The Mercedes-Benz 300 SL in both Roadster and Gullwing configurations is considered by many leading automotive minds to be one of the most beautiful cars of the 20th century. Over the 1954 to 1963 production run just 3,258 were built, and today they’re among the most collectible classic cars of all time.
An Introduction to the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL
The speed of the 300 SL was a surprise to no one – it had been based directly on the 300 SL (W194) racing car of 1952. The W194 was the first Mercedes-Benz racer designed since WWII, and it landed on the world stage with a slew of victories in its first year, including the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Bern-Bremgarten, the Eifelrennen at Nürburgring, and the iconic Carrera Panamericana.
The idea of taking the now globally famous Mercedes-Benz W194 and building a road car was first suggested by Max Hoffman. He was quite possibly the most influential man in the automotive world in the mid-20th century who didn’t actually work for a manufacturer. He was a car importer based in New York, but he had been born and raised in Vienna – so he had a clear understanding of the thought processes on both sides of the North Atlantic.
After the Second World War, Mercedes had been largely focused on building saloon cars. The racing successes of the W194 had given them confidence, so Hoffman telling them they should consider a high-end sports GT car based on their new world beater didn’t fall on deaf ears.
Mercedes assigned their chief development engineer Rudolf Uhlenhaut to the project, the same man who had designed its track-based forebear. Rudolf quickly realised that the spaceframe chassis used on the W194 would need an extensive redesign to lower the door sills and make it practical for people to get in and out. That said, the sills are still far higher than a normal car – and regular doors were out of the question. The introduction of the Roadster in 1957 would see the sills lowered yet further, making the droptop less challenging to get in and out of.
Germans are known as a practical, logical bunch. In fact they’re essentially a nation of natural born engineers. So when they realised they couldn’t fit a regular door to their spaceframe 300 SL series vehicles, they moved the hinges to the roof, and made it a Gullwing.
Apart from the fact it was the quickest car in the world on its introduction, the 300 SL Gullwing was also the first mass-produced car with fuel injection – a Bosch mechanical direct fuel injection system that boosted power approximately 25% over the W194 race car.
The 3.0 litre SOHC inline-6 was fitted with an interesting diagonal aluminium head, which allowed for larger intake and exhaust valves and the performance gains they provided. The relatively tall engine was fitted at a 45° angle to fit under the low swooping hood, it connects to a 4-speed gearbox, and then on to a swing-axle on coil-springs. There’s coil-spring independent front suspension, 4-wheel hydraulic drum brakes, 215 bhp, a 0-60 mph time of ~8.8 seconds, and a top speed (depending on final ratio) of 260 km/h (160 mph).
As was almost always the case, Max Hoffman was right. The Americans loved the new 300 SL Gullwing, and thanks to their booming post-war economy the sales were swift – only limited by the relatively high sticker price of $11,000 USD. By the time production drew to a close, Mercedes-Benz had sold 1,400 Gullwings and 1,858 Roadsters, bringing a lot of much needed hard currency into West Germany and establishing the post-war foundations of what would become a long and proud history of Mercedes-Benz performance cars.
The 300 SL Roadster Shown Here
The 300 SL Roadster you you here is listed as being one of the finest in existence thanks to a comprehensive restoration at the hands of West Coast 300 SL. Since the restoration it’s won 3 Concours d’Elegance “Best in Class” awards in the United States, and it comes with the full correct tool set, owner’s manual, and a set of matching fitted luggage as you’d expect.
The car is due to sell through RM Sotheby’s at Monterey between the 18th and 19th of August this year. If you’d like to read more about it or register to bid you can click here to visit the listing.
Photo Credits: Karissa Hosek ©2017 Courtesy of RM Sotheby’s