1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing

The Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing

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.

This car

This very striking, ‘matching numbers’ Gullwing was delivered new in August 1955 via Belgian Mercedes-Benz agent IMA of Brussels. The factory data card shows the original exterior colour was ‘Elfenbein’ (ivory, code DB 608) with contrasting DB 1073 green leather upholstery (cloth was standard), both marked ‘special order’ and a rare combination. Screen washers were specified and 1kg of spare ‘DB 608’ paint supplied, the finish of the car being listed as ‘special high gloss paint’. 

The Gullwing Register shows later owners as George T Mayer of Mount Clemens, Michigan and a Mr Hertel in Cannes, France, by which time it was fitted with handsome and expensive Rudge-type knock-off wheels and registered ‘814 BJY 06’. In 2006 Swiss collector Pierre Mirabaud, chairman of the eponymous private bank, decided to acquire a Gullwing with which to take part in historic events and his search eventually narrowed down to this car. Following purchase it was imported to Switzerland, all import taxes being paid (receipts available) and ‘gone through’ completely to ensure mechanical reliability and first class cosmetic presentation. Detailed invoices on file total CHF.207,697 (circa €200,000) including mechanical overhaul by Mercedes-Benz in Stuttgart, repainting and retrimming in the original colours in Switzerland and attending to any other faults found. Since then the car has completed two trouble-free Mille Miglias and other, shorter events.

In mid-2014 it passed from Mr Mirabaud to another Swiss collector, since when it has not been used due to business commitments. The owner has therefore decided to part with the car and as part of our mandate Kidston SA is supervising a mechanical service with HK Engineering in Germany before sale.

This 300SL Gullwing is offered with copy factory data cards, history file, numerous invoices for work carried out, copy 300SL instruction manual, FIVA passport (‘A/3’ category, ie restored to original specification), fitted luggage in matching green leather, BTI certificate allowing importation to the EU via Great Britain at just 5% and, mostly importantly for any Swiss buyer, Swiss registration papers. 

If there is one classic which is capable of satisfying every demand: appreciation (both aesthetic, dynamic and financial); useability (fast, reliable and fun) and eligibility (Mille Miglia, Tour Auto, Colorado Grand, Villa d’Este, Pebble Beach, Goodwood…the list goes on) then this is it. Once a classic, always a classic, and this well-sorted example will stand out from the rest.

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