In 1954, at the New York Motor Show, Max Hoffman unveiled two new Mercedes sports cars: the 190SL and the 300SL touring car. This car was adapted from the 300SL racing car for road use and its distinguishable feature was its “gullwing” doors. Although slightly more down to earth than the factory cars, the 300SL remained a car for racing enthusiasts craving acceleration. Mercedes-Benz still managed to sell 1,400 units in four years, but faced with a slump in demand in 1956, the carmaker bowed to pressure from America and brought out a convertible, the Roadster, which was unveiled in March 1957. Its most distinguishable feature is the addition of conventional doors as a result of a modification to the chassis, which was also strengthened to compensate for the loss of the roof. This splendid roadster is as alluring as the Gullwing coupe and it was aimed at a clientele more interested in touring than performance, but the already refined engineering was further improved. The engine was still fitted with direct fuel injection, capable of delivering 250 horsepower, and the last roadster models from 1962–63 were fitted with aluminum blocks and disc brakes. The variations to the rear bodywork were limited, and road holding when cornering became less… unpredictable. Owing to its suitability for driving on the road, its high level of driving comfort and its timeless rare elegance, the popularity rating of the 300SL Roadster improved constantly. The car presented here was delivered new in San Diego, CA, where it remained in the hands of the Hanes family, from 1957 to 2004, until it was bought directly from them by Mr. Van Amelsfoort. A demanding collector, Mr. Van Amelsfoort wanted a car with a known history and in good original condition, with no trace of rust or accidents. As shown in the photographs included in the file, in 2004 the car was in good condition. The owner called for a full restoration of the automobile (invoices and photos are included in the car’s file). It was restored by Star Classics, a well-known Mercedes restorer in Den Bosch, Holland. The photographic record of restoration shows that the car was completely stripped bare from the tubular chassis. The engine and transmission were reviewed (invoices), while the interior, the hood, and the hard top were redone. The car is delivered in black with red interior, which was the original color combination, and it stands today in beautiful condition. It is still equipped with a number of interesting features, including its two original suitcases, the completely restored hard top, and its original radio. Also accompanying the car are the American registration cards in the name of the Hanes family, its five original manuals, including its rare service book, its tool kit, the original user manual, and its Dutch title. This great classic, which still has its original engine, is in superb condition after its quality restoration. It is an exceptional automobile, with well-documented history, and highly desirable extra features.

SCM Analysis


This car, Lot 252, sold for $752,130, including buyer’s premium, at the Artcurial Automobiles Sur Les Champs auction in Paris on June 13, 2011.

I’ve done a number of SCM auction profiles on Mercedes-Benz cars over the years. When I accepted this assignment, I decided to go back to the SCM December 2006 issue, where I did the profile of another 1957 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Roadster that sold at RM’s 2006 auction in Monterey, CA. The headline on the cover read, “We say $400,000—The market speaks at $605k.”

That was a watershed moment for Mercedes-Benz 300SLs. I don’t think I’d ever received as many calls and comments about anything I’d ever written before. The calls ranged from people who were looking for a 300SL to owners stating that they too had always wondered why their cars seemed so undervalued in comparison to its contemporaries, particularly Ferraris.

A fun, reliable classic

At our shop, I have the unique opportunity to test drive any number of iconic European sports cars on an almost-daily basis. I’ve driven the Ferrari GTO, Ferrari 275, Aston Martin DB4, Jaguar XKSS, BMW 507 and so on. All of them are fantastic cars, and ones that any one of us “true believers” would want in our garage.

But if someone said, “Okay, pick one, and let’s drive it to San Diego today,” that one would be a 300SL—without a doubt. Why? For one reason alone: I know I’d make it there!

In the interest of full disclosure, I want to state right up front that I’m a German car guy, first and foremost. I was weaned on early VWs, and I progressed to 356s, 300SLs, and early 911s, and they are my love. In their day, there was absolutely no equal in engineering, fit, or finish.

This is my humble opinion, of course. But, because of my unique perspective, I get to see these other icons on the operating table, so to speak.
You’d be appalled at some of the things you see when you get down to the core of many cars. Most small European manufacturers farmed out a lot of their subcontract work. The chassis was built one place, the coachwork in another, and there were wildly different levels of quality.

Not so with Mercedes-Benz, as everything was done in house to exacting measures. Enough of my drum beating for 300SLs, but you get the point.
I can guarantee you that any major car collection in the world would have a 300SL Gullwing or Roadster—or maybe both. Look at any of the über-popular 1,000-mile tours around the world, and I bet that the 300SL would be the most prolific car there. Why? Because they look great, sound great, and are dead reliable.

Expensive even 50 years ago

Of the 1,858 Roadsters built, 618 were built in 1957. Production numbers progressed downwards from there, until only three were built in late 1963 and delivered in 1964. Remember, these were $11,000 cars, when a comparable 1957 Corvette listed at $3,176, and a fully optioned Corvette Fuelie would be hard pressed to make it over $4,000. These 300SLs were seriously expensive cars in their day, and that is one of the reasons you still see so many low-mileage examples. They weren’t daily drivers or second cars—but an expensive toy that got driven infrequently at best.

The pecking order for 300SL Roadsters is as follows: Disc brake/alloy engine cars are the most desired, while disc brake/cast iron engine cars trail behind. In terms of model year, 1957 Roadsters are tops, with 1958 to 1960s cars bringing up the rear. 1957 through 1960s Roadsters are essentially the same car—with minor mechanical differences—but the ‘57 brings more because it was the first year.

Soaring values—and restoration costs

In preparing for this article, I went back to the December 2006 SCM to compare figures. The $300k to $350k, 3,000-hour restoration is now closer to $400k to $450k. The hard top at $7k to $10k is now $15k to $20k, and the factory luggage that was $7k to $10k is now over $20k.

Rising costs for parts and subcontractors have made restoration prices skyrocket. And it takes about 12 to 14 months to restore a car—once you get it in the shop. We are now on an 18-month lead time for a body-off restoration.

Auction results can be very difficult way to compare values. All you need are two people who want the same thing, on the same night, to throw common sense out the window. Think of the steel-bodied Gullwing that sold at RM’s 2011 Arizona sale for $1.3m. That sale could not have been re-created the very next day in the real world. That one sale did not make steel-bodied Gullwings million-dollar cars—although I believe they will be.

Having said that, I believe this Roadster—on this night, in these colors, at this level of quality—was well bought.

When you do the math of what it would cost to buy the donor car, do the restoration with these options—and in what time frame—the buyer just saved at least a year.

(Introductory description courtesy of Bonhams.)

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