My Car Quest

March 25, 2019

Remembering the Porter Special, a Mercedes 300SL Hot Rod

by Wallace Wyss –

When I was one and twenty, or thereabouts, I bought an old Mercedes. It was a Gullwing 300SL. I heard about it from a car designer at GM who was restoring one. He didn’t want to sell his but said he had an old roommate up in Canada that might sell his and I went up there and bought it for a song.

But it was a SOB to keep running. I was astonished when I found out the fuel injection diaphragm was leather! Yes, a modern car depending on part of an animal!

Anyhow I shoulda pulled a Chuck Porter. Chuck Porter, a body shop operator out in Hollywood had, a few years earlier, taken a wrecked Gullwing, cut off the roof and doors and cut it down into a copy of the factory SLR roadster, the one with the straight eight they raced at the Mille Miglia.

Porter Mercedes Special

Historical shot, promotion for Porter’s body shop

I am not sure which shop built the body for Porter, but it was a loose copy of the original SLR. But at least it was aluminum. Porter’s version had a wider grille and no windshield just a windscreen for the driver like the factory SLR.

Porter called his car the SLS for Super Light Special but it could have been Mercedes was already using that name for some race cars they built and funneled to US racers.

There was a strong Mercedes-Benz ‘family’ resemblance, though his grille was wider than the factory car. I always thought he took out the Mercedes six when he first ran it and dropped in a Corvette but now I heard that the first engine he put in it was a Buick and only after that did he try a lot of Chevy V8s.

Porter Mercedes Special

Source: SlotCarIllustrated

He ran the car from ’55 to ’59 with a variety of drivers, some of whom went on to pro racing. Hell, if I had gone the Porter route, I would have been able to keep running my car! Of course there was the problem of the Mercedes engine being slanted over to keep the hoodline low and if I had put in a Chevy V8 I‘d have to have some big old hood bump as Porter did himself when fitting some of his engine choices.

In the back of my head I filed the info that such a car existed and meant to look for it when I arrived in California from Michigan but of course I forgot about it. It is only now when researching the car in February 2019, that I found out that it was restored in 1999 by renowned 300SL specialists HK Engineering in Polling, Germany, and run in the famous Goodwood race where it came a cropper, wiping out the front end by impacting a Lister-Jaguar.

Mercedes-Benz 300 SLS 'Porter Special' crashes into rare Lister-Jaguar at Goodwood ...

Mercedes-Benz 300 SLS ‘Porter Special’ crashes into rare Lister-Jaguar at Goodwood … Source: stylemagazine.com

I am unclear whether it’s going to re restored as the Porter Special or as a regular Mercedes Gullwing (now Gullwings are worth $1,000,000. I won’t tell you what I sold my for…but it was low. Winter was coming and I couldn’t bear to park it outside in the snow…a good car shouldn’t have to endure such misery.

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Wallace Wyss

Wallace Wyss

 
 
 
THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss has owned many collector cars and written about them in his 18 books. He currently is portraying classics in oil. A list of available prints can be had by writing mendoart7@gmail.com
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Summary
Remembering the Porter Special, a Mercedes 300SL Hot Rod
Article Name
Remembering the Porter Special, a Mercedes 300SL Hot Rod
Description
In the back of my head I filed the info that such a car existed and meant to look for it when I arrived in California from Michigan but of course I forgot about it.
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Comments

  1. Rich O'Connell says

    Having had the pleasure of knowing and working with the late great Chuck Porter I’ve heard many stories about how this car came to be.Chucks shop in Hollywood was doing much of the bodywork for Hollywood Sports cars.It seems all the celebrities were bending frame rails sliding them over curbs.Being well familiar with SLs, Chuck bought a rolled and slightly burned gullwing to make into a racecar.Chuck had the talent to fix the gullwing, but in those days it wasn’t worth the effort.Chuck decided to make it a roadster.Keep in mind, this was before Mercedes started making theirs.The car was raced for a while with the stock engine.Chuck raced the car himself but realized he was a better metal man than race driver.A few drivers drove for Chuck Most notably Richie Ginther.Chuck always said the car was an SLS “the s stands for scrap”.Great to see the car is still around, as well as the memory of one of my great heros. Thanks for your great article.
    Rich O’Connell

  2. Mr. Wyss is a bit confused about what he writes. The Porter SLS was based on a wrecked 300 SL Coupe fitted with a custom body created by Porter. It ran with several American engines and exists to this day.

    The car damaged at Goodwood was one of the two 300 SL Coupes campaigned for the 1956 season by O’Shay/Tilp with serious support from Mercedes-Benz.. Known as the :red car: because of its interior color and to differentiate it from its stablemate, the “blue car,” Chassis 198 040 5500293 had its bodywork modified sometime after the 1956 season into an open car with a stylized headrest. It passed through several owners in the US before being sold to Germany during the mid 1970s.

    An easy way to identify the Porter SLS is by the absence: of fender mounted headlights. For reference, I’m attaching a period photograph of 5500293 after modification and before it went to Germany.

    • Edward,

      We all get confused sometimes. In the period photos Wallace shows us above the car does not have the headlights in the body as you described to be correct for the Porter Special.

      The Goodwood crash was reported by Autoweek in this article on March 24, 2015,

      “One-off Mercedes-Benz 300 SLS ‘Porter Special’ crashes into rare Lister-Jaguar at Goodwood”

      at this link – https://autoweek.com/article/classic-cars/one-mercedes-benz-300-sls-porter-special-crashes-rare-lister-jaguar-goodwood#ixzz5gNoyUo4i

      A quote from the Autoweek article,

      “The Porter Special is an oddball, created by Californian Chuck Porter from a wrecked and burned 300SL Gullwing. Formed to look like a Silver Arrow, Porter named it the SLS — with the second S standing for “scrap.” It raced throughout the mid- to late 1950s with a variety engines, including, eventually, Buick and Chevy V8s, under its long hood. It is said to be worth $5.9 million; safe to say it’s well worth restoring.”

      The car in the attached photo, below, is from the Autoweek article and looks a lot like the car shown here by Wallace.

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