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Lot 278: Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Coupe

Vintage Motor Cars of Meadow Brook, RM Auctions (24 July 2010)

215 bhp (DIN), 240 bhp (SAE), 2,996 cc overhead-camshaft inline six-cylinder engine, Bosch mechanical fuel-injection, four-speed manual transmission, independent front suspension with unequal-length A-arms, coil springs and anti-roll bar, independent rear suspension with high-pivot swing axles with radius arms and coil springs, and four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes. Wheelbase: 94.5" - An early-production car, the 32nd 300 SL built - From the introductory year of 300 SL - Excellent condition - A true landmark of design and engineering Legendary Mercedes-Benz engineer Rudolf Uhlenhaut was given responsibility for developing Mercedes-Benz's first postwar racing car. He had observed the success that Jaguar had at Le Mans in 1951 with their XK120 C, which was essentially a standard XK120 with a higher-output engine that had been lightened and fitted with a streamlined body. For Uhlenhaut, the key was the use of as many production-based components as possible. Fortunately, the company's new 300 series incorporated many excellent components, including a three-liter, overhead-cam six-cylinder engine, a sturdy gearbox and a lightweight independent swing-arm rear axle. The main difficulty was the height of the engine; the ingenious solution was to lay it on its left side at a 50-degree angle. This required a custom chassis and body, which became the major new components developed specifically for the racing car. During the war, Uhlenhaut had done extensive work on framework made of small diameter tubing. By triangulating many small tubes, it was possible to achieve tremendous strength with light weight. Indeed, his chassis for the 300 SL weighed just 180 pounds but was extremely stiff and very strong. When wrapped around the canted engine, it was clear the car could have a very low frontal area. The only difficulty was that to maintain its strength, the new chassis required very high sides. The solution was another flash of brilliance  he would hinge the doors at the centerline of the car. It worked, although in the first generation of racing cars the doors came down only to the bottom of the side windows. Mercedes-Benz was concerned that the motor sports governing bodies would rule against this radical design, but Uhlenhaut did his homework and learned that none of the rather elaborate regulations restricted the size, position or configuration of the doors. A very sleek body was designed for the car, and with its low profile and smooth flanks (there were no bumpers, door handles, trim or anything else to cause drag), it achieved a coefficient of drag of just 0.25  a remarkable number even today. The resulting car was dubbed the 300 SL. It created a sensation when it was first seen and an enviable track record beginning with its very first race  the 1952 Mille Miglia, where the brand new SL, driven by Karl Kling, finished second after a wheel-to-wheel battle with the race-leading Ferrari. Many victories followed, beginning with the next race, the Bern Grand Prix. The most notable win, however, came at Le Mans, with a one-two finish that proved the 300 SL was a worthy successor to the legendary prewar Mercedes-Benz sports cars. In the case of the 300 SL, the road car was a clear and direct descendent of the racing car. Of course, some concessions were made for comfort and convenience, but the basics  tube frame chassis, "gullwing" doors, three-liter, overhead-cam six-cylinder engine  all remained in place. Some structural changes were needed to improve access through the doors, but other than the addition of fuel injection and improved creature comforts, the basic specifications of the new 300 SL coupe were unchanged. It was fast and solid, handled well and quickly developed an enviable reputation both on the track and in the streets. The 300 SL offered here was delivered new to Zurich, Switzerland, finished in red over silver as only the 32nd of its type built in the first year of production. The original engine was rebuilt by the factory in the 1970s and updated with a newer oil system. The car was later acquired by Mr. Steve Levy of Riverwoods, Illinois, who owned the car from 1987 to 1988. During his ownership, he had the car stripped to bare metal and repainted to its original db180 silver by restorer Skip McCabe, while Dave Twitchell serviced the fuel injection system. A complete show-quality restoration was completed in the late 1980s, after which the car was reportedly entered in several shows where it was a multiple award-winner. As presented, it shows little use since the restoration was completed. It has evidently been maintained carefully in essentially showroom condition, with excellent silver paint and red leather upholstery (the way it left the factory), as well as a set of competition-style lap belts. It runs and drives as a 300 SL should, complete with its original engine that was rebuilt at the factory. It requires nothing to be used and enjoyed as a beautifully presented car on tours and events, where its powerful engine and sophisticated driving dynamics will continue to satisfy the most demanding drivers.

Lot Details
Auction Vintage Motor Cars of Meadow Brook
RM Auctions, Rochester, Michigan
TypeCar
Lot Number278
Estimate$475000-$575000
Outcome NOT SOLD
Hammer Price-
Hammer Price (inc premium)-
Year1955
Condition rating
Registration number
Mileage-
Chassis number1980404500032
Engine number
Engine capacity (cc)
Engine - cylinders
Number of doors