1956 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing
“When it was first announced by Mercedes-Benz, the production 300SL Coupe was a startling car built to the German concern’s customarily startling standards, but above all what left the general public most open-mouthed about the new car was its upward-opening Gullwing doors…!” - Motors, 1963.
Tested by Road & Track magazine in 1955, the 300SL accelerated from 0-60mph in 7.4 seconds, going on to achieve a top speed of 140mph - outstanding figures for its day. Half expecting the long-awaited 300SL to provide an anti-climax, R&T were delighted to find the new car, “far beyond our wildest expectations. In fact, we can state unequivocally that in our opinion the 300SL coupé is the ultimate in an all-round sports car. It combines more desirable features in one streamlined package than we ever imagined or hoped would be possible. Performance? It accelerates from a dead start to 100mph in just over 17 seconds. Dual purpose? A production model 300SL can make a very acceptable showing in any type of sports car competition. Yet the car is extremely tractable and easy to drive in traffic. Comfort? The fully enclosed 300SL is the most comfortable (and safe) high-speed ‘cross-country’ car built today.”
Shipped from the factory in Stuttgart on 5th September 1956 finished in Fire Engine Red (DB534) with black leather upholstery (953), this 300SL Gullwing is a late model incorporating 61 of the 62 detail changes which came in during Gullwing production. It was owned by US collector James Leake in Oklahoma- we do not know if he was the original purchaser- and according to the Gullwing Register was auctioned in June 1978. Yes, Gullwings were collectable even back then. We have known the car since the late 1980s when it was imported to the UK by Coys of Kensington and sold to Dorset-based Sidney Cavner, who carried out extensive restoration work as attested by a plaque in the engine bay. The next owner, from early 1991, was Spanish gentleman Jose Carbo, of Chelsea, London SW3, who entrusted well-known British 300SL specialists Rose & Young (Ron Waghorn) with maintenance work for which copies of bills are available.
In 2000 Mr Carbo entered the Gullwing for Bonhams’ Les Grandes Marques à Monaco auction which we organised, and there it was acquired by the present owner, an Italian collector who maintains a private museum of some 30 classics which are looked after by a full-time mechanic. Since 2000 servicing has been done in-house and the Gullwing has seen very little use, primarily the occasional local rally. The car is still UK registered and we are arranging for it to be returned to the UK for servicing by renowned expert Kevin O’Keeffe (recommended by British 300SL guru Martin Cushway), MoT testing and renewal of its annual road tax. The illustrations you see here were taken before the work was undertaken.
The Gullwing is still finished in its original colour scheme and chassis, engine and body numbers match those with which the car left the factory. A rare Nardi steering wheel of the type offered as an option in period is fitted, as are the undertrays which often go missing over the years. This is not a show car but one which would suit an enthusiast looking for a good basis for driving and future improvement.