Mercedes-Benz returned to postwar competition in 1952, fielding two of its new 300SL (W194) sports cars in the Mille Miglia. The pair finished a creditable 2nd and 4th overall in this most difficult of events, and the promising start was followed up by a win in the challenging La Carrera Panamericana.
The Works first raced the 300SL (Sport Leicht) in open form, but for the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June, a trio of “gullwing”-doored coupes was entered. High sills were a feature of the multi-tubular spaceframe chassis, and while access was not a problem in the open car, the coupe bodywork required innovative thinking, hence the doors. Karl Kling and Hans Klenk duly brought their “Silver Arrow” home in first place, and the 300SL was on its way to becoming a motorsport legend.
Launched in 1954, the production 300SL retained the space-frame chassis and lightweight aluminum-alloy bodywork of the W194 racer, while its mechanical underpinning, like the latter’s, owed much to the contemporary Mercedes-Benz 300 luxury saloon. The 2,996-cc overhead-camshaft inline-6 cylinder engine was canted at 45 degrees to achieve a low hood line and produced 215 hp 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 around-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. Half expecting the long-awaited car to provide an anticlimax, R&T were delighted to find it “far beyond our wildest expectations. In fact, we can state unequivocally that in our opinion the 300SL coupe is the ultimate in an all-around sports car. It combines more desirable features in one streamlined package than we ever imagined or hoped would be possible. Performance? It accelerates from a dead start to 100 mph in just over 17 seconds. Dual purpose? A production model 300SL can make a very acceptable showing in any type of sports car competition. Yet the car is extremely tractable and easy to drive in traffic. Comfort? The fully enclosed 300SL is the most comfortable (and safe) high-speed ‘cross-country’ car built today.”
A 300SL roadster featuring conventional doors was first exhibited at the Geneva Salon in May 1957, and, although built in greater numbers, has never matched the Gullwing for desirability. Its racing parentage notwithstanding, the 300SL remains a thoroughly practical car, as civilized in city traffic as it is exhilarating on the autostrada. By the time 300SL coupe production ceased in 1957, some 1,400 examples had found customers. Today, the model is both rare and sought-after.
This 1956 300SL Gullwing Coupe, chassis number 6500274, was sold new in Paris, France, on November 13, 1956, and from 1979 until the present (2008) has been in the hands of only one owner. The car has covered just 52,313 kilometers from new and in 1984 (at 51,712 kilometers) underwent substantial mechanical refurbishment that included overhauling the cylinder head, brakes, starter, and cooling system. The silver body and chocolate leather interior, with its fine patina, are in original condition and the car is said to run well. It is offered with Dutch import papers (1979) and an original set of instruction books.