1956 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing Coupe @ Bonhams Scotsdale Auction

1956 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing Coupe @ Bonhams Scotsdale Auction

Estimate: US$1,500,000 - US$1,700,000

Chassis no. 198.040.5500733 
Engine no. 198.980.5500779 
Body no. 198.040.5500712


2,996cc SOHC Inline 6-Cylinder Engine
Bosch Mechanical Fuel Injection
240bhp at 6,100rpm
4-Speed Manual Transmission
Independent Front Suspension, Rear Wing Axle, Coil Springs
4-Wheel Hydraulic Drum Brakes


*Publicly offered for the first time in nearly five decades
*Matching-numbers example, retaining original engine and bodywork
*Eligible for exclusive driving and Concours d'Elegance events around the globe
*Richly presented in silver over a red and tartan interior


THE MERCEDES-BENZ 300SL GULLWING

The immortal 300SL (for Sports Leicht) Gullwing coupe arguably competes for the title of "Greatest Sports Car of the 1950s," and surely qualifies for virtually any petrohead's Top 10 list of the greatest automobiles of all time. A period favorite of wealthy celebrities, it ranks today among the most valued and collectable sports cars ever produced and is a benchmark of the collector car hobby.


The 300SL Coupe was the direct descendant of Mercedes-Benz' Le Mans W194 competition coupe, conceived in 1952 and aimed at wresting the World Sportscar Championship from Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, and Lancia, which were dominating post-war endurance racing. Mercedes- Benz historian W. Robert Nitzke writes that company management wanted to jump back into Grand Prix racing, where it had been so successful before the war, but lacked the time necessary to design, build, and develop a new single seater for the 1954 season. Instead, Chief Engineer Fritz Nallinger suggested that the company build a new two-seat sports car utilizing the robust inline SOHC six-cylinder engine from its luxurious 300 "Adenauer" series. 


Because the engine and drivetrain were relatively heavy, the chassis would have to be extremely light. Test Department manager Rudolf Uhlenhaut, having some experience with tubular chassis design, sat down with construction engineer Joseph Müller, and laid out an extremely light (154 pounds) and rigid lattice-work chassis capable of accommodating the big in-line six. One major problem soon presented itself: there was no way to mount conventional doors without compromising the rigidity of the chassis. The solution was to cut the doors into the roof, but that meant hinging them from the top, thus giving birth to this car's timeless signature design feature.


The 300SL's first racing trial was the 1952 Mille Miglia, where Kling finished second to Giovanni Bracco's open Ferrari, while Rudolf Caracciola was fourth, the two Gullwings being split by a Lancia. The third Coupe had gone off the road early in the grueling contest. Next came the Grand Prix of Berne, where a quartet of 300SLs took the start and swept the top three positions, Caracciola having crashed in what would prove to be his last race.


Then came Le Mans, where Uhlenhaut struck fear into the competition by bringing an SL coupe fitted with a hand-operated air brake mounted on the roof. While that particular car was not raced, Mercedes would tuck the idea in its pocket for future use. After the grueling 24-hour epic, a pair of 300SLs had finished in the top two positions...and were then driven back to the factory!


Mercedes-Benz sat out the 1953 and 1954 sports car seasons, concentrating instead on developing its new Grand Prix car. But the SLs weren't done. They reappeared in 1955 as advanced, airbrake-equipped 300SLR, utilizing that feature and numerous more of the advancements successfully tested on the company's Formula One racing cars. The year would bring triumph and tragedy: 300SLRs winning at Buenos Aires, the incredibly difficult Mille Miglia—where Stirling Moss and Denis Jenkinson won at a record average speed of just under a hundred miles an hour—the Nürburgring, Spa, Zandvoort, Aintree, Kristianstad, Monza, Dundrod, and Sicily's Targa Florio. The only setback, and one that would have devastating consequences, occurred at Le Mans, where team driver Pierre Levegh and more than 80 spectators died in one of racing's worst accidents, prompting Mercedes-Benz to withdraw from racing for many years.


Max Hoffman, the influential and enterprising New York foreign car importer is credited with urging Mercedes-Benz to build a production sports car based on the 300SL racing car. The 300SL Gullwing, in final form, was unveiled at the New York International Motor Sports Show in early February 1954, and actual production began that fall. The new coupe differed slightly in appearance from the racing coupes and featured revolutionary new Bosch direct fuel injection. This prompted the factory to claim it was, "the fastest German production sports car." Between 1954 and 1957, a total of 1,400 Gullwings were delivered to eager purchasers, and in 1957, the elegant and improved 300SL Roadster appeared. These proved to be even more successful from a sales standpoint, with 1,858 units produced.

THE CAR OFFERED

Completed to special order by the Mercedes-Benz works in September of 1955, this marvelous Gullwing coupe is a long-term California car offered publicly for the first time in nearly fifty years. According to information compiled by Eric LeMoine for the 300SL Gullwing Register, chassis 5500733 was originally finished in white (DB 50 G) over red leather (1079) and delivered to the USA via Max Hoffman's New York distributorship. In the Spring of 1978, Mr. George Harrison of Arizona sold 5500733 to Harvey F. Wilson, a California-based car collector, restorer, and enthusiast who owned numerous cars throughout his lifetime, though he rightfully treated the Gullwing as if it was part of the family, keeping it as a focal point of his collection as other cars came and went. As offered, this 300SL features a well-preserved older refinish in the quintessential shade of silver over a red leather interior accented with wonderful Ulster Tartan plaid seat inserts. The color-keyed wheels with polished rims wear Michelin radials for surefooted handling in a range of conditions, and with its long history of careful maintenance throughout the late Mr. Wilson's ownership, driving enjoyment is assured.


The cabin is trimmed in red leather as originally equipped and the tartan plaid seat inserts add a welcome contrast and dose of character. Original details include the ivory-colored steering wheel and shift knob, and a lovely Blaupunkt AM radio. The VDO gauges have well-preserved original faces behind excellent clear glass lenses, and the chrome switches and controls are in fine order. Mercedes' superlative fuel-injected 2,996 cc inline-six sits in a tidy and properly detailed engine bay, with factory-correct finishes, fittings, and decals. Records on file show the engine was completely rebuilt in 2006-2007 by the respected specialist Steve Marx of Marx Mercedes Service. At the same time, Marx rebuilt the gearbox, replaced the clutch, overhauled the injection pump, rebuilt the brakes, and replaced various bushings and other items. Per the 300SL Gullwing Register, it retains its numbers-matching engine block and the chassis number tag, engine tag, firewall stamp, and other key ID numbers are visible.


Offered publicly for the first time in nearly five decades, chassis 5500733 represents a unique opportunity to acquire a cherished Gullwing coupe in marvelous condition. Eligible for the world's premier motoring events, this 300SL is rich with character and beckons the driver to the open road.

Scottsdale Auction
25 Jan 2024, 10:00 MST

Viewings
Scottsdale, The Westin Kierland Resort & Spa
23 January 2024, 09:00 - 18:00 MST
24 January 2024, 09:00 - 18:00 MST
25 January 2024, 09:00 - 10:00 MST


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