This 1957 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Roadster sold for $242,000, including buyer’s premium, at the Gooding & Company sale in Scottsdale, Arizona, on January 17, 2009.
With some Roadsters selling well over the $500k mark, at first glance this one seemed quite reasonably priced. However, this 300SL was no bargain. Here’s why.
Usually when a car like this comes out of the estate of a long-time owner-in this case over 30 years-buyers are apt to pay a little more than the current market. Everybody likes the story, and the fact that VanKregten also owned a California Spyder… you knew this was a “car guy” and he had some great stuff. Unfortunately, that was not the case here.
Rode hard and put away wet
I attended the auction and had a chance to inspect this car. From ten feet away, you could tell it had been rode hard and put away wet. After working on these cars for over 30 years, it doesn’t take me long to assess one. Normally most cars have at least one thing going for them-great mechanicals, great body, great interior, low miles-something that makes you feel comfortable in taking the extra time to check it out further.
This car was really lacking any of the above. It needed everything. It was probably purchased by Mr. VanKregten when it was just a used-up old sports car, and, as evidenced by the rest of his collection, he did very little in the way of preservation.
As it hasn’t run in many years, there was no way to ascertain its mechanical condition. Did the engine turn over? Who knows?
The interior looked like it had been done by an amateur who was used to doing 1950s diners. Who would do that to a car like this? It wasn’t until I removed a seat cushion that I discovered it didn’t have its original seats, but two crudely constructed fiberglass shells. Where could the seats have gone? In 30-plus years, I’ve never seen a 300SL Roadster missing its seats. I’ve also never seen a set of seats for sale. Where would you find them and at what cost?
Then I thought, if something like this is missing, what else might be gone that I can’t see? While going over the car and doing the math in my head, I knew I wouldn’t be bidding on it.
The numbers don’t add up, especially now
After the auction a couple of people came up to me and wondered why I let this “bargain” slip by me. But the numbers don’t add up, especially in these economic times. You’re starting out at around $245k once the car is delivered to our shop. Restoration takes a year, and parts and subcontractor costs have risen sharply. What used to be $300k-$325k for an every-last-nut-and-bolt restoration is now closer to $400k at any of the known restoration shops.
Who wants to tie up that kind of money in a changing market? You can buy a fully restored disc-brake Roadster for $600k today and not have to wait twelve months. It just reinforces my mantra: “Overpay for the best, and you’ll always be happy.”
Of course there is a reason that buying this 1957 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Roadster would make sense. That’s if someone has “always wanted to restore a 300SL” and has lots of time and money on his hands. In that case, I would chalk the costs up to personal entertainment, and not worry about it. But for anyone who was thinking he could buy this car, take it to a specialist shop, and come out ahead, I’d call this one a financial black hole, and well sold. I can only assume the buyer knew exactly what he was getting, wasn’t afraid of the project ahead, and had his own reasons for embarking on it. I wish him well.