Having resumed production in 1946 with the 170 in unchanged, pre-WWII form, Mercedes-Benz introduced its first all-new designs of the post-war era-the 220 and 300-at the Frankfurt Auto Show in 1951. While the 220 was an advance on the 170, the 300 re-established Mercedes-Benz in the front rank of prestige car manufacturers, marking as it did a return to the marque's tradition of building high-performance luxury automobiles of the finest quality. The 300's oval-tube chassis followed the lines of the 170S and 220, with independent suspension all around and four-wheel drum brakes, but incorporated the added refinements of hypoid bevel final drive, dynamically balanced wheels, and remote electrical control of the rear suspension ride height.
The conservatively styled sedan was soon joined by the 300S (Super), a model that succeeded in recapturing the elegance of the prewar 540K. Built in coupe and Cabriolet forms on a shortened 300 sedan chassis, the 300S weighed considerably less than the 300 sedan and was more powerful, its engine gaining triple (as opposed to twin) Solex carburetors and a raised compression ratio. Maximum power output was 150 horsepower and top speed was 110 miles per hour. Only one significant change was made in the model's lifetime: the introduction in 1955 of the fuel-injected 300Sc, which incorporated alterations-including revised rear suspension-also made to the sedan.
More expensive than the 300SL, and almost twice the price of the contemporary top-of-the-range Cadillac, the 300S was one of the world's most exclusive automobiles. Inevitably, production was limited. Only 760 examples of the 300S and 300Sc left the factory between 1951 and 1958.
This Cabriolet has been in the same ownership for 30 years and has never been restored, having been acquired directly from the original owner, a German factory owner in Offenbach. The car is elegantly finished in black with cream leather interior-the latter featuring superb wood veneer and equipped with a dashboard-mounted Heuer stopwatch-and comes complete with fitted luggage. The convertible top and interior benefited from restoration work costing more than $50,000, while the paintwork is still the original nitrocellulose finish.
This car sold for $155,938, including buyer’s premium, at the Bonhams Geneva sale, March 11, 2002.
The 300S/Sc market has been a roller coaster ride for the last ten years. These cars were Mercedes-Benz’s premier postwar model, costing more than $12,000 in 1952. At that time, the most expensive Cadillac you could buy was less than $5,000, and even the 300SL Gullwing, when introduced two years later, cost less than $8,000.
The 300S, hand-built in the manner of the 500/540K prewar models that preceded it, counted royalty and movie stars among its owners. Unfortunately, the same, almost custom-built features that made it desirable for the relative few who could afford it when new are contributing to its gradual disappearance today.
As a rule of thumb, these cars cost twice as much to restore correctly as either a 300SL Gullwing or roadster. There is far more chrome, wood and leather, along with panel fits complicated enough to make a restorer crazy. The body is welded to the chassis and the car is extremely heavy, so putting it on a rotisserie is out of the question. And since these are some of the last hand-built cars Mercedes offered, the time and care required to do a quality job far surpasses its contemporaries.
And when you’re all done, the value of a 300S is much less than that of a 300SL. Consequently, few people are financially willing or able to restore them to their former glory. As the head of the Classic Car Sales department at Paul Russell and Co., I can’t even count on one hand the inquiries I’ve had over the past year from someone looking to purchase or restore a 300S, and we’ve only fully restored three over the past 25 years. In comparison, we have restored more than 50 300SLs and done partial restorations on hundreds more.
Great to look at, the 300S is heavy to drive around town. No power steering and manual four-speed transmissions can make for a long day commuting over the Laurels Grade Road in Carmel Valley. This model tends to attract an older crowd, which, frankly, isn’t the majority of the buying public anymore. Generally, anyone looking for a high-end ’50s or ’60s Mercedes is after a 300SL. The purchaser or restorer of a 300S is someone secure in his collecting and who knows exactly what he is getting, unlike first-time exotic buyers who often gravitate towards Gullwings.
This example, described as largely unrestored with a retrimmed interior, should be considered fully priced. Assuming the car is mechanically okay, that the new owner is comfortable with its current cosmetic condition and that he plans to keep it for a long time, inflation should protect his investment. If he decides to resell within a year or two, he might have to work very hard to totally recoup the amount paid. If he decides to perform a complete mechanical and cosmetic restoration to Pebble Beach standards, he should budget at least $300,000. The resultant perfect Benz should then be viewed as a four-wheeled monument to his financial success in other ventures, which allowed him to bury himself so deeply in this one.-Alex Finigan (Paul Russell and Co. is located in Essex, Massachusetts, www.paulrussell.com.)