Monterey | Lot 128
1954 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing
$1,045,000 USD | Sold
| Monterey, California
19 August 2016
- Offered from the Jim Hall Collection
- Originally delivered to renowned racing team sponsor George Tilp
- Desirable set of original Rudge knock-off wheels
- Two owners from new; single ownership since 1956
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.
OWNED BY RACERS SINCE NEW
Jim Hall’s tale of 300 SL ownership is a fascinating look back at one of the few remaining men who owned and knew these cars when they were new, and who experienced them first-hand as “drivers.” “My experience was that I always fascinated by it,” he recently told RM Sotheby’s. “It was probably one of the original cars that got me excited about how cars were made and the technology that was involved. It was impressive to me and was one of my inspirations as a young engineer, along with the D-Type Jaguar, so when I had an opportunity to get one, I jumped at it.”
The car that he jumped at, chassis number 198.040.4500120, is a very early Gullwing, produced early in the 1954 model year, the first of 300 SL production. Completed on 10 December 1954, it was shipped on 20 December by special order to Max Hoffman’s showroom in New York City, finished in Light Blue Metallic (DB 353) with the standard light blue vinyl and blue plaid cloth interior.
According to Jim Hall, the car’s original owner was George Tilp; Mr. Hall knows this authoritatively, having bought the car directly from Mr. Tilp in 1956, when it was only two years old. The Tilp name will be immediately familiar to any enthusiast of American sports car racing from the 1950s: second-generation proprietor of the United States’ foremost metal stamping business, Mr. Tilp had a passion for sports cars and actively sponsored many of the great young racers of this era in driving cars that he purchased. He was the first team owner to employ the renowned Phil Hill.
Mr. Hall recounts that the 300 SL had been registered to Adam Stamping, one of the Tilp companies, and that it had reportedly been driven by the Tilp team in several events in 1955 and 1956, including at Elkhart Lake by the famed driver Paul O’Shea. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of Mr. Hall and RM Sotheby’s Research & Editorial staff, this was unable to be definitively confirmed. If it had been raced, it was well-maintained, as Mr. Hall remembers it as being a solid car that had no evidence of accidents when he acquired it.
Mr. Hall drove the car back to Texas, where he had it refinished in metallic candy apple red with a tan vinyl interior. It wears the very same finishes today. For reasons that anyone who has driven a Gullwing in a Texas summer will understand, he also had an air conditioning system professionally installed. Unlike many Gullwing A/C installations, which are clunky aftermarket boxes, the installation in the Hall car is smooth, unobtrusive, and looks right at home, with controls in a fabric-covered nacelle below the dash.
The car is in what can only be described as evocative condition; its paint is heavily patinated, its tan interior carries its age, and both would be a shame to refinish. The period air conditioning is still installed, as are a pair of Heuer rally timers. Only the paint tag on the firewall is a replacement; all of the others are original and correct, including both the stampings and plates for the chassis and engine numbers, all of which are in their expected locations and appear never to have been removed from the car!
The Gullwing still carries its four original Rudge knock-off wheels and the full-sized spare in the trunk alongside the jack and knock-off hammer. It is accompanied by a partial original tool roll, a wrench set, as well as a set of vintage Champion spark plugs, and charming items such as the road map that has been in the car since 1956. In preparation for auction, the car has been serviced and returned to running and driving order, but will benefit from further maintenance prior to extended driving use.
The 300 SL Gullwing has always been a desirable automobile, and there are frequently several examples on the market and available for sale, often described as “once in a lifetime” occasions. The car offered here, however, can genuinely be called special, as it marks the nearest chance most modern buyers will have to doing exactly what Jim Hall did in 1956: buy a car from the man who knew it when it was new, and who knew those who raced them in anger.
It is a wonderful 300 SL that speaks of a different time and carries it poignantly into the modern day.