My Car Quest

April 12, 2024

A Mercedes 300SL Gullwing at Auction

by Wallace Wyss –

If there is any postwar German car that signaled the rise of the German sport car it is the Mercedes 300SL “gullwing” called that because with its upward rising doors it looked like a seagull ready to take flight. It came about because Mercedes had successfully campaigned a race car roadster called the 300SLR powered by a straight eight. But they also had a street car prototype with similar styling but a straight six. They entered the street cars in the Panamericana road race in Mexico and did well so decided to produce a version for the public including the gullwing doors of the Mexican road racers.

Mercedes 300SL Gullwing

The reason the doors were cut into the roof was that they didn’t want to cut away some of the tubes in the tubular bar space frame which would have reduced the rigidity. (They did redesign the frame to allow conventional doors for the ’57 roadster model).

Approximately 29 of the 1400 coupes made between ’55 and ’57 were alloy bodied but most were steel bodied with aluminum used just for the hood, trunk and doors. Some also had knock off wheels, which meant you had to use a hammer to knock off the spinner that held the wheels in place. The engine was fuel injected while the earlier 300SL race cars had used carburetors. One odd thing about it was that the engine was laid over a bit to have a lower hoodline.

It was rare at the time to have belly pans–pans that covered the whole bottom for better aerodynamics. One thing Americans had to cope with was that most of the trunk was filled with a gas tank as the Mercedes thought owners might be racing or driving across the whole of Europe in it. It also came with a factory tool kit, a practice unknown in American postwar cars.

Mercedes 300SL Gullwing

This particular car that Mecum in featuring in the Glendale AZ auction in March 2023 is an unusual color–called Mittelgm, contrasted by a beige interior. While the color takes some getting used to, the car comes with factory paperwork showing it was ordered that way, and in concours, let me tell you, originality counts!

The car was restored and displayed by the Indianapolis Motor Museum. One thing that will focus new attention on 300SL gullwings, which have already sold at auctions for over a million dollars, is that Mercedes recently sold the 1955 gullwinged 300SLR that engineer Rudolph Uhlenhaut had made for himself (the racing cars were all open versions) for 135 million Euro so they could use the money to research zero emissions. It is fitting that a car that was so far into the future in design in 1955 helps fund Mercedes scholarship programs for students who will be working on the cars of the future.

What it was like to own a Mercedes 300SL Gullwing

I bought my first ’55 gullwing in Toronto in the late ’60s after a GM car designer mentioned a schoolmate of his at the Art Center had bought one new. I called this old schoolmate and yes, he still had it and yes, it was for sale. When I flew to Toronto it didn’t run so I trailered it back to Detroit. There was a moment of dread when customs checked the title and it was one number off. But they let me go on and never investigated. Turned out the previous owner had bought two gullwings, with his father, the same day. He had given me the wrong title.

Mercedes 300SL Gullwing

It would often be hard to start and the gas would dilute the oil so you’d have to change the oil soon afterward.
The bellypan fell off on a dirt road and I didn’t go back. Probably cost $4000 to make one today.

I never could work the heater. One date I took a hot Columbian exchange student out in it during a Michigan winter. She was not impressed.

I sold it at a used car lot in Chicago for $2500 when my dad wouldn’t let me park it in the garage. The second gullwing came when I was at an auction in Newport Beach and an architect told he had one. I bought it, a running, driving car, but it had an identical starting problem. I would drive three hours from Los Angeles down to San Diego to have an expert tune it for 30 minutes. I finally sold it in a Kruse auction. At the auction I overheard a guy say to his buddy: “Look at the gullwing with a 190SL nose.” I realized at that moment that my car had been hit and the nose replaced. Funny, the owner forgot to tell me about that! I sold that for $11,000 and now every time I see one, my heart bleeds for what coulda been….I feel like Marilyn Monroe’s first husband, the cop who dumped her because she looked like she’d never amount to anything.

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Wallace Wyss art

THE AUTHOR Wallace Wyss is the co-host of Autotalk, a radio show on cars broadcast each week from KUCR FM radio in Riverside, CA

 
 
 
 
 

Mercedes 300SL Logo

Photos compliments of Mecum.
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A Mercedes 300SL Gullwing at Auction
Article Name
A Mercedes 300SL Gullwing at Auction
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If there is any postwar German car that signaled the rise of the German sport car it is the Mercedes 300SL "gullwing" called that because with its upward rising doors it looked like a seagull ready to take flight.
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Comments

  1. Wes Stewart says

    I first saw a Gullwing here in Tucson in 1959 at Davis-Monthan AFB where we used to drag race. (http://cacklefest.com/SpeedSport.shtml)

    The car was owned by “Gus” Stallings from Scottsdale. Gus was an elderly (to us kids) guy who wore a suit, tie and hat while he defeated Corvettes. He would drive the car down from Phoenix while an assistant drove a truck down carrying his Ferrari, which he also raced, less successfully. The assistant would jack up the SL, pull off the street tires and put on a set of slicks.

    In those days there was a flagman starter, “Christmas tree” lights were in the future. Gus’ driving style was to come to the starting line wait for the Starter’s signal to get ready, pull the RPMs to about 6,000 and dump the clutch. We were constantly amazed that the driveline survived this mistreatment. Spotting the Corvettes 100 cubic inches (183 v. 283) he would still defeat all but one 1959, which had a little dealer/factory support. Gus also drove the car to a class speed record of 144+ mph at Bonneville that year.

    Some talk about him here: https://www.ferrarichat.com/forum/threads/j-stallings-ferrari-agent-in-phoenix-1962.276221/

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