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Lot 320: Mercedes-Benz 300SL Coupe

Sports & Classics of Monterey, RM Auctions (12 August 2010)

240 hp, 2,996 cc OHC six-cylinder, four-speed all-synchromesh gearbox, independent front suspension with twin wishbones, coil springs and anti-roll bar, swing axle rear suspension with coil springs, hydraulic telescopic shock absorbers, hydraulic drum brakes on all four wheels with servo assistance. Wheelbase: 94.5"

- One of just 1,400 built - Iconic race car turned road car with fitted luggage - Legendary performance and styling

There are those who believe that the Mercedes-Benz 300SL is, perhaps, the greatest road car ever built. No one who has ever owned or experienced a 300SL Gullwing will likely ever forget it. That the car appeared in production form at all was the result of fortuitous circumstance and certainly not originally planned by the factory.

The original Mercedes-Benz 300SL was created for the 1952 racing season by the company to test the waters prior to M-B making a full-scale return to racing competition. It was practically makeshift expediency to allow an early entrance to racing following WWII and to keep the M-B name in the news long enough for the firm's 1954 Grand Prix car to be completed. To deem this exercise successful is a bit of an understatement  a second and fourth at the Mille Miglia, first and second at Le Mans and the Nürburgring, the same in the Carrera Panamericana, and one-two-three at Bern, Switzerland.

Mercedes-Benz had no intentions of putting the car into production, but U.S. importer Max Hoffman had other ideas. Hoffman, both a master marketer and a man of great insight, convinced Daimler-Benz to offer a production model by ordering 1,000 of them to be built and sent to the United States. Since the competition model had been sourced from off-the-shelf parts of Mercedes' 300-series saloon cars, it seemed relatively easy for the manufacturer to honor his request. The car, however, was exceedingly complex mechanically and not really designed for volume production. Nonetheless, thanks to the persistence (and clout) of Hoffman, M-B proceeded with limited production and the car was born.

Fuel injection replaced the racecar's carburetors; the Bosch mechanical unit would be the first for a production car. The new Karl Wilfert-designed body was largely steel rather than all-aluminum and included bumpers and other creature comforts not desired in a competition car. All this shot the car's weight up from the racer's 1900 pounds to nearly 3000. Yet even in production form, underneath remained Rudi Uhlenhaut's brilliant tubular space frame chassis and the powerful 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine.

The 300SL became the first Mercedes to be introduced in the United States before it was shown in Germany. It was unveiled in New York on February 6th, 1954, and it would take the automotive world by storm. The SL moniker reflected the pioneering use of multi-tube space frame construction. It also featured fully-independent suspension in addition to its fuel-injected, 240 hp, 3.0-liter (2,996 cc) straight six with dry sump lubrication; the motor inclined to the side in order to reduce the height of the bonnet. All the power was delivered through a four-speed manual gearbox, giving the car a 150 mph top speed and 0-60 mph in just 8.8 seconds, making it the fastest production automobile of its time. The result was a car that you could buy in New York City in 1954 for the princely sum of $6,820 and cruise to your weekend home in Connecticut at top speed, should you dare to try it.

The gull-wing doors used on the racing version of the car were continued on the production car as they were necessary to maintain the structural integrity of the space frame construction. This novel approach to building a car was not without difficulties. Mercedes had gone all the way towards a theoretically perfect multi-tube space frame structure where all the tubes were slim and absolutely straight and none had to withstand bending or torsional stresses of any nature. Taken to these extremes, this would deny access to the car altogether, so there were inevitable compromises needed to gain entrance to the passenger compartment. To ease the problem, the frame was very deep along the sills, and the doors were arranged to hinge along their top edge and open upwards in gull-wing fashion.

Front suspension was by coil springs and double wishbones along with high-pivot swing axles at the rear. This meant for tricky handling as the rear suspension could induce wild over-steer; this was partially overcome when later cars would be fitted with low-pivot swing axles. Hoffman's original request of 1,000 cars was exceeded as production of the semi-hand-built car reached just 1,400 units. The 300SL Coupe was discontinued after the 1957 model year. Today, it remains one of the most recognized and coveted of all sports cars ever built.

This handsome 300SL, sporting red paint with tan leather interior, has been regularly used in driving events and is fully sorted mechanically. The odometer reads just 77,000 miles, which are believed to be original. Factory original fitted luggage is also included, and the color matches the interior perfectly, further providing evidence that the interior (which has a lovely patina) is most likely original. Inside, you'll find a Becker Le Mans radio and, in the trunk, the original jack and a complete tool roll (reproduction). All exterior body panels are straight and true, and the undercarriage is equipped with belly pans. This is an exceedingly nice driver quality 300SL that would be welcome at competition and driving events wherever its owner might choose to participate

Lot Details
Auction Sports & Classics of Monterey
RM Auctions, Monterey, California
TypeCar
Lot Number320
Estimate$450000-$550000
Outcome SOLD
Hammer Price-
Hammer Price (inc premium)$550000
Year1955
Condition rating0
Registration number
Mileage-
Chassis number5500712
Engine number
Engine capacity (cc)
Engine - cylinders
Number of doors