Courtesy of Bonhams

Launched in 1954, the production 300SL retained the space frame chassis and lightweight aluminum-alloy bodywork of the W194 racer, while its mechanical underpinnings, like the latter’s, owed much to the contemporary Mercedes-Benz 300 luxury saloon. A 2,996-cc overhead-camshaft inline six, the 300SL’s engine was canted at 45 degrees to achieve a low bonnet line and produced 215 brake horsepower at 5,800 rpm using Bosch mechanical fuel injection. A 4-speed, all-synchromesh manual gearbox transmitted power to the hypoid bevel rear axle. Suspension was independent all round: by wishbones and coil springs at the front, with swing axles and coil springs at the rear.

A production 300SL (W198) was tested by Road & Track magazine in 1955, accelerating from 0 to 60 mph in 7.4 seconds on its way to a top speed of 140 mph.

The 300SL remains a thoroughly practical car, as civilized in city traffic as it is exhilarating on the autobahn. By the time 300SL coupe production ceased in 1957, some 1,400 examples had found customers. Today the model is both rare and most sought after by connoisseurs of fine automobiles, as it guarantees entry into all of the most exclusive motoring venues and events: Goodwood, the Mille Miglia, Villa D’Este, Pebble Beach and so on.

This magnificent, matching-numbers Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing was completed on January 27, 1955, and shipped immediately to Mercedes-Benz Distributors Inc. in San Francisco, CA. The car stayed in the United States for most of its life and had several owners in California, including James S. Long and Jan Henner Matthias. In 2003, the Mercedes was exported to Europe, where it formed part of the collection belonging to the well-known collector Mr. Pierre Mellinger. According to Anthony Pritchard’s definitive work on the model, Gullwing, The Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Coupé, this car formed part of a Swedish collection at some time. More recently, it was owned by a collector from Monaco. The current owner bought the car in 2012.

The accompanying copy build sheet states that this Gullwing was originally finished in white/gray with blue cloth/vinyl interior, and was delivered equipped with the optional Becker Mexico radio and single external mirror. Extensively restored, it has been fully repainted in silver metallic, while the interior has been completely retrimmed in blue leather with matching carpets and beige muslin roof lining. Other noteworthy features include overhauled electrics, original white steering wheel (mildly patinated), four new Dunlop tires and an unused spare wheel.

Currently displaying a total of 81,700 miles on the odometer, the car shows no signs of corrosion or accidents and is presented in generally good condition with excellent interior and very good chrome. It has been driven only occasionally by the current private owner while being kept very well stored and serviced with the other cars in his collection. Offered with the aforementioned build sheet, two expert condition appraisals (2007 and 2014) and French Carte Grise, this most iconic of all post-war sports cars is worthy of the closest inspection.

SCM Analysis


Years Produced:1954–57
Number Produced:1,400
Original List Price:$7,463
SCM Valuation:$925,000–$1,150,000
Tune Up Cost:$2,000 to $3,000
Chassis Number Location:Left front frame (stamped) and center firewall
Engine Number Location:Right front of engine, below cylinder head
Club Info:Gullwing Group
Alternatives:1958–63 Aston Martin DB4, 1956–59 BMW 507, 1962–64 Ferrari 250 GT Lusso

This car, Lot 117, sold for $1,132,731, including premium, at Bonhams’ auction at the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart, Germany, on March 28, 2015.

Executive Editor Chester Allen asked me to review this sale and give my opinion of the state of the 300SL market.

I have written many evaluations on 300SLs, so instead of rehashing their history and singing their virtues, I will focus on the sale of this car and where I think the market is going.

A solid car

It is always risky to give an opinion on a car you’ve never seen or driven, but this seems like a solid, no-stories car. This is a complete numbers-matching car that seems to have never been apart. The original color, DB158 White Gray with Blue Tex, has been changed to DB180 Silver with Blue leather, and frankly, that has no effect on its value.

My 38 years with Paul Russell & Co. have given me a unique perspective on the 300SL timeline. When I started as a mere lad, Roadsters were selling for half of a Gullwing’s price.

That has changed dramatically over the years, and some Roadsters, especially original Rudge-wheel cars and disc brake/alloy cars, can bring as much as — or more than — their Gullwing brothers.

The 300SL, however, has always been the slow, steady appreciating one, compared with period Ferraris, for example.

300SL cars are still undervalued

If you step back and look at the chart over the past 40 years, post-war European sports cars have had an amazing ride. Sure, there have been downturns, such as 1989–90, but the upswing has usually been fast and dramatic.

I think the 300SLs have always been undervalued compared with almost all of their 1950s counterparts. For this Gullwing to sell for $1.1m while a similar-condition Ferrari 250 PF II cab can sell for almost a million dollars more is insane to me.

Production numbers aside, the looks, build quality and performance of the two cars have nothing in common. The Gullwing is so iconic — even non-car people know what it is. The car was truly leading-edge in its day.

A great investment in the long term

Now, where is it going from here? Well, that’s a good question. I have seen a slight leveling off in 300SL prices since last summer.

I get calls weekly from people asking me where the market is going. Well, if I knew exactly what the market was going to do, I’d be sitting on an island with a Caribe, instead of penning this in 40-degree weather in Massachusetts.

These cars can’t continue up forever, but they can still be a great investment. Buy the best or most original car you can find, and you’ll be fine in the long run.

Almost anything you buy today and sell within a year, you’re going to lose money on. If you keep that car five or more years, you’re going to be fine.

Certain late-1950s and early 1960s Ferraris seemingly have no end in sight. There are more people out there with fabulous wealth than there are cars. The GTO club is never going to want for members.

I’ve been advising my clients to divest themselves of their pre-war cars.

Barring some Bugattis, 8C Alfas and a few other low-production cars, that market is dwindling.

Go to a pre-war club event and look around. On average, the members are 70 years old or older.

It is difficult to find people in their 40s or younger who are fans and buyers of most pre-war cars. These cars just don’t appeal to younger collectors.

The rule of thumb I use is, “You like what you liked in high school” for the most part. I think post-war European sports cars up to the mid-1970s have another 20 to 25-plus years left in the spotlight.

I know most people reading SCM are car junkies, but I don’t see a lot of people in their 20s or 30s following in our footsteps. At events such as Pebble Beach or the Colorado Grand, there is a disproportionate number of older (my age), rich folks.

Why? Because this is a very expensive hobby to break into. We have to find a way to be more inclusive for younger enthusiasts. I hope I’m wrong, but that’s my two cents, Harry.

To get back to the 300SL market, I still think they’re undervalued, and they will continue to appreciate. I see the current leveling off as the market just catching its breath.

Oh, by the way, this Gullwing was very well bought. ♦

(Introductory description courtesy of Bonhams.)

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