’s 300 SL was pure mechanical genius, derived from racing experience with the 300 SLR racing car, which had claimed an astonishing list of motorsport successes. It was smooth and sleek, with a flowing snout and handsomely rounded tail. Under the hood was a powerful overhead-cam straight six that was inclined to the side to lower the lines of the front of the car, and below that, there was fully independent suspension.
Most important to the design, however, was a welded, tubular-steel, space-frame chassis, which saved weight and strengthened the car. But there was one small problem: the chassis rails passed through where the doors would ordinarily be, making conventionally hinged doors impossible to utilize. Mercedes-Benz’s engineers came up with a unique and seemingly simple solution: to hinge the doors at the roofline and to have them open upward instead of outward. It was an idea, as one historian would later point out, that only worked once, and only because it occurred on the 300 SL was it an idea that was meant to happen. Not just beautiful in design, the Gullwing was capable of an incredible 161 mph thanks to the world’s first fuel-injected engine fitted to a road-going automobile. Quickly earning the nickname “Gullwing” for obvious reasons, the 300 SL remained an industry standard of performance for years and today remains as arguably the most iconic automobile of its era.
The 300 SL Gullwing offered here was originally delivered through the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed showrooms of Max Hoffman, in New York City. It was Hoffman who had cajoled Mercedes-Benz into building a production 300 SL in the first place, and he happily dealt the cars to an elite clientele from coast to coast, ministering to the faithful few who had begged for performance and luxury in equal measure and could afford it.
Special-ordered by Mr. William D. Brown of California, this car is one of 19 ordered in this striking color, Light Green Metallic, and it was likely one of still fewer trimmed with full red leather upholstery. The paint color is unusual, but more importantly, it is beautiful, and it has a way of shifting hues that is entrancing; depending on the light, it appears white, pale green, or silver. Standard wheels were specified, along with U.S.-specification instruments, sealed-beam headlamps, bumper guards, and a windshield washer.
Since then, the car passed through only four known owners before joining a prominent collection. Under prior ownership, it was professionally refinished in its original Light Green Metallic, and new red leather upholstery, in the original pattern and grain as in 1955, was installed. Comforts and conveniences within include a radio, and a set of factory-style fitted luggage, along with a jack and lug wrench.
Importantly, the 300 SL has never been fully taken apart mechanically, because it has never required it. Instead, it has been lovingly maintained for virtually its entire life. There has never been a sports car quite like the 300 SL—an understated, overqualified, unparalleled experience for two very lucky people.