1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing Coupe. Photo Bonhams.
Chassis no. 198040.5500594 - Engine no. 198980.5500621
2,996cc SOHC Inline 6-Cylinder Engine. Bosch Mechanical Fuel Injection. 212bhp at 5,800rpm. 4-Speed Manual Transmission. 4-Wheel Independent Suspension. 4-Wheel Drum Brakes. Estimate: US$ 1.1 million - 1.4 million (€800,000 - 1 million)
Exceptional example of the iconic Gullwing
*Matching numbers example
*Fresh repaint by Pollock Automotive
*A highlight car at recent Concours showings
*Serviced and maintained by Gullwing experts
The 300SL Gullwing
Max Hoffman rarely missed an opportunity. The impresario of imported cars on New York's Park Avenue built the U.S. presence of most European brands after World War II – Jaguar, Allard, Alfa Romeo, Lancia, Mercedes-Benz and more – and when Mercedes-Benz won the Carrera Panamericana in 1952 with a W194 300SL coupe driven by Karl Kling, Hoffman seized the moment.
He approached Mercedes with a radical idea: take the charismatic tube frame W194, with its high performance 3-liter engine and characteristic roof-hinged doors, and create a road car based on it. It was audacious, but Hoffman had a highly developed sense for the U.S. market and backed up his suggestion with his checkbook. He placed an order for a thousand luxury high performance coupes based on a more civilized version of the W194.
Mercedes-Benz, still valiantly trying to shake off the devastation of the war and the weak European market, took him up on it and the 300SL was born.
Hoffman had proposed a relatively direct transformation of the multi-tube framed W194, retaining its roof-hinged doors, tall, wide sills, 45° canted triple-carbureted single overhead camshaft inline six and fully independent suspension with more civilized accoutrements. The engineers at Mercedes-Benz weren't satisfied with such a simple transformation and added the first direct mechanical fuel injection system ever offered in a production automobile. Introduced at the February 1954 New York Auto Show, the 300SL was an instant sensation.
Its curved doors soon brought it the nickname "Gullwing" which has stuck for well over half a century and been copied by many lesser automobiles hoping to capitalize on the 300SL's halo. The body design was refined for the street and added eyebrow moldings over the wheel wells to signal an association with Mercedes-Benz's later race cars. The driving position, steering wheel location, controls and instruments' visibility were carefully refined by M-B to make driving the 300SL a rewarding experience.
Over the next three years Mercedes-Benz built over 1,400 300SL Gullwings. The majority were sold through Max Hoffman in North America, validating both the reality of his vision and returning many times over the confidence he showed in backing its development.
Ever since 1954, the Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing has been one of the seminal cars every collector must own or experience.
The Motorcar Offered
This original U.S. market Gullwing was completed on August 25, 1955 and shipped to New York. As supplied new it wore Medium Blue Paint (code DB350) and was trimmed in light grey leather. Being a later series car it benefited as new from the ATE brake booster, and is known to have been fitted with the stock 3.64 rear axle ratio.
The Gullwing registry confirms that the Mercedes spent most of its early years in New York state, former owners being listed as David Todd of New York, and Martin Alperstein of Fishkill, New York - Alperstein being well known in SCCA circles for racing an MG TC. Later the car would pass to Richard M. Mills of Cleveland Heights, Ohio. By 2001, the car was in Los Angeles where it was acquired by the present owner, a noted collector of important post-WWII sports cars. At this stage its odometer stated that the car had covered 39,834 miles, which it was thought could easily have been actual mileage from new.
Over the course of the last 12 years the Mercedes has been steadily refurbished and improved, while being driven sparingly – its odometer at the time of cataloging recording a modest 41,822 miles. Finished today in the reverse of its original livery, its Silver Grey paint conforms more to the benchmark guise for these cars, appearing similar to the prototype racers which pre-dated it. It is immaculately presented aesthetically having just received a complete strip and repaint by Pollock Automotive Restoration of Pottstown, Pennsylvania. This silver hue is complimented with lustrous deep blue leather upholstery, and has a new headliner also installed by Pollock.
Early on in its present ownership, the 300SL was sent to esteemed Gullwing specialist restorers Hjeltness Restorations of Escondido, California, who carried out a major engine service, and rebuilt the brakes, master cylinder and brake booster. At the same time the correct rubber foot well mats were sourced and fitted as was a Talbot external mirror. In addition the engine has been completely rebuilt at the hands of another renowned expert for the model, Ed Tatios of Mike Tillson Motorcar Service in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and only 200 miles have been covered since.
Fresh from its recent refurbishment, the 300SL was shown last Fall at the Radnor Hunt Concours, the St. Michaels Concours d'Elegance, and Kiawah Island Motoring Retreat, where it drew much attention. Shod with a fresh set of Dunlop tires and complete with a tool kit and manuals, the car is ready to be presented at other similar events or else enjoyed on the road.
Just shy of the 60th anniversary of that New York Auto Show debut, the popularity of the iconic Gullwing has arguably never been stronger; this on-the-button example is a great way to sample that legend.
Bonhams. THE SCOTTSDALE AUCTION. Scottsdale. 16 Jan 2014 - www.bonhams.com