Driving the Worlds Most Valuable Car: The Mercedes-Benz 300SLR 'Uhlenhaut' Coupé
There was nothing to suggest anything unusual. "Please call back the director of the Mercedes-Benz Museum" said the note handed to me by one of my colleagues.
The team at Mercedes-Benz Classic have been friends since I organized auctions there many years ago and they are the perfect example of a manufacturer which really supports their older cars and the enthusiasts who cherish and collect them- and I don't mean treating them as a profit centre. "Hello Simon" said the cheerful director Michael Bock when I called back. "Do you remember our last meeting, when you asked if one day you could have a closer look at your favourite 300SLR? We've talked about it here in the museum and wonder if you'd like to spend a day driving it around Italy?"
You've never seen a flight booked so quickly.
The Mercedes-Benz Museum owns almost 1,000 cars including every great model produced by the German industrial titan. Many of them- especially the legendary works 'Silver Arrow' racing cars- have never been sold to the public. There are examples of the thunderous SSK racer, the supercharged, banshee-wailing Grand Prix cars of the 1930s, and post-war F1 icons driven to victory by greats like Fangio. But of all the cars preserved in the factory collection, the Holy Grail - insured for an even greater amount than the priceless 300SLR driven by Stirling Moss to a record breaking victory on the epic 1955 Mille Miglia - is the 300SLR coupe.
Inextricably linked with '50s M-B Rennabteilung (racing department) boss Rudolf Uhlenhaut, the closed version of the SLR was conceived for a race which never took place and remained instead as a tantalizing glimpse into what might have been. Legend has it that Uhlenhaut, late for a meeting in Munich (2 ½ hours from Stuttgart by car today), climbed aboard the 300SLR and arrived at his destination an hour later. Retired employees recall that when their boss occasionally drove the SLR home, they could hear him returning the next morning when still 5km away. It's no wonder he needed a hearing aid in later life, but we think the price was worth it.
Did you know? The Mercedes-Benz 300SLR has only once been officially tested by an outsider, back in 1956, at 4am on a closed stretch of autobahn outside Munich. The Swiss motoring magazine Automobil Revue recorded a two way average top speed of 176.47mph (284km/h) and drily observed: "A touch on the starter sets the engine going with a stupefying noise...a general indescribable hammer and boom, magnified by the closed coachwork. Ear plugs are obligatory." They concluded: "This is a motorcar which we will never be able to buy and which the average driver would never buy anyway.'