1957 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Roadster
Lot No. 521
Auctioned on Friday, August 2, 2013
Almost Entirely Original - Long-Term Ownership by Actor Robert Stack
Sold for $808,500
- Originally owned by actor Robert Stack
- 250-hp overhead cam inline six-cylinder engine
- Four-speed manual transmission
- Coil spring independent front suspension
- Coil spring swing axle rear suspension and four-wheel drum brakes
Chassis no. 198.042.75.00512
2,996-cc, 250-hp overhead cam inline six-cylinder engine, four-speed manual transmission, coil spring independent front suspension, coil spring swing axle rear suspension and four-wheel hydraulic disc brakes. Wheelbase: 94.5-inches
All Mercedes-Benz 300SLs are celebrities, but some are more celebrity than others. This one is doubly celebrated by its long-time owner, Emmy-winning actor Robert Stack.
Racing languished at Mercedes-Benz after World War II, but a competition car was soon developed, using many parts from the 300 “Adenauer” sedan. The engine was given three carburetors and a new camshaft, and breathing was improved. To accommodate a low body, the engine was canted 45 degrees to the right. Transmission and axles came from the production 300, but the chassis and body were all new. Designed mainly by chief engineer Rudolf Uhlenhaut, the car was built on a tubular space frame and clothed in aluminum. The configuration of the space frame prevented low sills, so hallmark gullwing doors, pivoting upward, were adopted in place of a conventional forward-hinged arrangement.
Christened “300SL,” for Sport-Leicht (Sports Light), a team of cars was entered in the 1952 Mille Miglia, finishing second and fourth. This promising result was followed by a 1-2-3 sweep in the Berne Grand Prix and, six weeks later, first and second at LeMans. A 1-2-3-4 finish at Nürburgring followed and a 1-2 victory in the La Carrera Panamericana in Mexico, the latter bringing Mercedes to the attention of Americans.
Among American cheerleaders was Max Hoffman, the New York importer. Hoffman saw a market for a road-going version of the 300SL, and ordered 1,000 cars. The production 300SL debuted at the International Motor Sports Show in the New York City in January 1954. The 300SL name was retained, invoking the fame of the competition cars, while internal Mercedes nomenclature designated the new car W198.
It differed in many respects from its competition forebear. The chassis and body were heavier, and the skin was now made of steel, with aluminum hood, doors and trunk lid. To compensate for the additional weight, the engine was made correspondingly more powerful, developing 215-hp thanks to a direct fuel injection setup, the first ever on a gasoline-powered car. Top speed was 145 to 160-mph, depending on the axle ratio, making it the fastest production car of its day. In all, 1,400 coupes were sold between 1954 and 1957, about 80 percent of them in the United States.
As the coupe was phased out, a new roadster model was created, introduced at the 1957 Geneva Salon. This concept had been previewed in 1955, with the appearance of the 190SL, an open two-seater with styling cues from the 300SL and utilizing a 1,897-cc four-cylinder engine from the 190 sedan.
To make the 300SL a roadster, the gullwings were dispensed with and the chassis redesigned to accommodate more conventional doors. The new chassis was heavier, so the engine was given a new camshaft and higher compression, good for another 20-hp. The rear suspension was re-designed with a compensating spring added to reduce oversteer. From March 1961 four-wheel disc brakes were fitted. An aluminum cylinder block replaced the cast iron unit a year later.
Although not as aerodynamic as the gullwing coupe, the 300SL roadster was still one of the fastest cars on the road, capable of 155-mph without complaint. Production continued into early 1963, by which time, with 1,858 built, it had proved more popular than the coupe.
Robert Stack was a car guy from the beginning. As a boy he sent away for catalogs, later he raced Model A Fords and speedboats. By 1960, he had been eyeing this car in a showroom on Sunset Boulevard. It was a 1957 model, painted avocado green with a crème interior and a beige roof. In 1998 he told a Motor Trend interviewer “the lines were just beautiful…Every day I’d look at it, and my wife would ask why don’t I just save up and get it. Well, I’d never pay that much money for a car for myself.”
He didn’t, but someone else did. At the time, his long-running television series “The Untouchables” was among nominations for Emmy awards. When the trophies were handed out both Stack and his producer, Desi Arnaz, received one. By Stack’s account “We’re standing around holding the Emmys and Desi says ‘Let’s go outside, Amigo.’ All of a sudden I hear a roar and around the corner screams this green Mercedes and a guy with Mercedes overalls gets out and says ‘Mr. Stack, here are your keys.’” He kept it for the rest of his life.
A tasteful dark red now, it has the patina of age and enjoyment. The maroon leather seats show some scuffing from use, and the undercarriage corroborates the 87,000 miles on the odometer. It presents well, however, with excellent contours and only a few blemishes in the paint. It carries a matching hardtop, but the tan canvas top is underneath, albeit with a few stains.
Equipped with windshield washers and a recent Kenwood stereo, it is a most drivable car and one which we thoroughly recommend close inspection of as its appearance here today, may very well be its last in terms of availability on the open market.