Famous for embodying revolutionary and race-winning advances – the first true spaceframe, petrol-injection in a production car and gullwing doors – the 300SL gullwing remains a sports car star and probably the most desirable post-war Mercedes. Yet for a car-maker desperate to recover from the war, it was conceived as a fun-raiser, even a stop-gap car. Fortunately for posterity, it was designed by Rudolf Uhlenhaut, Damiler-Benz’s brilliant former racing manager, who had already evolved many advanced ideas when Mercedes decided to return to racing in 1951.
Uhlenhaut seized his opportunity and, in a remarkably short time, a radically new design with a tubular spaceframe and gullwing doors (necessary to maintain high-still body rigidity) was fielded at the 1952 Mille Miglia, a factory 3-litre, six-cylinder sport racer. The result was a stunning 2-3-4 finish, then 1-2-3 at Berne and then an incredible 1-2 at Le Mans…Mercedes was back, a legend had been created.
The 300SL offered tremendous speed on the straights, leaving Jaguars in their wake, plus challenging handling (due to the rear swing axles) and great reliability. The spaceframe was light and strong, and it had all round independent suspension with coil springs and servo-assisted drum-brakes. Three final drive ratios were offered and in standard form it was capable of 166mph and acceleration to 60mph in 8.5 seconds.
The road cars (Coupes produced from 1954-1957 and Roadsters from 1957-1963) were launched at the New York Auto Show in early 1954 and in England 1955 (where the price was an enormous £4,400). With those looks, and following those race car victories, the new models created a sensation. The series production of the 300SL Coupe, or ‘Gullwing’ began in August 1954 at the Sindelfingen Plant. Many options were available, most of them to increase performance. The lovely example here was a special order completed in late June 1955 in Fire Engine Red with black leather interior and it was soon shipped over to the distributor in Los Angeles. It has five American owners before coming to Europe for a full mechanical restoration at Mercedes. Today this gullwing is still sued on a regular basis and is no stranger to touring in Europe during the summer months, enjoyed by all the family.