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Lot 225: Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing

Techno Classica, Coys (2 April 2011)

It is something of a tribute to the speed and strength of the post-war German 'economic miracle' that only nine years elapsed between the end of WWII and the introduction of what was certainly one of the most sophisticated cars of the 1950s. The Mercedes-Benz 300 SL was conceived as a sports-racer rather than a sports car, first seen in competition in 300SLR form before the production model 300SL appeared. It went on to notch up an impressive number of competition successes beginning with a small number of racing SLR prototypes in 1952 in that year's Le Mans 24 Hours, and then in the marathon Carrera Panamericana. The production version came with a six-cylinder 3 litre instead of the straight 8, but carried over an amazing technical specification for the time. It combined suspension and running gear from the then new 300 series production models with an amazingly light, multi-tube spaceframe chassis carrying special coup� bodywork. Full-height side opening doors would have compromised rigidity in the high-sided chassis so half-height doors, hinged at the roof centre to lift upward, were developed for the car: the famous 'Gullwing' design was born.

A 3.0 litre straight-six, the 300 SL's engine used dry sump lubrication and Bosch mechanical fuel injection, the latter a world first for a production car. It was also one of the most potent engines of its day, providing top speeds of 130 to 165mph depending on gearing, and the engine was canted over to keep the bonnet line low. The car's advanced chassis design ensured great strength and safety, while providing fine handling thanks to its light weight. An interesting Gullwing feature was the steering wheel hinged at the base of its hub to tilt almost upside down, thus easing driver entry/exit. Its overall styling hardly needs comment, except to note that it was much lower and sleeker than that of contemporary sports cars. Distinguishing features such as the big tri-star grille emblem, wheel arch 'eyebrows' and 'egg crate' front wing louvres adorned the body, while the purposeful interior was somewhat reminiscent of a Messerschmitt fighter plane!

The exclusive 300SL  just 1,400 coupes were built between 1954 and 1957 and 1,858 convertibles between 1957 to 1958  also cost a fortune: �5,600 for the Gullwing in 1954 against �1,400 for a Jaguar XK120. But excellence is never cheap, and the SLs were magnificent: solid, handsome and very fast. In fact, nothing could outpace them for years except for the occasional Ferrari, which was hardly a 'production' car in those days. The 300 SL won more competitions in its time than virtually any other car since. There are far too many victories to list here; suffice to say that no other manufacturer could field a car that could combine such speed, reliability and all round ability as the 300 SL, which allowed it to excel in events as varied as the Targa Florio, Mille Miglia and at Le Mans.

Chassis number 00279 is a 1956 model, and like the majority of Gullwing production was sold new in the United States. The car's condition reflects a striking level of thoughtful care, unsurprisingly in the light of its most recent ownership. Previously in the collection of the remarkable Sir John Surtees for 18 years, not the least of whose claims to fame is that he remains the only individual ever to have his racing career crowned by becoming World Champion on both two and four wheels. Though he raced for (among others) the Ferrari team he has a vast experience of Mercedes 300SLs on road and track, as such it can be assumed that any specimen he chooses to keep in his private collection will be in the prime of its driving life. Purchased by the vendor from the Surtees collection 3 years ago, it has resided amongst the vendor's prestigious private collection and achieving concours wins since purchase.

The coachwork is finished in Flame Red, which complements superbly the tan leather of the interior; also inside the car are still to be found the original luggage with which the car was supplied, and the Becker radio which was also on the very limited list of options available.

The 300SL is one of those rare cars which were identified as a true classic almost from the moment it appeared. Strongly built and still remarkably quick, they are commendably un-temperamental when correctly maintained; as satisfying to own now as they were when new. Supplied with a current MoT certificate and V5 document, this splendid example featured in the July 2001 issue of Classic Cars Magazine, and one of the most august ownerships in motor sport can only be add to its appeal.

Lot Details
Auction Techno Classica
Coys, Essen, Germany
Lot Number225
Outcome NOT SOLD
Hammer Price-
Hammer Price (inc premium)-
Condition rating0
Registration numberGVS 13
Chassis number198 040 65 00279
Engine number
Engine capacity (cc)
Engine - cylinders
Number of doors2