1954 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing

It's hard to think of any other car which evokes more appreciative 'oohs' and 'aahs' from bystanders as it passes- or stops to allow passengers out- nor more dinner party recognition ("isn’t that the one with the doors that open upwards?") than the Mercedes-Benz 300SL, or 'Gullwing' as it is popularly known.

To listen to some people you’d think that every car over 15 years old was a 'classic', but age has nothing to do with it. Cars do not become classics, either they are or they aren’t – a true classic has star quality from day one. There has never been a time when a Mercedes-Benz Gullwing has failed to turn heads; like royalty, it was born to prestige and respect.

Those 'gullwing' doors helped, of course. When pictures flashed around the world of Hermann Lang climbing out of his car after winning Le Mans in 1952, they could not have created a greater sensation had they been of a flying saucer. In fact, those doors were merely an expedient because the 300SL's true spaceframe chassis and high sills necessitated hinging the doors on the roof. Such was the stir they caused, however, that the organisers of the Mille Miglia (where 300SLs took second and fourth) tried to ban them.

The 300SL was originally created to prepare Mercedes-Benz for a return to Formula One and there was no intention of production, until American importer Max Hoffman ordered a thousand. The Gullwing's incredible impact is more remarkable considering the cars had appeared only four times (as well as Le Mans they won the Carrera Panamericana).

As soon as the 300SL entered production it became the most desirable road car in the world. Apart from the fact that its performance blew the opposition into the weeds, nothing could compete with its kerbside presence. On top of that it had Mercedes-Benz build quality and reliability and was a thoroughly practical car. You could load a full complement of luggage, edge into morning rush hour traffic in any capital city in Western Europe without worrying about the clutch or the engine overheating, and arrive at Monte Carlo in the evening still fresh enough to play the tables.

Without modifying it in any way, you could also compete in international motor racing. A 300SL was fifth overall, and first in class, in the 1955 Mille Miglia and another won the 1956 Tour de France.

Supplied new to the USA, this early production 300SL is recorded in the Gullwing Group register as originally belonging to John Thiessen of Lincoln, Nebraska followed by Steven D. Pasteiner of Rochester, Michigan and finally Peter Thomas of Arizona before returning to Europe. It has just finished a complete, 'no-expense-spared' restoration with renowned experts Kienle in Germany which has lasted over two years. The specification includes DB 40 black paintwork with cream leather upholstery (code 1079), fitted luggage, electronic ignition, improved clutch and injection pump, Bosch H4 headlights and uprated cooling fan. The car will be delivered to the new owner in much the same condition as when Mercedes-Benz handed the car to the original purchaser in 1954, although it will drive even better.

The Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing is probably the classic car with the widest international market and broadest eligibility for historic events: the Mille Miglia, Tour Auto, Colorado Grand and countless others all welcome this distinctive 1950s supercar. A well set-up Gullwing is equally a great road car, useable in modern traffic without fuss and capable of long distance trips for two people and their luggage. They have never been intended for the masses, and are not inexpensive to maintain, but if looked after properly they give years of trouble free enjoyment. Given that the cost of a comprehensive restoration with one of the top 300SL specialists (and none is better known than Kienle) has now reached well over €300,000 plus tax (usually another 20%) one can see the attraction of a perfect example which has already been through this expensive and time consuming process. Highly recommended.