1956 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing

When Mercedes-Benz introduced their new range of cars in 1951 it included the 3-liter six-cylinder 300S model which was to become the basis of their return to motor sport in 1952. Rudi Uhlenhaut, the Competition Director, was obliged to use production components for his new sports racecar and to compensate for the weight penalty he designed an ultra-light, welded spaceframe chassis with an all-alloy coupe body.

To alleviate the access problem caused by the multi-tubed framework, he introduced the now famous “Gullwing” doors, and tilted the engine 40 degrees to obtain a low bonnet line.

The 1952 racing debut was reminiscent of the pre-war domination, winning both the 24-hour Le Mans race and the grueling Carrera Panamericana, and coming 2nd, 3rd, and 4th in the Mille Miglia.

These outstanding results plus the futuristic styling of the 300SL led Max Hoffman, the New York agent, to persuade Stuttgart that their specialized race cars should become a production Super Car. Initially this was discarded due to the complexity of producing a spaceframe chassis, and also the Competition Department was under extreme pressure designing a new Grand Prix contender.

When confirmed orders for 1,000 cars had duly arrived, they changed their mind and the 1954 New York Motor Show saw the unveiling of the new 300 SL Gullwing. It closely resembled the racecars, but with all-steel bodywork and with its appropriate road equipment and larger doors was even more stunning. It was also the first production car to have Bosch direct fuel injection with a resultant increase in power to 240 bhp.

This handsome 1956 example has been part of a select Mercedes-Benz collection. It has been well looked after having been fully restored some years ago. The Gullwing has cream painted coachwork with contrasting green leather seats, door trim, and green carpeting.

{analysis} At the Christie’s 14 July 1997 auction in London, this Gullwing failed to sell, at a slightly below market high bid of $120,000. A Gullwing in good driving condition, but far from concours, should command upwards of $140,000. Gullwings in general have a strong following in the U.S., and continue to recover from the 1991 crash at a better rate than many other cars. – ED.{/analysis}