1954 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Coupe, Lot 284 at RM Auctions Phoenix, sold for $544,500, including premium
A full-bore restoration project, an all-out bidder’s war and a nicely restored car blow the Gullwing market around like desert sand
Chassis number: 4500049
Engine number: 4500052
The prices for 300SL Gullwings were all over the map in Arizona this year, and the money paid for four very different cars ranged from $1,375,000 to $544,500, quite a gap even for Gullwings; the price paid for the most expensive car had gearheads buzzing all over Scottsdale and Phoenix. I’ll take a look at each car and explain why each car brought a particular amount.
The Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing is one of the gold standards for vintage car collectors, so it seems like a good idea to examine the four cars sold during the January 22–23 weekend in Phoenix and Scottsdale. I personally inspected the cars at Gooding and RM, and I am famililar with the Russo and Steele car.
Let’s take a look at each car, and try to determine why the market valued them the way it did.
This car was built on October 26, 1954. It was DB 50 White with 1079 Red leather. It was described in the auction catalog as a repaint in the original color with an original interior showing nice patina. As appealing as that sounds, it is a bit incorrect.
For one thing, as Chassis 4500049, this 300SL would have been the next to last car built with the long shifter that came out under the dashboard. This car had the later shifter mounted between the seats. This requires filling the hole in the transmission cover and drilling a new hold in the driveshaft tunnel.
In addition, the leather and carpet were in a condition too nice to be original, especially considering how rough the rest of the car was. There were also some incorrect screws securing the leather at the B-pillar.
One lap around this car told me everything I needed to know. It had poor paint, the hood was flexing at the mounting point for the brace, and the driver’s door could not close because the striker and door latch were out of alignment. The vacuum brake booster had been modified for the disc brake conversion, and the gas tank had been replaced with a fuel cell.
This would be one very expensive restoration. A Gullwing restoration today takes about 3,000 hours and costs around $400k. It is dollars times hours—plus parts and subcontracting. There is no secret formula; you pay what it takes to do it right. This car was ridden hard and put away wet. When you take into consideration all the missing original parts, there is no way a restoration could be done for $400k.
This car really makes the point that you are always better off paying up to get a better car. It made the car at the Gooding sale look like a much better deal. I’d call this well sold.
1956 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Coupe, Lot 19, Gooding Scottsdale, sold for $858,000, including buyer’s premium
Chassis number: 6500037
Engine number: 6500039
This car was built on Feb 20, 1956. It was DB 353 Light Blue metallic with 333 Blue leather. This was my favorite Gullwing of the weekend. An original Rudge wheel car—equipped with the higher-horsepower NSL engine and fitted luggage, coupled with long-term Southern California ownership.
The body was fantastic, with no rust or accident issues, great gaps, and it had that tinny sound you get from tapping on a Bondo-free body. The color scheme was great, and it had just benefited from new paint, interior, and engine bay detailing from Hjeltness Restoration. It doesn’t get much better that that.
The bidding was active, then stalled for a while, and the car finally sold for a number slightly higher than I had predicted. This is a superb car that may be a little ahead of the market, but it is worth it. It is always wise to pay up for the best. It will look like a huge bargain compared to the prior Gullwing after its restoration. Well bought and sold.
1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Coupe, Lot S724, Russo and Steele Scottsdale, sold for $704,000, including buyer’s premium
Chassis number: 5500791
Engine number: 5500803
This car was built on Oct. 10, 1955, in DB 50 White with 1060 Cream leather. Although I did not get to see this car in person in Arizona, I am familiar with it, and I feel comfortable commenting about it.
I’m a bit confused about the car’s color, as it is described online as being painted dark Pewter Gray metallic, yet the photos appear to be light green metallic, which is the car I have seen before.
This car was restored in 2006 by Mark Passarelli, with mechanicals by Bill Richardson. Both guys are known professionals who do quality work. It is a very attractive color combo coupled with plaid seats, reproduction Rudge wheels and luggage. The fits and finishes were all very nice. In all, this was a very nicely turned out Gullwing, and I would call it well bought.
1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Coupe, Lot 249, RM Auctions Phoenix, sold for $1,375,000, including buyer’s premium
Chassis number: 5500601
Engine number: 5500622
This car sold for a phenomenal amount of money. It was built on Aug 6, 1955, in DB 50 White with 333 Blue leather. It is now finished in anthracite gray metallic with dark red leather, reproduction Rudge wheels, reproduction luggage, and an odd-looking 4-spoke wooden steering wheel.
Although it looked good in the catalog, it didn’t impress me as much in person as the blue car at Gooding. There were lots of incorrect details—such as the unpainted valve cover—that you would not expect to see on a professional restoration. It appeared to me to be a car done specifically to be auctioned off. There was plenty of pizzazz, but the car was lacking in the details.
So, why did this car sell for such an astounding price?
The room buzzed when multiple European phone bidders got into a battle for the car, and money was no object. It is a seller’s—and auctioneer’s—dream when something like this happens. There is no rationalization for it; it is like the $99k 1966 VW Camper that sold at Gooding’s Pebble Beach auction a few years ago.
The sky-high price paid for this car certainly does not reflect the market for Gullwings in any way, and it would be impossible for me to re-create the sale the very next day. Auctions can be unpredictable, especially when bidders determined to buy a particular car start firing thousand-dollar bullets. Who knew? I’d call this extremely well sold.
Four Gullwings, ranging from a worn-out restoration project to an over-the-top sales result representing an auction dream come true. As I stated above, my favorite car was the Gooding 300SL. It had it all: good bones, all-original components, great colors and a longtime ownership history. You can never pay too much for that. Well, in retrospect, you can pay too much for anything, but the new owner of this Gullwing did just fine.