1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL "Gullwing"
Lot No. 586
Auctioned on Saturday, March 23, 2013
Sold for $880,000
- Legendary design
- Restored to jewel-like quality
- Completed four years ago
- Optional Rudge knock-off wheels
- Custom luggage and belly-pans
Few sports cars in the history of automobile manufacturing have attained the iconic status of the celebrated Mercedes-Benz 300SL Coupe, which combines an unrivaled racing lineage with a truly innovative design. First appearing in 1952 as a racing sports car intended to return Mercedes-Benz to competitive prominence; the 300SL was notable for its advanced lightweight space-frame chassis and a retuned version of legendary engineer Rudolf Uhlenhaut’s inline six-cylinder engine, which was already utilized in the 300 sedans. Of course, the most notable physical features of Sindelfingen designer Karl Wilfert’s beautiful coachwork were the roof-hinged doors, which were necessitated by the chassis’ high waist, thus giving the model its eventual nickname, the ‘Gullwing.’
Dominating nearly every race it entered, the 1952 300SL attained legendary status with wins at the 1954 24 Hours of Le Mans and the La Carrera Panamericana; a distinction that was not lost on pioneering U.S. importer Max Hoffman. Since celebrated for his perception of the emerging American market for European sports cars during the 1950s, Hoffman made considerable efforts to convince Mercedes-Benz that a strong market existed for a road-going series-production version of the 300SL racecar. His plea did not fall on deaf ears; at the 1954 International Motor Sports Show in New York, Mercedes debuted its answer to Hoffman’s requests: a luxurious new take on the racing ‘Gullwing.’
In addition to a more well-appointed cabin, the 300SL coupe featured a number of improvements over its racing predecessor, including doors that were cut substantially lower for easier entry and exit. The road car also significantly improved on the racecar’s power output by employing mechanical Bosch fuel-injection, good for 44 horsepower more than the racecar, and is notable as the first production automobile to feature the since widely-employed method of fuel induction. Produced in a modest quantity of approximately 1,400 examples over a three-year production run, the 300SL ‘Gullwing’ has since been elevated to a near-mythical stature, virtually unequaled in postwar collectible sports cars. In period, the list of owners read like a “Who’s Who" of society, glamour and style – including Frank Lloyd Wright, Sophia Loren, Pablo Picasso, Zsa Zsa Gabor and Clark Gable.
The legendary Mercedes-Benz 300SL set a performance cornerstone for the manufacturer that is still emulated today. The power is derived from its 183-cid, 240-hp inline six-cylinder, single overhead cam, dry sump engine that is laid-over at an angle to reduce hood height and mated to a four-speed, synchromesh manual gearbox, which has its own oil pump. Gears are selected at a centrally located lever. This beautiful example is set apart by being professionally restored, approximately four years ago, to a “jewel-like quality”, courtesy of a “nuts-and-bolts,” frame-off process. The 300SL is richly finished in DB320 Blue and has the optional leather interior, which is code 1079 red. The car is fitted with the optional Rudge centerlock knock-off wheels, finely presented in chrome. This exceptional ‘Gullwing’ additionally carries custom luggage, radio and belly-pans.