“John Wyer and I decided that, given suitable
circumstances and also allowing for the growth of tyres, which he tells me
makes quite a difference after 100mph, a maximum of 145mph could be attained” –
confirmed 300 SL addict and well-known team owner Rob Walker writing in Motor
Sport about Gullwing experiences shared with the Aston Martin racing team
manager, then at the wheel of David Brown’s own car
Developed in the
uncompromising arena of international motor racing and instantly recognisable
today, the immortal 300 SL Gullwing was the apogee of automotive technology of
the time: the best of the best.
The Mercedes-Benz 300 SL
When the Stuttgart Titan
returned to motor racing in 1952 it did so with futuristic sports cars that
looked as if they’d just landed from another galaxy. The Typ W194
300 SL was entered in five races that year and won four: victorious at Bern,
the Nürburgring, Le Mans and the Mexican Carrera Panamericana, only just beaten
on the Mille Miglia by an inspired Bracco at the wheel of a Ferrari.
Thanks to a spaceframe
chassis that ran level with the driver’s waist, the 300 SL Coupé needed
special doors, hinged at the roof and meeting the sills halfway up the side of
the car. The ‘Gullwing’ was born.
Work was proceeding apace
on the company’s challenger for 1953, a more svelte Gullwing racing car with a
now fuel-injected motor, when Mercedes received an urgent request from its East
Coast US agent, Max Hoffman. The factory saw the new car as a stop-gap before
the straight-eight racers of 1954; Hoffman believed it could be marketed as an
ultra-expensive roadgoing sports car.
Hoffman’s initial guarantee
for 500 300 SLs clinched it. Rather than building the planned five specialised
racing cars for the 1953 Mille Miglia, Mercedes productionised the prototype
and the 300 SL was launched to the public at the February 1954 New York International
Motor Sports Show.
Until final deliveries were
made in early 1957, when the 300 SL roadster replaced it, 1,400 300 SL coupés
found homes in the garages of the world’s wealthiest drivers. They were also
raced and rallied hard by the most talented all-round professionals of the day.
Stand-out Gullwing pilots included Olivier Gendebien (winner of the 1955 Alpine
and Liège-Rome-Liège rallies), Count Wolfgang von Trips (who at one point led
the 1956 Mille Miglia) and of course Stirling Moss, who finished second overall
on the 1957 Tour de France.
Many sports cars, by virtue
of their performance, are described as ‘racing cars for the road’. The
meticulously built Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing, with searing acceleration and
easy 130mph+ performance on everyday highways, really was one.
This Motor Car
David Brown, the head of
the industrial conglomerate that produced gears and tractors in Huddersfield,
and expensive motor cars in Feltham and later Newport Pagnell, was a discerning
judge of the finer things in life. He was a keen fox-hunting man, expert
wildfowl shot and enthusiastic sailor at the helm of a powerful motor yacht
operating in the Solent or on the Côte d'Azur. His purchase of Aston Martin and
Lagonda shortly after WW2 allowed him to indulge his passion for fast and
expensive cars. It’s not generally known that during this time he, or more
likely David Brown Industries, also bought from ‘the opposition’. Sources
suggest he tried at least one Ferrari (a 212 Inter, or 340 America – experts
cannot agree) and this metallic blue Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing coupé.
The copy of the
Mercedes-Benz data card that accompanies the car confirms its specification of
DB 353 Blau metal with L1 Blau stoff plaid (Tartan) interior and
that the client is a ‘Mr Brown, London, England’. The document is dated 5
January 1955 and also notes Sonderlackierung, seidenglanz (special ‘silk
sheen’ effect paint finish), English instruments and that, as was usual
practice, it came with 1kg of paint.
It is not known how long
Brown owned ‘4500140’, the second 300 SL Gullwing delivered to the UK. The
first went to legendary privateer team owner and scion of the Johnnie Walker
whisky dynasty Rob Walker, who was to own an alloy car and a 300 SL Roadster
before buying this car from friend and financial backer Dick Wilkins in 1971.
In Wilkins’ tenure it bore the mark ‘JJA 3’; Walker re-registered it ‘ROB 2’,
the plate carried by his first Gullwing.
Journalist Simon Taylor
drove the Gullwing in 1979 when testing Walker’s Lynx D-type, remarking that
“for a 3.0-litre road car a quarter of a century old it was astonishingly fast,
with a beautiful gearbox and heavy, precise steering…
In more recent times, when
in long-term Italian ownership, ‘4500140’ has competed in the modern Mille
Miglia retrospective in 1982 and 1984.
Today, this important
Gullwing comes with the benefit of work by pre-eminent model specialist Kienle.
It is presented in its original colours of medium metallic blue DB 353 with cloth seats.