Monterey

Monterey Conference Center
19 - 20 August 2022

1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Alloy Gullwing

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United States | Monterey, California

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Chassis No.
198.043.55.00383
Engine No.
198.980.55.00370
Gearbox No.
363
Body No.
A198.043.55.00014
Front Left Spindle
5500404
Front Right Spindle
5500404
Documents
US Title
  • The ultimate production version of Mercedes-Benz’s most iconic model; the 14th of 29 examples built, and one of very few examples to retain its matching-numbers 3.0-liter NSL engine and original alloy body
  • Further retains its numbers-matching gearbox and left and right front spindles; presented in its factory-correct livery of Silver Gray Metallic (DB 180) over red leather (1079)
  • Desirable competition specifications including sports suspension, high-speed 3.25 rear axle, belly pans, and Rudge wheels, and finished in handsome period-style racing configuration with Marchal driving lamps, Alfred Baisch racing harnesses, and no bumpers
  • Comprehensive two-year restoration by Gullwing specialist Robert Platz completed in 2017
  • Successfully completed the Mille Miglia Storica and the Colorado Grand vintage tours; exhibited at the Amelia Island, Radnor Hunt, and Hilton Head Island Concours d’Elegance
  • Accompanied by restored Karl Baisch luggage set, owner’s manual, front and rear bumpers, spare parts list, and workshop manual
  • Documented with factory build sheet, Gullwing Group registry entry, factory-issued Zertificat, FIVA card, German TÜV inspection papers, and restoration invoices
language

Unveiled at the 1954 New York International Motor Sports Show, the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing attracted admirers with a streamlined design that was clearly influenced by Porsche’s 1951 Le Mans Coupe. The unique coachwork was deemed to be one of the most beautiful shapes ever rendered upon four wheels, matched only by its space-age engineering and incredible performance. Works-prepared variants roared to convincing victories at many of the world’s premier sports car races between 1952 and 1956, including the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Carrera Panamericana, and the Mille Miglia (as well as multiple SCCA and European Rally championships).

The rarified zenith of the 300 SL Gullwing Coupe’s roadgoing development was undoubtedly the Leichtmetallausführung, or Light Metal Version. Commonly known as the “Alloy” Gullwing, it was the ultimate production version of Mercedes-Benz’s most legendary post-war model. The Alloy Gullwing’s extremely limited availability and competition-bred specifications are equaled only by its historical significance within the pantheon of post-war sports cars. These truly special automobiles are only rarely offered in public, making the featured car’s current availability a fortunate opportunity, particularly for discerning and accomplished collectors who have yet to experience the exclusive model for themselves.

THE GENESIS OF THE LIGHT METAL VERSION

It is worth noting that the most important race victories achieved by the W198 300 SL were, in fact, secured by one of these lightweight competition variants. Distinguishable in many ways from their standard steel-bodied brethren, of which 1,371 examples were produced, these incredibly rare and historically significant Alloy coupes were clearly purpose-built for competition.

The Alloy Gullwing was the brainchild of Mercedes-Benz Chief of Engineering Dr. Fritz Nallinger, who proposed a special 300 SL for retail to privateers at a board meeting in late February 1954. With coachwork molded in lightweight aluminum, and all windows (excepting the windscreen) equipped in Plexiglas, the Alloy Gullwing coupe weighed 209 pounds less than the standard production version. This weight savings resulted in an improved power-to-mass ratio, and commensurately superior handling characteristics, making the Alloy Gullwing competitive against dedicated British and Italian racing models such as the Aston Martin DB3S, Maserati A6/GCS, and Ferrari’s 750 Monza and 250 GT sport-racers.

These special cars were equipped with race-forged mechanical components including the high-performance NSL engine, which utilized a competition camshaft, higher compression, a unique butterfly throttle valve, and a recalibrated fuel distributor to develop approximately 240 horsepower. Rudge center-mount wheels were standard-equipped, despite the ironic fact that they added weight over the standard multi-lug steel wheels; Nallinger’s tradeoff here was clearly pit time. Finally, the suspension was revised with exclusive springs and shocks that improved high-speed handling. Lighter and more powerful than their standard production siblings, these alloy-bodied examples deliver superior performance that is instantly discernable from behind the wheel. Mercedes-Benz greenlighted production for February 1955 at the added cost of 5,000 DM per unit, and factory records indicate that just 29 examples were eventually built for privateer customers (24 cars in 1955, and five more in 1956).

With so few Alloy Gullwing examples built, only a smattering of the world’s most significant collections currently boast the presence of one of these important, competition-bred cars. The model’s rarity is further compounded by owners who seem to never part with these prized chassis, providing the ultimate testament to the Alloy Gullwing’s nearly unparalleled cachet.

AN ARTFULLY RESTORED ALLOY

Claiming an early life of mild use and a recent restoration by a 300 SL specialist, this appealing Gullwing is a particularly desirable example of the alloy-bodied coupe. According to the combined data of a factory build sheet and a Gullwing Group registry entry, chassis number 00383 is the 14th of the 29 examples built. It was ordered new by the marque distributorship in New York City, specified with instrumentation in miles, windshield washer, and sealed-beam headlamps. Like all the Alloy Gullwings the car was equipped with the Leichtmetallausführung body, the more powerful NSL engine, Plexiglas windows, and Rudge knock-off wheels. Additional options listed on its factory build sheet include a pair of additional spare rear axles (3.25 and 3.42) with Rudge hubs. Finished in the signature racing shade of Silver Gray Metallic (DB 180) and upholstered with handsome red leather (1079), the coupe was completed in early June 1955 and dispatched for shipping 10 days later.

The Mercedes-Benz was reportedly sold to Larry Stewart of Cleveland, Ohio, and although its intermediary history is currently unknown, by the 2000s the car had returned to Europe, owned by marque collector Alberto Cefis of Bergamo, Italy. Circa mid-2008 the Gullwing was acquired by Johannes “Hans” Kleissl of Polling, Bavaria, the proprietor of the respected 300 SL specialty shop HK-Engineering. After completing a sympathetic restoration at HK, Herr Kleissl enjoyed the Gullwing in vintage touring events, including several runs at the Mille Miglia Storica, for which he sourced registration papers from the Auto Club d’Italia.

After returning to the United States, the Alloy Gullwing was purchased by the consignor in early 2015, and he immediately commissioned the well-regarded 300 SL expert Robert Platz to conduct a comprehensive restoration at his Precision Autoworks in East Camden, New Jersey. Correspondence on file reveals that Mr. Platz had inspected the Gullwing prior to the consignor’s purchase and confirmed that the car retained a nicely preserved foundation that mostly required only cosmetic corrections for optimal presentation.

As reflected by invoices on file, over the following two years Mr. Platz completed a full mechanical rebuild of the engine, suspension, and brakes, while repainting the exterior in correct DB 180 Silver Gray Metallic and reupholstering the interior in the proper red leather. In an appropriate stylistic choice, the car was configured in the fashion of a period endurance racer, with the addition of Marchal driving lamps, factory-optional Alfred Baisch racing harnesses, and the removal of the bumpers (resulting in a particularly pure expression of the Gullwing’s iconic coachwork design). Mr. Platz also restored a set of factory optional Karl Baisch luggage that had been previously sourced for the car.

The 300 SL was then presented at the 2016 Radnor Hunt Concours d’Elegance, the 2016 Hilton Head Island Concours d’Elegance, and the 2017 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance. Accompanied by an extra set of chromed Rudge wheels, front and rear bumpers, red plaid seat cushions, and a toolkit, this Gullwing is additionally offered with an owner’s manual, spare parts list, and workshop manual. The car is desirably documented with the factory build sheet, Gullwing Group registry entry, a factory Zertificat sourced in 2009, a FIVA card, German TÜV inspection papers, and restoration invoices from Precision Autoworks.

A proven veteran of the Mille Miglia Storica and the Colorado Grand, this Mercedes-Benz is eligible for the finest and most exclusive vintage tours worldwide, and it would make a splendid entry at major concours d’elegance. It is important to note that chassis number 00383 is not recorded in any period competition events, suggesting that the car retains very pure and unblemished condition in its original frame and delicate alloy skin. Particularly striking with its bumperless coachwork, this rare Alloy Gullwing offers a peerless opportunity to acquire one of the world’s most desirable post-war competition sports cars—the apogee of the mighty W198 300 SL, and a legend to enthusiasts worldwide.