St. Moritz | Lot 117
1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing
CHF1,383,125 | Sold
| St. Moritz, Switzerland
17 September 2021
- Matching-numbers chassis, engine, and body
- One of 855 examples produced in 1955
- Restored to a high standard by Kienle Automobiltechnik in 1989
- Finished in silver with a red leather interior
- Featuring chrome knock-off steel wheels and a Becker Europa II radio
The silhouette of the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing is surely one of the most recognisable among all of the most timeless collector cars. Thanks to the “gullwing” doors that give the coupe version of the 300 SL its distinctive look—made possible by the “birdcage” frame pioneered by Mercedes-Benz—the model took 1950s automotive design by storm. As if the car’s stunning looks were not enough, the Gullwing also packed a performance punch to match. The car’s lightweight construction—dubbed Super Leicht in German, from which the “SL” part of its name is derived—and its 3.0-liter straight-six M198 engine made for the ultimate sports car mix, then as now earning plaudits for an engaging driving experience.
Of course, Mercedes-Benz engineers did not begin designing the 300 SL from a standing start. Both the Coupe and subsequent Roadster were based largely on the earlier W194, the competition-ready predecessor to the roadgoing car. This had been developed by Mercedes-Benz on motorsport circuits around the world and was built in time for the 1952 racing season, securing wins at races including the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Eifelrennen at the Nürburgring, and Carrera Panamericana road race in Mexico. The car was undeniably fast, yet it was the Mercedes-Benz team drivers of the era—including Juan Manuel Fangio, Stirling Moss, Hans Klenk, Karl Kling, and Hermann Lang—that made that age special for the German marque.
This continued success for Mercedes-Benz resulted in the subsequent development of the W198—that would later become the 300 SL—with bosses looking to build on their racing success with a version of the race car that customers could purchase and drive on the road. The United States was seen as a critical market for expansion and the German marque launched the 300 SL Coupe at the 1954 International Motor Sports Show in New York, notably becoming the first car from the marque ever shown overseas before being revealed in Germany.
This 300SL Gullwing was manufactured under order number 52190391 and rolled off the production line on 19 September 1955, leaving the Stuttgart-Untertürkheim factory on 20 September. According to the 300 SL Register, this Gullwing was delivered to its first owner, Mr. Noerenberg in Hamburg, West Germany, and was one of only 38 examples to leave the factory finished in paint code DB 158 (White Gray) and built in 1955. Inside, the interior was upholstered in red leather billed under the colour code 1079.
After Mr. Noerenberg sold the car, it was exported from Germany to the United States, where the next recorded owner was a Mr. Searles of Elm Grove, Wisconsin. The car would pass on to Mr. Dungan of Madison, Wisconsin, with Mr. Dungan informing the 300 SL Register that the car had a 3.64 rear axle and was equipped with a Becker-Mexico radio. The Gullwing would change hands twice more in the US, relocating to Las Vegas, Nevada, where it was owned by a Mr. Stevens and then to Palos Verdes, California, where Rudy Klein, the well-known 300 SL collector, would acquire the car and unknowingly become the last American owner of this well-travelled coupe.
In 1989, Kienle Automobiltechnik of Stuttgart, Germany, acquired the car from Klein and repatriated the Gullwing back to Germany. Over the course of 1989 and 1990, this 300 SL Gullwing would undergo a no-expenses-spared restoration at Kienle’s workshop. A 300-page report details the work carried out, showing that the engine and gearbox were rebuilt and the interior retrimmed in red leather with new carpets. The chassis and body were split; both received paint, with the body refinished in silver. All the chrome components were refinished, including the wheels. Kienle took note of every single nut, bolt and screw they replaced during the restoration, as documented throughout the report. The invoice shows that just over CHF99,000 was spent to restore this car in 1990.
Following the restoration, the Gullwing was acquired by a German owner in 1994, who would retain ownership of this vehicle for 16 years before selling it to its incumbent Swiss owner. This coupe was imported into Switzerland on 7 December 2010 and has remained in the country since. Today, this 300 SL Gullwing retains its original chassis, engine and body, and according to the body colour ID plate, is finished in paint code 180 G, or Silver, a colour offered by Mercedes-Benz during Gullwing production. Silver was the most popular colour during Gullwing production, with nearly 40 percent of the vehicles produced leaving the factory so finished. The chrome-plated bumpers, knock-off wheels, grille and trim pieces complement the elegant silver bodywork beautifully and this Gullwing proves to be an exceptional example of the streamlined Coupe version of Mercedes-Benz’s 300 SL. A spare is mounted in the boot, where it is accompanied by an ABA copper hammer for removal and installation of the chrome wheel spinners. In March 2021, the gearbox was refurbished, and a new clutch installed at a cost of CHF20,000
The interior is, as per the factory specifications, upholstered in red leather and features a white headlining. In front of the driver are the matching ivory-coloured steering wheel, featuring the Mercedes-Benz star, and the gear-shift knob. Behind the driver and passenger seats, on the parcel shelf sits a beautifully made red leather suitcase. A Becker Europa II radio is mounted squarely beneath the red leather dash rail, and sound is projected via two speakers behind chrome grilles on either door jamb. The elegant dashboard is finished in silver, matching the exterior of the car. The assortment of black-faced gauges and chrome bezels that were restored by Kienle still gleam brightly in the sun, reflecting the beauty of 1950s Mercedes-Benz interior design.
This Gullwing presents as a very desirable example, and is backed by fascinating history from the day it rolled off the production line in September 1955.