1957 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Roadster
$1,200,000 - $1,400,000
- An ideal early-production 300 SL roadster for touring and events
- Attractively finished in Medium Red over a tan interior
- Participant in the 2015 and 2016 California Mille rallies
- Extensively serviced by Canepa Design and Virtuoso Performance
Though the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing Coupe is the ultimate icon of collectible automobiles bearing the three-pointed star, most aficionados will agree that the 300 SL roadster that followed it is actually much easier to drive and more practical for the frequent long-distance driving tours that owners of these cars enjoy.
When Max Hoffman, the U.S. distributor for Mercedes-Benz, convinced Daimler-Benz in 1953 to put a customer version of the astounding and successful 300 SL race car into production, the distinctive gull-wing doors and comfort of a closed cabin led the product planners to decide that the first version to be introduced would be the coupe. Nevertheless, believing that there would be strong demand for a roadster that offered the pleasures of top-down motoring, Hoffman encouraged the company to develop an open version with both a foldable soft top and a removable hardtop, which was introduced in 1957.
The most obvious area that had to be changed from the coupe was the tube frame with its gull-wing doors. By adding diagonal struts to brace the lowered side sections and strengthening many of the mainframe tubes, the engineers were able to maintain torsional rigidity in the roadster while lowering the center connections below the doors. Larger doors in a traditional sense were added to make entry and exit easier. These also permitted the use of roll-up windows, which made the car more comfortable when the removable hardtop was fitted for foul weather.
In place of the unforgiving high-pivot swing-axle geometry of the coupe adapted from the W186 chassis of the larger 300 sedans, the roadster chassis used the low-pivot swing-axle rear suspension adapted from the later 220a sedans, with a coil spring mounted transversely above the differential, linked to the axles by vertical struts to mitigate bump oversteer. The frame and suspension redesign also allowed for the installation of softer coil springs, providing the roadsters with a much softer and more comfortable ride than in the coupes without affecting the sporty handling.
Engine compression in the roadsters was increased to take advantage of 100-octane gasoline becoming available, which increased hp by 25 to offset the 250 lbs of additional weight of the roadster chassis, folding top, and wind-up windows. Making the sports camshaft standard and installing the lower 3.89:1 rear end improved acceleration at the expense of reducing top speed to 137 mph, both more appropriate to U.S. speed limits and traffic conditions.
All in all, the roadsters, then and now, were more practical to own than the coupes and sold well from introduction in 1957 to conclusion of production in 1963, with a total of 1,858 units produced.
This 300 SL roadster is an early U.S. model that was dispatched to the Mercedes-Benz distributor at the time, the Studebaker-Packard Corporation, bound for San Francisco, according to its factory data card. Originally black with red interior, today it is very attractively finished in Medium Red (DB 516) with a tan interior. Importantly, the engine number matches the build sheet, while the correct body-number stamping is visible on the firewall.
After an early life presumed to have been spent on the West Coast, the 300 SL was restored in 2000 to concours standards while in the care of its previous owner, Chuck Mountain. Mountain was an owner and former engineer at Kar Kraft Engineering and was highly involved in many of Ford’s successful factory racing efforts during the 1960s and 1970s. He hired an employee from Mercedes-Benz Classic Center to help restore his SL, and most of the work was done in his facility with parts purchased from Paul Russell & Co. Once the restoration was complete, the 300 SL was driven only a few hundred miles.
Looking for a great touring car for events, the current owner of this 300 SL roadster purchased it in 2015 and has thoroughly enjoyed driving it over the last few years. Canepa Design spent over 250 hours on the car, addressing mechanical servicing and cosmetic detailing, prior to his purchase. Upon acquisition, the current owner successfully participated in the 2015 California Mille, after which the 300 SL returned to Canepa for further sorting. In 2016 he completed the California Mille once again, proving what a great choice this 300 SL roadster is for long-distance events.
Earlier this year, the roadster was sent to Virtuoso Performance of Hayward, California, for a no-expense-spared service and mechanical overview. The ignition, timing, braking, and fuel-delivery systems were all attended to as needed, ensuring this 300 SL drives as well as it looks. A two-piece set of fitted luggage for the trunk is included, as well as a tool roll and several binders of extensive service history and photos. The recipient of proactive servicing and regular event use in recent years, this 300 SL shines as a first-year example of the venerated 300 SL roadster model. It should provide many more top-down motoring adventures for its next caretaker.