1957 Mercedes-Benz 300 SLS Competition Roadster at Bonhams Chantilly sale

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Chassis no. 1980427500220
€1,500,000 - 2,500,000
£1,300,000 - 2,200,000

11th overall, 1st in class 1997 Carrera Panamericana,
•Star and class winner in the 1997 Carrera Panamericana
•Re-creation of Paul O'Shea's original aluminium-bodied car
•Built using factory drawings
•Completed in 1997
•Extensively campaigned in prestigious historic events


The unique Mercedes-Benz offered here was inspired by the American driver, Paul O'Shea, who enjoyed great success in sports car racing in North America throughout the 1950s. O'Shea co-drove with some of the finest drivers of his generation including Phil Hill, Dick Thompson, Zora Arkus Duntov, Augie Pabst, and Pedro Rodriguez to name but five. He competed in a wide variety of cars but overwhelmingly favoured Mercedes-Benz.

In particular, O-Shea was a huge fan of the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL, arguably the finest production sports car of its day; he built two SLS models, which were based on the SL and designed specifically for motor racing. One of thse two cars was given an aluminium body, which (among other measures) reduced the overall weight of the SLS by an amazing 337kg when compared to the stock version. Thus he created the ideal car with which to compete against the motor sporting elite.

In 1957, Paul O'Shea began racing the 300 SLS, frequently beating more powerful Ford and Chevrolet-engined American sports cars, and even European makes like Maserati, Ferrari and Aston Martin. He sat behind the wheel of his 300 SLS for 22 races and was classified as one of the top finishers in 18 of them. O-Shea's SLS became famous for its reliability and stability, even under the toughest racing conditions. Despite these successes, Mercedes-Benz stopped participating in motor sport in the USA due to cost reasons.

But the legend lives on! Almost 30 years after the SLS's unprecedented winning streak, Georg Distler, an entrepreneur from Munich, Germany, who is also a keen classic car enthusiast and racing driver, owned an original Mercedes-Benz 300 SL roadster from 1957. Bought in 1986, this car was the ideal starting point for reviving Paul O'Shea's idea and recreating a race-worthy 300 SLS with the intention to do one thing: participate in the toughest of rallies: the 'Carrera Panamericana'.

Organised for five consecutive years from 1950 to 1954, the Carrera Panamericana was an over-2,000-mile border-to-border race held on the Pan-American Highway in Mexico. Similar to the Mille Miglia and Targa Florio in Italy, it was widely held to be the most dangerous automobile race in the world, and in recent times been resurrected as a classic rally along some of the original course. In 1952, the Carrera Panamericana had been one of the events chosen to showcase Mercedes-Benz's return to international motor sport in the post-war era. Driving one of the three new W194 (300 SL) works racers entered, Karl Kling and Hans Klenk completed the challenging course at an average speed of 165.095km/h (102.59mph) to secure an historic victory for the German manufacturer.

Georg Distler's infectious enthusiasm for this major project knew no bounds and even affected Albrecht Lorenz, who had made himself a name as the 'Godfather of the 300 SL' and was well acquainted with its technology having worked as an engineer for Mercedes-Benz for over 50 years. Together, the two SL fans began researching the original plans of Paul O'Shea's car in the archives of Mercedes-Benz in Stuttgart, and as it happened luck was on their side. And so they started their ambitious project: the 1:1 plans of the original aluminium body were copied by Zagato in Italy, and under the direction of Gabriele Artom and his divinely gifted and meticulous bodywork engineers, Georg Distler turned his dream into reality. The team also included HK Engineering, which handled the technical implementation.

In addition to the aluminium body, noteworthy features include lightened seat frames, US-specification headlights, dual side-exit exhaust system, Getrag five-speed gearbox, disc brakes, electric cooling fan, oil cooler, and alternator electrics. The engine internals have been polished and balanced, and a modern safety fuel tank installed in the spare wheel recess. This mammoth project lasted for two years and was finally completed in 1997, and the accompanying Classic Data report testifies to the Mercedes' top quality construction.

Forty years after the 300 SLS's magnificent racing successes, this unique racing sports car began to make history all over again. In 1997 Georg Distler set off from the Carrera Panamericana starting line in his 300 SLS, as a private driver with no supporting service vehicle, in one of the world's toughest and most notorious races. Seven days of pure motor racing pleasure and pain, as well as 3,500 kilometres, lay ahead of him. But even before the race started, the 300 SLS had to overcome yet another challenge; just like Paul O'Shea's original car, Georg Distler's was only designed to carry a driver and therefore had no roll-bar for the co-driver. As this roll-bar was a mandatory safety requirement, the car had to be upgraded in a hurry. Unfortunately, Georg incurred a five-minute time penalty, which was added to his finishing time.

Even the roll-bar issue could not prevent Georg Distler from succeeding at the 1997 Carrera Panamericana with his 300 SLS, coming home a class winner and in 11th place overall. One of 67 finishers in a field of 92 starters, Georg Distler's 300 SLS had demonstrated the same reliability as Paul O'Shea's original and made it through the toughest days' racing without any complaints. Indeed, although Georg had a box full of spare parts with him, he took it back unused. Unfortunately, Paul O'Shea did not live long enough to witness the fantastic success of this astounding car, which was based on his unique specifications.

Georg Distler has continued to compete in the major classic car races in his Mercedes-Benz 300 SLS: Hockenheim, Nürburgring, Oschersleben, Salzburgring, A1-Ring, Gaisberg, Roßfeld, Tour de France and Tropheo Baleares, and can always be found among the leaders of the pack. A unique re-creation of a famous and highly successful Mercedes-Benz sports-racer, this magnificent 300 SLS wants for nothing except an enthusiastic new owner willing to carry on the legend.

THE CHANTILLY SALE - 10th September 2017
CHANTILLY, CHÂTEAU DE CHANTILLY