1961 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Roadster
$1,250,000 - $1,500,000
RM | Sotheby's - MONTEREY 19 - 20 AUGUST 2016 - Offered on Friday
- Fully restored to concours specifications
- One of just five 300 SL Roadsters originally finished in Fantasy Yellow
- Upgraded with Rudge wheels and European-specification headlights
215 bhp (DIN), 240 hp (SAE), 2,996 cc SOHC inline six-cylinder engine, four-speed manual transmission, coil-spring independent front suspension and coil-spring single-point swing axle rear suspension, and servo-assisted drum brakes. Wheelbase: 94.5 in.
The introduction of the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL was a hugely important moment for Mercedes-Benz and served to further cement the company’s position as the market leader in race-bred, performance automobiles. Massively ahead of its time, the 300 SL utilized an innovative space-frame chassis coupled with a highly advanced, fuel-injected engine, the first of its kind fitted to a production car. It was crowned the fastest performance car in the world upon its introduction and could handedly outrun any other car on sale at the time.
The car was conceived by American Mercedes-Benz importer Max Hoffman, who believed that a road-legal version of Mercedes-Benz’s successful W194 racer would be profitable and that the unique style and performance of such a car would resonate well with his American clients. Mercedes-Benz took Hoffman up on his idea, and so it was only natural that the new 300 SL would premiere at the New York Auto Show in 1954. The 300 SL coupe quickly earned the nickname “Gullwing” for its distinctive roof-hinged doors, and the public fell in love with the car, not only for its breathtaking design, but also for its earth-shattering performance.
Looking to expand upon his success with the Gullwing coupe, Hoffman thought that a convertible version of the 300 SL would also sell quite well, and the 300 SL Roadster was introduced in 1957. Of course, as the 300 SL would lose its top, engineers had to reinforce and modify the space-frame chassis to fit conventionally hinged doors. Through lowering the height of the chassis, this simultaneously allowed for greater ease of entry. Cosmetic changes were minor and included a smaller grille opening and dual chrome strips along the side sills, giving the car a more streamlined and glamorous look. At the rear, the spare tire was repositioned below the trunk floor, necessitating a smaller fuel tank but also maintaining reasonable luggage space. These revisions to the roadster added some 250 pounds to the total weight of the car, mostly due to the convertible top.
Looking to keep the speed and performance of the closed 300 SL for the new roadster despite its gain in weight, Mercedes-Benz fitted the more sporting NSL engine of the coupe to all roadsters as standard equipment. This made the roadster capable of top speeds that ranged from 133 to 155 mph, depending on the final drive ratio specified. However, the stunning performance and design of the 300 SL Roadster did not come cheap, at a list price of $11,000; but it was worth every penny. Ownership of a 300 SL implied an exquisite taste in engineering and aesthetics, and it was the ultimate automotive statement. Naturally, many found homes in the garages of celebrities, racing drivers, and other successful individuals with an appreciation for fine automobiles.
This particular 1961 300 SL Roadster was originally delivered in Fantasy Yellow (DB653), one of just five 300 SL Roadsters finished in this color, and a black leather interior. According to its factory build sheet, the car’s engine was changed at the factory prior to delivery, and it is still fitted with that engine today (number 002839). Allegedly retained by the factory when new for promotional purposes, the car was not sold to its first owner until 1963. At that time, it was purchased by David Jackson, who used the car at his residences in both Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Jackson kept the car for nine years before selling to Dr. R.L. Dunworth of Huntington, West Virginia. The car remained in his possession for six years before it was sold to John Walker, the principal of Mercedes-Benz of Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1975. Walker kept the car for two years and the car was bought shortly thereafter by Jack Hahn, who owned the car for the next 40 years. Purchased recently by its current California-based owner from Jim Gusweiler of Ohio in 2013, the car was sporting Signal Red paint and fitted with European-specification headlights at that time.
Shortly after purchasing the car, it was decided that 300 SL would be fully restored to its former glory and was entrusted to Legendary Classic Center of Costa Mesa, California. The car was completely stripped to bare metal and refinished in its original shade of Fantasy Yellow. All chrome parts were completely refinished, the drivetrain was fully rebuilt, and a new wiring harness was fitted. The interior and soft-top were refinished in dark green, creating a very unique color combination, and all-new rubber and seals were fitted. For a final touch, correct Rudge wheels were sourced and fitted. The consignor notes that the car was in very nice, driver-quality condition when the restoration began, and that no metal work was needed. The car is accompanied by photographs and receipts from the restoration, as well as a set of books, tools, and matching luggage.
Boasting wonderful performance and reliable enough to be used on a daily basis, the 300 SL Roadster is an enthusiast favorite for vintage rallies, long-distance touring, or even use as a regular driver at one’s summer home. A well-restored example is a requisite in any collection, and this example certainly will not disappoint. With the car’s restoration completed earlier this year, it remains ready for the road and concours events in every respect. Boasting a highly compelling and unique color combination of Fantasy Yellow over dark green, it will garner much attention wherever it travels.