Lot 360

Monterey 2023

1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing

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$1,737,500 USD | Sold

United States Flag | Monterey, California

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Chassis No.
198.040.5500289
Engine No.
198.980.5500285
Gearbox No.
5500285
Body No.
A198.040.5500274
Documents
US Title
  • Among the best-documented Gullwings in existence; spectacular, bulletproof provenance with known history since new
  • Delivered new to the palace of Franz II, Count of Erbach-Erbach and Wartenberg-Roth by former Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix driver, Rudolf Caracciola
  • Retains its numbers-matching engine, gearbox, body, steering box, and kingpins; desirably fitted with Rudge wheels, belly pans, and Baisch fitted luggage
  • Presented today in its factory-correct color combination of Silver-Grey Metallic (DB 180) over blue gabardine (L1); the super-leicht’s signature shade
  • Maintained for many years by noted marque specialist Paul Russell, and benefits from a previous, sympathetic restoration circa 2006
Addendum: Please note the title for this lot is in transit. A 4-6 week delay is expected.

The unmistakable flowing silhouette sketched by the signature doors of the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing Coupe forms the basis of a sports car icon. With its unique “birdcage” frame that facilitated the fitment of these famous doors, the 300 SL revolutionized contemporary car design and raised new performance benchmarks against which all future sports cars were to be judged. Its lightweight construction, show-stopping aesthetics, and marvelous power—derived from the straight-six, 3.0-liter fuel-injected engine—combine for an altogether enthralling and spirited driving experience. Notwithstanding its world-beating competition pedigree, the 300 SL Gullwing has always been associated with the world’s upper crust: socialites, business tycoons, racing drivers, movie stars and royalty. The story of this extremely well-documented 1955 Gullwing begins with a distinguished, German member of the latter class.

By late 1945 it was quite evident that many German families, which had previously counted themselves as wealthy, successful, and influential during the pre-war period, would emerge into the wreckage of the country’s post-war landscape without a cent to their name. Industrial titans, ennobled lords, real estate magnates—very few fortunes, and even fewer families, were unscathed by the unrelenting chaos of Germany’s destruction, administration, and subsequent reconstruction. But this chaos also presented many opportunities, and countless new fortunes were minted by enterprising young businessmen. The original owner of this fantastic 300 SL Gullwing exhibited the rare combination of these remarkable, and fortunate, qualities.

Franz II, Count of Erbach-Erbach and Wartenberg-Roth, had been thrust into the role of familial patriarch for his “high noble” clan at only 18 years old. Yet from an early moment, he exhibited a solid business acumen to leverage the family’s holdings and business interests—which had remained largely intact through World War II—quite extensively to generate new successes over the course of his reign. By 1955, the 29-year-old Count was already an experienced businessman who enjoyed a certain degree of comfort, and it must be said that his visits to the family’s timber tracts and varied business entities around Hesse were made all the more enjoyable with the delivery of this 300 SL Gullwing Coupe on 4 May 1955. And who better to deliver such a fine motorcar to the Count’s palace in Erbach than the Mercedes-Benz sales agent and former Grand Prix driver, Rudolf Caracciola?

Originally specified by the Count in the handsome color combination of blue gabardine cloth upholstery (L1) beneath an exterior painted in the model’s signature shade of Silver-Grey Metallic (DB 180), chassis 5500289 also received 15-inch Kronprinz disc wheels, bumper overriders, 3.64 rear axle, a driver’s side mirror, and the Hessian registration number “AH91-3737.” Production statistics for the 300 SL published by Mercedes-Benz indicate that this Gullwing was one of only 66 orders destined for the home market in 1955.

Despite his great enjoyment of the car, the Count’s growing family soon necessitated the need for a more spacious (and perhaps slower) means of conveyance. In early 1957, Graf Franz sold 5500289 back to Mercedes-Benz. It was then sold in July 1957 by Manfred Budde of the factory’s Direct Sales department to Lt. Robert Hinrichs and promptly anointed with the US Forces in Germany plate “7C-60429.” Hinrichs’ time with this eminent Gullwing was equally brief, although accompanying historic imagery illustrates the continental tours of Europe which Robert and his new wife Helga undertook during the summers of 1957 and 1958.

The Gullwing was shortly thereafter imported by an enthusiast in Ohio, and passed through one additional owner in that state until it was purchased in 1970 by the noted Gullwing Group member Gordon Black. During Black’s 30 years of ownership, the vehicle was regularly serviced by marque specialist Paul Russell. Black substituted the car’s original gabardine seats in favor of a pair of leather-trimmed, Roadster-type units, and a respray in the factory-correct shade and re-chroming of much of the exterior was also completed during his lengthy tenure. Gullwing 5500289 is well known within the Gull Wing Group; after joining in 1970, Mr. Black and his wife Kaya were regular contributors to the group and participated in many rallies, national conferences, tours, and historic racing events.

After leaving Black’s purview in February 2005, the car’s new owner commissioned Paul Russell to perform a sympathetic restoration, and to this end it received a notable degree of attention to its interior condition, its numbers-matching engine, and its mechanical componentry. Inspection at cataloguing time reveals that 5500289 also retains its numbers-matching gearbox, body, steering box, and front kingpins. Accompanying the Gullwing is a comprehensive trove of documentation, a 1955-set of Rudge wheels, and set of genuine Baisch fitted luggage.

This exceptional, well-documented Gullwing was acquired by the consignor in 2020, and it is offered today still presented with much of this nicely kept restoration completed circa 2006. In 2022, the consignor fitted a proper pair of Bosch headlamps, and commissioned a regimen of paint correction alongside having the seats redone in the car’s factory-correct blue gabardine (L1) upholstery.

With its remarkable provenance, superb condition, excellent degree of documentation and originality, and storied ownership, this particular 300 SL Gullwing would surely be an ideal acquisition for any post-war sports car collector. The 300 SL Gullwing is unequivocally revered as “the sports car of the century,” and this esteemed example is a true celebrity among its 1,399 brethren.