When Mercedes-Benz made their welcome return to motor racing in 1952, they did so with a stunning looking space-framed Gullwing 300SL sports racing Coupe. The results achieved that year were noteworthy, including winning both the 24 Hours Le Mans race and the grueling Carrera Panamericana, and coming in 2nd, 3rd and 4th in the Mille Miglia. At the end of the season these cars were officially retired, but in the meantime their enthusiastic New York agent was trying to persuade the factory to turn their racing sports car into a production super car.
After initially discarding the idea, they reversed their decision upon receipt of one thousand orders, and the 1954 Motor Show saw the launch of the 300SL Gullwing sports road car.
It was a sensation, and closely resembled the race cars, excecpt the all alloy bodywork was now steel, and the 40-degree slanted 3-liter six-cylinder engine had Bosch direct fuel injection which increased the power to 240 bhp. These cars had race performance and at times needed fast reflexes to control them, the swing-axle rear suspension and drum brakes requiring considerable respect at ‘on the limit’ driving.
In three years, 1,400 coupes had been hand-built, and this encouraged Mercedes-Benz to introduce an improved version that was more habitable for the owner and easier for M-B to produce.
Thus, the 300SL Roadster replaced the Gullwing in May 1957, providing conventional doors and a proper luggage-carrying trunk. By offering a stylish roadster, M-B hoped to sell more cars in sunny California, that being their best market.
The handling of the roadster was improved by a low-pivot rear suspension incorporating a transverse compensating spring. With its powerful engine, the roadster could reach speeds in excess of 150 mph. With brake-drum size limited to 26 cm due to the 15-inch wheels, braking problems at high speed became evident. This was resolved when the last series of roadsters were rigged with four Dunlop disc brakes.
The car shown here was offered at the Christie’s Auction of Magnificent Marques in Monaco on 6 May 1991. In its gleaming original Mercedes Blue with sumptuous tan interior, it was one of the very rare final evolution models, with an all-alloy engine and disc brakes. Introduced in late 1961, only 209 of this series were built.
This is the 36th car produced of this final series of 209, and was delivered to its first and only registered owner, the world renowned Canadian pianist Oscar Peterson, hence the front plate “Oscar,” in July 1962, just six months before production ceased. S/N 3085 was totally original and had a full service record confirming its odometer reading of just under 50,000 miles.
The car was bid to and not sold at $237,690.
It was previously featured on the cover of April 1990 Classic Cars magazine with a full road test report which summarized by saying “there must be few cars on earth that are so wonderfully charismatic, so utterly bewitching or so patently desirable.”
There are a fair number, in fact some say too many, of 300SL coupes and roadsters on the market at the current time. The primary determinate of value is condition. Both roadsters and coupes in true 95-plus point concours condition will command upwards of $200,000 in the proper selling venue. 80-point nicely restored cars that are “drivers” bring $125,000 to $150,000.
With such a wide range of price, one would be well advised to decide upon the ultimate use to which the 300SL is going to be put before venturing out to make a purchase. Just as there is no logic in acquiring a concours-prepared vehicle for vintage event use, nor is there any sense in buying a driver with an eye towards entering it in cosmetic competition.
Information courtesy Christie’s Auction House.