1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL “Gullwing” Coupé (W198)SOLD
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Estimate: $500,000-$600,000 US

Sold: $467,500

As was the case with most of industrial Germany, Allied bombing during World War II decimated Mercedes-Benz’s facilities. Within a few years, however, Mercedes managed to mount a racing campaign with the brand new 300 SLR race car, winning nearly every race their first season out. Juan Manuel Fangio, Mercedes’ loyal Grand Prix powerhouse, drove the Mercedes W196 in 1954 and 1955, winning the championship both times, followed closely by his teammate, Stirling Moss. Such monumental achievements were responsible in large part for Mercedes-Benz’s immediate and continued motor racing presence. A tragic accident at Le Mans in 1955, however, signaled Mercedes’ temporary abandonment of the sport.

That same year, the road cars picked up where the race cars left off. In 1955, production continued with the 300 SL, capitalizing on the company’s racing successes and benefiting from the technological advancements available therein. 300, of course, represented the engine’s displacement of 3 liters, while SL denoted ‘Sport und Leicht’ (light). Initially introduced as a coupé, the legendary sports car was conceived as a high-performance street machine with a thinly veiled racing character. The gullwing doors became the car’s visual signature and solved the cabin-entry problems posed by the car’s light tubular frame. Additional styling cues included bulges over the wheel openings, two longitudinal hood bulges, and distinctive eggcrate grillwork on both front fenders which alleviated excessive heat and noise inside the car. Aluminum was used extensively for the bodywork, particularly for the doors, hood, trunk lid, and interior sheet metal. The rest of the car utilized steel bodywork, although 29 examples are known to have been produced with all-aluminum bodies.

Compared to competitive sports cars of its time, the 300 SL developed an immediate reputation not only for performance, but exceptional build quality. Whereas comparable sports cars featured carburetors, solid rear axles, and pushrod engines, the 300 SL offered fuel injection, independent rear suspension, and an overhead camshaft. The six-cylinder engine produced 215 brake horsepower and 210 pound-feet of torque, and was mated to a four-speed, fully synchronized transmission. Such figures translated into zero-to-sixty times of approximately eight seconds – a truly impressive feat in the mid-1950s.

The 300 SL Coupe offered here was completed on February 12th, 1955 and shipped to the dealer Raymond Way of London, England on February 25th. Although it was constructed as a left-hand drive example, it spent the first 23 years of its life in England, passing through two owners, by the names of Griffith and Hughes, before being acquired in 1978 by Mr. Gerry Porter of London.

The car was subsequently exported to the United States before eventually receiving a lengthy 15-year restoration, which was started by Fritz Bley of Reston, Virginia and finally completed about 13 years ago. During this time, the car was never driven and did not accumulate any mileage.

The handsome Gullwing was subsequently sold to Scott Grundfor of California, who conducted additional cosmetic restoration work, which included having the interior redone by John Cumpton of West Hills, California whose work is highly regarded. The car was finally acquired by its present owner in May 2005 and has since participated in the California Classic Rallye (June 2005) and exhibited in the Concours d’Elegance on Rodeo Drive, where it was awarded “Best in Class”. The odometer currently indicates less than 36,000 miles and all available evidence indicates this to be original mileage from new.

Beautifully finished in red with a tan interior, the car is reportedly a joy to drive and includes a mostly complete set of tools in addition to matching luggage, which was very well restored and remains in excellent condition. Belly pans are included with the car as well, although they are not currently fitted. A rare original radio is also included in the sale of the car, though not currently fitted, and will be available onsite for inspection.

The complete interior and exterior finish of the car are exemplary. Additionally, the engine received a complete, no-expense-spared overhaul in 2006 by Steve Marx of Costa Mesa, California. Marx, who has an excellent reputation for his expertise in the mechanical repair/restoration of 300 SLs, performed such work as replacing the camshaft with a sports camshaft, cam bearings, rocker arms, pistons, rod and main bearings, oil pump, water side plates, water pump, timing chain, chain gears and guides, and seals as well as water, fuel and oil hoses, clutch and motor mounts. What’s more, the driveshaft U-joints were replaced and the brakes received new wheel cylinders as well as brake hoses and new rear brake shoes.

In 2008, noted restorer and marque specialist Jerry Hjeltness of Escondido, California performed a complete service on the car, including lubrication and replacing all fluids. Finally, in October 2008, the Mercedes Classic Center in Irvine, California performed a thorough detailing of the car, including the engine compartment, interior and exterior finish. This included repainting chips in the paint caused by normal driving and wet sanding the finish to remove micro-abrasions.

Just 867 300 SL coupés were built in 1955, and fewer still remain today. It is difficult now to imagine the significant advance represented by the 300 SL in its day. Not only did it offer considerable technological advancement and trendsetting design, but the long hood concealed a powerful overhead cam six-cylinder engine with Bosch fuel injection capable of top speeds in excess of 130 miles per hour. Perhaps Autocar’s editors said it best: ‘the effect is electrifying’.

Reference Number 35109

as of 12/5/2008

Car 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL “Gullwing” Coupé (W198)
VIN 198040500088 
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