The Mercedes Benz 300SL roadster was introduced in 1957 as a direct descendant of the famous Gullwing. It’s rare in automotive history that a convertible would bring about the demise of the coupe version on which it was based, however with the 300SL it was a case of succession—the roadster replaced the Gullwing. As the roadster was based on the Gullwing, there were many similarities between the two, the former encompassing several enhancements that were to increase the car’s desirability. The roadster had styling cues that changed only slightly. Larger fenders, different headlights, a smaller grille and a chrome strip down the side distinguished it from its brother. Since the 300SL convertible lacked the strength and rigidity offered by the Gullwing’s roof, engineers had to redesign the chassis to maintain structural integrity. As a consequence, the car is slightly heavier, yet has an extra 20 horsepower to help offset the difference. Aerodynamics were not as favorable, but the roadster could still nudge 155 mph. The 300SL presented here by RM Auctions is one of the rarest. Regarded as one of ten known to exist with the special high-performance engine, this car was delivered with six Rudge wheels, a Becker Mexico radio with short-wave option, engine chrome dress-up kit, factory fitted hard top, and fitted luggage. The car retains all these options except the engine dress up kit, which could be reinstalled. This car was delivered new to race driver and Mercedes-Benz enthusiast Erwin Goldschmidt. He owned the car for some time; it then passed to John Saul and Thomas Edward Carr in 1981. Carr owned the roadster until 1988, when he sold it partly restored to MercedesBenz specialist and Pebble Beach award-winning restorer Paul Russell, who planned to complete it to his own exacting specifications. However, pressure of work meant he never found the time, and he sold it to its present owner.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1957 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Roadster
Years Produced:1957–63
Number Produced:1,858
Original List Price:$11,000
SCM Valuation:$400,000–$600,000
Tune Up Cost:$5,000
Chassis Number Location: Stamped into front cross-member, and chassis plate on firewall
Engine Number Location:: Right front side of block, just below the head
Club Info:300SL Gullwing Group
Investment Grade:A

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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