1961 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Roadster with Hardtop. Photo Bonhams.
Chassis no. 198042-10-002795 - Engine no. 198980-10-002846
2,996cc SOHC Inline 6-Cylinder Engine. Bosch Mechanical Fuel Injection. 222bhp at 5,800rpm. 4-Speed Manual Transmission.4-Wheel Independent Suspension.4-Wheel Disc Brakes. Estimate US$ 1 million - 1.25 million (€720,000 - 900,000)
*Desirable, early disc brake 300SL
*Matching numbers example
*Known ownership history since new
*Excellent restoration by Robert Platz of Precision Motorworks
*Offered with both hard and soft tops, fitted luggage, extensive history file, books and tools
The Mercedes-Benz 300SL Roadster
It's impossible to talk about the Mercedes-Benz 300SL Roadster without first referring to the car that spawned it – the legendary 300SL 'Gullwing' coupe. Originally conceived as a racing car, the 300SL racked up victories throughout 1952, in the process capturing the imagination of America's official Mercedes-Benz importer Maximilian 'Maxi' Hoffman.
Desperate for a car to sate the desires of his upmarket clients, he eventually persuaded the Daimler-Benz board to take the 300SL from racetrack to road. The designers and engineers refused to compromise on the purity of the original, so the bodywork was still primarily crafted to reduce drag as much as possible (although rumor has it that the elegant strips over the wheelarches were no more than fashionable cosmetic touches to make the car appeal to its American audience), and the steel panels cloaked a tubular chassis frame designed by Rudolf Uhlenhaut which weighed only 82kg.
The iconic doors of the coupe were a by-product of this chassis, which had much higher sides than usual, leaving limited vertical space for a conventional door. Production began at the Sindelfingen plant in August 1954 and over the next two and half years it proved a phenomenal success. 1,402 were sold, despite the colossal $11,000 asking price.
By 1957, however, SL (the initials stood for Sport Leicht; Sport Light) sales were on the slide, and with the roadster body style proving popular in America – and feedback from customers suggesting they'd like more comfort and a larger trunk – Maxi Hoffman helped convince Mercedes-Benz that a convertible version could take over where the coupe left off.
Introduced at the Geneva Motor Show in May that year, the 300SL Roadster wasn't the result of a quick fix to meet owner demands. Mercedes re-engineered the whole car, taking the opportunity to fix some niggles that afflicted the 300SL—first and foremost the suspension. Although the double wishbone front layout was famed for its precision, the rear swing arm axle, jointed at the differential, had developed a reputation for tricky handling and sensitivity to cambers. Lowering the pivot point helped calm the 300SL's predilection for oversteer.
At the same time the fabulous 3.0-liter straight six, which featured fuel injection years ahead of its time, was boosted from 212bhp to 222bhp (torque output remained at 202lb-ft at 4,600rpm) and the chassis was redesigned with lower sills to accommodate normal swing-opening doors – although additional strengthening was required in the lower half of the chassis which saw the SL's weight grow from 1,310kg to 1,420kg.
Partially to increase load space and partially to create room for the folding fabric roof, the fuel tank capacity was reduced from 130 liters to 100 liters, but arguably the biggest benefit the Roadster gained over the Gullwing was superior ventilation. Due at least in part to the coupe's small in/out side windows, the hard top 300SL was regarded by many as tough work on long trips due to heat buildup in the cabin. Even with its roof up the Roadster's wind-up windows allowed much better airflow through the cockpit.
By no means the poor relation to the Gullwing, the later refinements added to the Roadster made it a compelling proposition for collectors and enthusiasts despite a list price of $10,950, a ten percent increase over the Gullwing. And while the coupe had a shelf-life of under three years, the Roadster stayed in production until early 1963, by which time 1,858 had been built.
The Motorcar Offered
This 300SL has a carefully documented ownership history that is known from new. Originally purchased by Don Youngblood of Chicagoland suburb Park Ridge, Illinois through Martin Loeber & Sons (now Loeber Motors), this car was constructed at the end of 1960 and delivered in January of 1961; it was the fifteenth 300SL to be fitted with 290mm disc brakes on all four corners. Finished in the fetching combination of Graphite Grey over Red leather with a Black convertible top, the original build sheet that accompanies the car indicates that Mr. Youngblood ticked the boxes for the optional Becker Mexico Radio and automatic antenna. Additionally, a fitted hardtop was purchased with the car—no doubt a concession for when Chicago's notoriously cold weather arrived. The original invoice shows the total coming to $12,010.49.
Mr. Youngblood meticulously maintained the car at Loeber throughout his ownership with the receipts still on file to prove it. In November 1963, Judge H.R. Stoffels bought the Roadster with 11,325 miles on the clock. Judge Stoffels, a fellow Park Ridge resident whose home was only a mile and a half from Mr. Youngblood's, likely saw the car in the neighborhood and took a liking to it. Continuing the careful maintenance and record keeping that the first owner had done, service continued to be completed by Loeber until the Judge's untimely death in late August of 1966.
Records next show the car with Sheldon Zimmerman of Northbrook, Illinois by April of 1969 with 27,241 miles on the odometer. However, the Roadster only remained with Sheldon for a brief span of time before finding its way to Tucson resident Gerald 'Jerry' Zimmerman. Now out of the harsh climate in Chicago, the Benz could enjoy the dry, sunny desert of Arizona. Zimmerman continued to keep close records of the car's maintenance, with invoices for everything from oil changes to regular service being retained—just as the prior owners had done.
When the Roadster moved to its fourth owner, Carson 'Jack' Lee of Tempe, Arizona, in 1972, it had 33,000 miles on the odometer. Little record is retained of Mr. Lee's ownership, but it is known that on January 10th, 1978 Tom Congleton of Mission Hills, Kansas brought the car to the Midwest for a decade. Shortly after purchasing the Roadster, Mr. Congleton changed the interior color to its current Saddle Tan leather. In 1988, the car was acquired by the current vendor.
Carefully maintained its whole life, the decision was made to do a complete, Concours-quality restoration on the less than 45,000 miles from new 300SL starting in August of 1991. The no-expense-spared operation was carried out by the very well-regarded marque specialist Bob Platz of Automotive Restorations in East Camden, New Jersey. Over the course of two and a half years, nearly $350,000 was spent to bring the Roadster back to as-new condition with a careful eye for correctness and original details. The complete restoration from its very beginning to its ultimate completion in April of 1994 is extensively detailed in the 176 pages of invoices, receipts, and restoration photos that accompany the sale, and these are available for perusal.
Now finished in Fire Engine Red over Tan, the 300SL has been methodically cared for since completion and a successful participant in the Copperstate 1000. Still showing very well with its original hardtop, fitted luggage, tool roll, owner's manual, and fewer than 47,000 miles accumulated since it left the factory in Stuttgart, the Roadster's top quality restoration has retained much of its luster over the last two decades but has mellowed to a point where one may drive and enjoy the Roadster without worry.
A welcome entrant to any number of highly sought after events, this beautiful disc brake and hardtop example is ready for a new home after a quarter century of careful upkeep, fastidious documentation and a restoration that, when carried out, cost twice what it took to buy a 300SL Roadster.
Bonhams. THE SCOTTSDALE AUCTION. Scottsdale. 16 Jan 2014 - www.bonhams.com