Instantly recognizable not only by automobile buffs but virtually anyone on the planet, the immortal 300SL Gullwing Coupe surely qualifies for anyone's Top 10 list of the greatest automobiles of all time.
Estimate (US$): 1,100,000 - 1,400,000.
2,996cc SOHC Inline 6-Cylinder Engine
Bosch Mechanical Fuel Injection
240bhp at 6,100rpm
4-Speed Manual Transmission
4-Wheel Independent Suspension
4-Wheel Drum Brakes
*Lovely preserved condition, retaining factory-original interior
*Well-kept 300SL with matching numbers engine, chassis and body intact
*Previously in the collection of racing driver Lothar Motschenbacher
*Delivered new to Los Angeles, CA and cared for by few, longtime owners
THE MERCEDES-BENZ 300SL GULLWING
Instantly recognizable not only by automobile buffs, but virtually anyone on the planet, the immortal 300SL (for Sports Leicht) Gullwing Coupe arguably competes for the title of "Greatest Sports Car of the 1950s," and surely qualifies for anyone's Top 10 list of the greatest automobiles of all time. A period favorite of wealthy celebrities, it ranks today among the most valued and collectable sports cars ever produced.
The 300SL Coupe was the direct descendant of Mercedes Benz' Le Mans W194 competition Coupe, conceived in 1952. It was aimed at wresting the World Sportscar Championship from Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, and Lancia, which were dominating post-war endurance racing. Mercedes Benz historian, W. Robert Nitzke, writes that company management wanted to jump back into Grand Prix racing, where it had been so successful before the war, but lacked the time necessary to design, build, and develop a new single-seater for the 1954 season. Instead, Chief Engineer, Fritz Nallinger, suggested that the company build a new two-seat sports car utilizing the strong in-line SOHC six-cylinder engine from its luxurious 300 series. Because the engine and drivetrain were relatively heavy, the chassis would have to be extremely light. Test Department manager Rudolf Uhlenhaut—having some experience with tubular chassis design—sat down with construction engineer Joseph Müller and laid out an extremely light (154 pounds) and rigid lattice-work chassis capable of accommodating the big in-line six. One major problem soon presented itself: there was no way to mount conventional doors without compromising the rigidity of the chassis. The solution was to raise the entry so that the doors cut into the roof, but that meant hinging them from the top, thus giving birth to this car's timeless signature design feature.
The 300SL's first racing trial was the 1952 Mille Miglia. Kling finished second to Giovanni Bracco's open Ferrari, while Rudolf Caracciola was fourth; the two Gullwings being split by a Lancia. The third Coupe had gone off the road early in the grueling contest. Next came the Grand Prix of Berne, where a quartet of 300SLs took the start and swept the top three positions, Caracciola having crashed in what would prove to be his last race.
Then came Le Mans, where Uhlenhaut struck fear into the competition by bringing an SL Coupe fitted with a hand-operated air brake mounted on the roof. While that particular car was not raced, Mercedes would tuck the idea in its pocket for future use. After the grueling 24-hour epic, a pair of 300SLs had finished in the top two positions...and were then driven back to the factory!
Mercedes Benz sat out the 1953 and 1954 sports car seasons, concentrating instead on developing its new Grand Prix car. However, the SLs were not done. They reappeared in 1955 as the airbrake-equipped 300SLR, utilizing that feature and numerous more of the advancements that were successfully tested on the company's Formula One racing cars. The year would bring triumph and tragedy: 300SLRs winning at Buenos Aires, the incredibly difficult Mille Miglia—where Stirling Moss and Denis Jenkinson won at a record average speed of just under a hundred miles an hour—the Nurburgring, Spa, Zandvoort, Aintree, Kristianstad, Monza, Dundrod, and Sicily's Targa Florio. The only setback, and one that would have devastating consequences, occurred at Le Mans, where team driver Pierre Levegh and more than 80 spectators died in one of racing's worst accidents, prompting Mercedes Benz to withdraw from racing for many years.
New York imported auto entrepreneur Max Hoffman, credited with urging Mercedes Benz to build a production sports car based on the 300SL racing car. The 300SL Gullwing, in final form, was unveiled at the New York International Motor Sports Show in early February of 1954, and actual production began that fall. The new Coupe was slightly changed in appearance from the racing Coupes and featured Bosch direct fuel injection. This prompted the factory to claim it was, "the fastest German production sports car." Between 1954 and 1957, a total of 1,400 Gullwings were delivered to eager purchasers, and in 1957, the elegant and improved 300SL Roadster appeared. These proved to be even more successful from a sales standpoint, with 1,858 units produced.
THE CAR OFFERED
Hand-built at the Mercedes-Benz works during the Summer of 1955, this beautiful Gullwing completed its build on July 27, 1955 and was painted in the very typical period color of DB 608 Ivory, with the interior trimmed in code 1079 Red—retained until this day. The new Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing was destined for the US market, more specifically Los Angeles and the mild California climate—quite a rare destination for a 300SL of the period, as most went to Max Hoffman's New York-based agency. All of these dates and records are neatly documented in several books, and on the copies of the factory build sheets, which can be found in the car's history file.
The Gullwing's first owner remains unknown, but that person is believed to have kept the car until 1972. After which the luxurious car was sold to a Mr. Ottmar Thomas of Visalia, California. Mr. Thomas retained the sporting Mercedes-Benz until 1990, when he sold it to renowned 300SL expert, Paul Russell. The Gullwing would later join the collection of racing driver and collector, Mr. Lothar Motschenbacher. Most recently, the 300SL Gullwing has formed part of a prominent Reno, Nevada-based collection of exceptional European sports cars. It is evident, that the Mercedes-Benz has been used sparingly and always kept in very good storage over the years.
A close look reveals the now Silver Metallic exterior paint (DB 180) in good condition, though with some light door dings and small imperfections in areas. The red interior—including the beige headliner—is original and shows an absolutely lovely patina. The original ivory-colored steering wheel is in place, as is the original VDO gauges and switch-gear. Chrome and brightwork, as well as lights and lenses, appear original and preserved, showing minimal aging. Furthermore, the factory chassis, body, and paint tags are all original and unaltered. The engine compartment has retained many factory finishes, and, keeping with its authenticity, the engine is the matching numbers unit, which appears to never have been opened up or out of the car.
This lovely 300SL Gullwing is a well-cared for example, which appears to never have been dismantled or modified. A Mille Miglia eligible Mercedes-Benz with superb looks and engineering under the hood, this matching numbers 300SL Gullwing deserves serious consideration.