Karissa Hosek ©2021, courtesy of RM Sotheby’sp
The Alloy Gullwing’s extremely limited availability and special competition-bred configuration is equaled by its historical significance within the pantheon of post-war sports-car designs. The chance to acquire such a storied car is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for most, and this important offering will surely engage all the world’s preeminent collectors who have yet to experience this exclusive model for themselves. All the most important race victories achieved by the 300SL were, in fact, secured by one of these lightweight competition specimens of the model. Distinctive in many ways from their standard steel-bodied brethren, of which 1,371 examples were produced, these incredibly rare and historically significant Alloy coupes were purpose-built for competition. The Alloy Gullwing was the brainchild of Mercedes-Benz Chief of Engineering Dr. Fritz Nallinger, who proposed a special 300SL for retail to privateers at a board meeting in late February 1954. These coupes had their body panels and welded body shell rendered, uniquely, in aluminum. Excepting the windshield, all cabin windows were replicated in Plexiglas. These changes resulted in an overall weight reduction of 209 pounds, thus making the Alloy Gullwing especially competitive against British and Italian sports cars such as the Aston-Martin DB3S and Maserati A6GCS, as well as Ferrari’s 750 Monza and 250 GT. These special cars were also outfitted with race-bred features including the high-performance NSL engine, which utilizes a competition camshaft, higher compression, unique butterfly throttle valve and recalibrated fuel distributor to deliver in excess of 215 horsepower. Rudge center-mount wheels came standard, as did special vented front brake drums. Finally, the suspension was revised with exclusive springs and shocks that provided better high-speed handling. With both a significant decrease in overall weight and increase in responsiveness, the improved performance of these Alloy cars is instantly discernible from behind the wheel. Mercedes-Benz greenlit production for February 1955 at the added cost of 5,000 DM per unit; factory records show just 29 examples were made available to privateers (24 in 1955, five in 1956). Only very few of the world’s most significant collections currently contain an example of this important competition-bred model — largely owing to its extreme scarcity and remarkable usability. Secondary-market availability is further diminished by owners who seem to never part with these prized chassis.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Alloy Gullwing
Years Produced:1955–56
Number Produced:29
SCM Valuation:$3,015,000
Tune Up Cost:$1,500
Chassis Number Location: Front left of chassis frame and on ID tag on bulkhead
Engine Number Location:Stamped and matching ID tag on right front corner of engine block
Club Info:Gull Wing Group
Alternatives:1954–55 Ferrari 250 Europa GT, 1956–59 Ferrari 250 GT Tour de France, 1954–56 Maserati A6G/54 2000
Investment Grade:A

This car, Lot 159, sold for $6,825,000, including buyer’s premium, at RM Sotheby’s Phoenix, AZ, auction on January 27, 2022.

When it comes to Alloy Gullwings, this particular example was one of the best. Known as the “Hyatt Cheek car,” due to his long-term stewardship, its reputation is sterling. While all Alloy Gullwings remain highly sought after, this one boasts an unusual level of originality, making it even rarer. The presence of such a lauded car on the open market is undoubtedly an opportunity. This is only the third example to come to auction since 2012.

A confluence of events

This car was easily the best thing on offer in Arizona. While the bar was not particularly high this year, the recent market strength led to great expectations for this lot. RM Sotheby’s stated in its print auction catalog that the seller had been guaranteed a minimum price (by either the auction house or possibly in conjunction with a third party).

A car with the right credentials, the headliner of a high-profile auction, it was tagged with a pre-sale estimate of $7m–$9m, a figure in line with recent private sales. Alas, despite this record $6.8m result, the sale price still fell shy of that mark. What happened?

Despite the rarity of such a car on the market, two Alloy Gullwings sold privately in 2021. The first was a relatively standard restored example and the other was the better-known “Santa Monica garage find.” Both cars sold above the $7m level (the latter’s price supposedly beginning with an eight).

These private results certainly make our subject car appear exceptionally well bought.

Auction data seem to justify this sentiment as well. Since the start of the year, we’ve seen a boom in 300SL pricing. First, in Kissimmee in January, Mecum hammered a Gullwing for astonishing money ($2,640,000). Then Bring a Trailer sold the very average IMS Museum Gullwing for nearly $1.5m. At the moment, a Gullwing, commonly a bellwether of the larger market, seems quite hard to value. Speculation aside, the model is up approximately 30% over 2021 prices.

Big data

As for Alloy Gullwings, there has always been a generally agreed-upon and data-driven difference in price over a standard example. That difference is usually a factor of four or five times — a truly astonishing figure given that the two cars are virtually identical in appearance. With 300SLs seeming to be January 2022’s “flavor of the month,” it’s interesting to see that the most desirable iteration of all underperformed in what should have been an ideal setting.

The 300SL Gullwing is one of, if not the most iconic collector car of all time, and given the production numbers, they trade with a frequency and at a price point that seems rather easily absorbed by the market. On the other hand, buyers for this $7m–$9m Alloy Gullwing are equally as rare as the model itself.


Which leads us to a broader topic: Many of the greatest (and most valuable) collector cars have changed hands in the past decade, and a large majority of those cars came from very long-term ownership. The trend today is that many of these same truly great cars resurface to the market in short order.

As RM Sotheby’s stated, the 300SL “has been a closely guarded prize and the centerpiece of [the consignor’s] outstanding collection.” The car was acquired by the seller just eight years prior, according to the catalog. By comparison, Hyatt Cheek owned the car for 32 years.

To me this highlights a shift in collector behavior, something that has changed certainly since 1982, but even perhaps since 2014. I don’t mean to be naïve, as the past decade’s change in prices has had a huge effect on the look and shape of collections. That said, the great cars (like the Hyatt Cheek car) rarely changed hands. Collecting was a waiting game, particularly if you wanted the best.

Timing is everything

The real crux of the issue is that when a car reappears on the market in a relatively short period of time, we tend to see it as a strike against the car. When nothing (or little) about the car has changed, it seems unfair not to consider the human element. Regardless, increased turnover can have a negative effect on pricing, if only because it changes the “once-in-a-lifetime” dynamic.

With our subject Alloy Gullwing, I’m sure the fact that two cars sold privately just this past year, and several others in the years prior, made an already small buyer pool that much smaller. That created the opportunity to purchase such an outstanding car at a discount. The buyer ended up with an exceptional example for a very fair price. ♦

(Introductory description courtesy of RM Sotheby’s.)

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