|Vehicle:||1953 Mercedes-Benz 300S Roadster|
|Number Produced:||141 roadsters|
|Original List Price:||DM 33,600 in 1953, equivalent to $103,000 today|
|SCM Valuation:||Median to date, $406,000; high sale, $864,900 (this car)|
|Tune Up Cost:||$1,200|
|Chassis Number Location:||On right side of firewall, by right hood hinge.|
|Engine Number Location:||On rear left side of engine block|
|Club Info:||Mercedes-Benz club of America|
|Alternatives:||1956–59 BMW 503, 1954–57 Jaguar XK 140, 1954–62 Facel Vega FVS, 1946 Invicta Black Prince|
This car, Lot 111, sold for $862,562, including buyer’s premium, at Bonhams’ Mercedes sale in Stuttgart, Germany, on March 19, 2016.
Back in 2012, when the classic car market was just starting to revive itself, I was called out on an obscure on-site service job near Gardena, CA. The mission: Go to a warehouse owned by a notorious kingpin of the pre-1955 Mercedes world, find all the pieces of a 1953 220 Cabriolet A, partially assemble it and deliver it — under its own power — to a shipping depot in Los Angeles.
This was an unanticipated level of exposure to an early post-World War II Mercedes, so I was both terrified and excited.
While I was in this warehouse, whose owner was in his early 80s and somewhat nocturnal, I found myself with a pernicious lack of supervision. This led me to discover, under one of the many car covers, a 1952 300S cabriolet. Uncovering the 300S was a moment frozen in time, as I analyzed each flowing curve, piece by piece, realizing that this automobile, for many, was the pinnacle of a great pursuit.
I could have had that fine car for $250,000, but I would have had to put the engine back in it, and I couldn’t even afford a 450SL back then.
A few years later, some Germans emancipated the cars and parts, and that was the last I heard. Values have since risen, but “just” $500k will buy you a good 300S roadster.
A majestic car
The 300S (W188 I) was built from 1952 to 1954. The late-1953 cars and 1954 cars are still 300S, but they are sometimes called 300Sb, due to a few minor updates. This has no effect on values, as they are still carbureted.
The 1955-introduced 300Sc (W188 II), which was built until early 1958, is the fuel-injected version. All of these were built as cabriolets, roadsters with a disappearing top and fixed-roof coupes — sometimes with a sunroof. The open cars always sell for more, and the cheapest form of entry into the W188 club is via an early 300S coupe. Also, while based on the W186 300 Adenauer, these are NOT Adenauers by any stretch, even if the chassis, suspension and driveline are similar.
Okay, let’s turn back to our $863,000 300S. Does this sound expensive to you? If it were a 300Sc (the fuel-injected version), it would be an appropriate sum of money. However, this is the carbureted 300S, which the market perceives as significantly (usually over $200k) less valuable.
How did this color-changed 300S roadster sell for a number blatantly within 300Sc territory?
Kienle — that’s all you need to know
Imagine a workshop where 10 Germans are lifting a 300SL body off of its frame in a dedicated workspace. In an adjacent room, a 600 is being fine-tuned on the dyno.
This place, in Heimerdingen, Germany, carries all the required parts, can perform any needed service and charges whatever it needs to make things work right. No shortcuts here.
The man behind this Mercedes wonderland, Klaus Kienle, is a veteran of the Mercedes-Benz luxury and sports car division (which folded in the early 1980s, after the 600 ended production). Kienle opened his eponymous operation to provide the same level of service to owners of these fine Mercedes — including pre-war cars.
A car that Kienle restored is restored properly — and that’s it. As such, I would expect any of their products to command a top-of-the-market price.
There’s one little idiosyncrasy about this car that bothers me.
Kienle is not known for changing colors, and this 300S was born in 629 cream (it’s really a melon or pale orange). When it comes to Mercedes, the original color, no matter how simple or weird, is as much a part of the car as a man’s soul is to his existence. The color is one of the primary components of a classic Mercedes’ identity.
While Kienle often restores Mercedes for resale, this encourages the suspicion that our subject 300S was a customer car that was resold immediately upon completion.
Good examples still plentiful
At Auctions America’s recent Fort Lauderdale sale, there was a 1952 300S roadster on offer (Lot 524), which sold for $506,000, including buyer’s premium.
This one got my attention at the auction and I looked it over in detail. While it was not a fresh restoration, it was a solid car that I wouldn’t be afraid of. When it sold for what it did, my first thought was that a lucky person bought a usable 300S for a market-correct price that could be enjoyed without major expense.
Recent sales show that the value disparity between the 300S and 300Sc in the United States is even greater than in Europe. In 2014, RM Auctions sold a 300Sc roadster for $1.1 million at their Amelia Island sale, effectively proving that the open 300Sc was sustainably in the million-dollar club. The disparity in values has always been on the side of the 300S, with consistent sales around the $500k mark on both continents. If you check the SCM Platinum Auction Database, you will find that 300S roadsters are generally selling in the $500k–$600k range, and they are also readily available.
Expect some needs — and depreciation
With a whopping 50 miles on the odometer, I hardly believe that our subject 300S is ready to go. Every restoration comes with a few adjustments that need to be made, so hopefully the new owner won’t mind paying for these at Kienle prices — after the European Union has taken the buyer to the cleaners with its lofty VAT. I don’t see this car appreciating in value either, especially with use. One thing we can bank on is that the green car was restored correctly.
As for the Auctions America 300S, there will certainly be repairs needed. However, just $30,000 to $60,000 would make this a fully functional, gorgeous W188. The buyers of both cars purchased great examples, but the 1953 300S Bonhams sold in Stuttgart was not a deal by any stretch. It was well sold, and probably unrepeatable — for now. ♦
(Introductory description courtesy of Bonhams.)