9 March 2013
1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing
- Chassis no. 198.040.5500674
- Engine no. 198.980.5500694
- Body no. 198.040.5500652
$1,000,000 - $1,250,000
- “The Warmolts Gullwing,” with single family ownership since new
- Fully restored by marque specialist Don Witherspoon
- Equipped with reversible modern comfort upgrades
Mercedes-Benz’s 300SL claimed 2nd in the Mille Miglia; 1-2-3 in the Berne, Switzerland, Sports Car Race; 1st and 2nd at Le Mans; 1-2-3-4 at the Nürburgring; and 1st and 2nd at La Carrera Panamericana. The Mexican Road Race had been an afterthought, with 300SL production slated to end beforehand, the racing car having accomplished what the factory set out to do. The company’s U.S. distributor, Max Hoffman, spoke from his glassy Park Avenue showroom: there was a market in America for a fast, sexy Mercedes-Benz coupe, and a production version of the racing-bred 300SL, complete with the fascinating “gullwing” doors, necessitated by the unusual frame design, would be exactly it.
Appropriately, the production 300SL made its debut in the United States, not in Germany, a Mercedes first. The vast majority of the 1,400 cars produced between 1954 and early-1957 were delivered through Hoffman, to whose showrooms the rich and famous (or their chauffeurs) flocked. The kings of Jordan, Belgium, and Greece became owners in the first year of production, as did Argentinean dictator and former racing driver Juan Peron. Sophia Loren and Zsa Zsa Gabor, for perhaps the only time in their lives, struggled to outclass what they drove.
Other 300SL drivers weren’t as interested as Mercedes in giving up the track. John Fitch and Olivier Gendebien won their class in the 1955 Mille Miglia, then Gendebien won the Liege-Rome-Liege and Alpine rallies. Paul O’Shea won the SCCA’s D Production class. In 1956, Prince Metternich finished 6th in the Mille Miglia, and Stirling Moss placed 2nd in the Tour de France. If the 300SL needed additional romance, it was these men who earned it, and they added to the car’s aura of elite celebrity.
Among this rarified crowd stood Dr. Lambertus Warmolts, of Oregon, Illinois, whose 300SL, the car offered here, was delivered to Hoffman Motors in New York City on August 30, 1955, painted white with a red interior. A successful physician who operated the Warmolts Clinic, Dr. Warmolts took delivery from Precision Motors, of Rockford, Illinois, as recorded by the original Bill of Sale, which accompanies the car and notes a trade-in of an early Ford Thunderbird. The doctor drove the car regularly through the next three decades, during which time it was repainted to suit its owner.
According to his son, Dr. Warmolts was quite frugal and not a sports car enthusiast, making the 300SL something of an unusual purchase; however, he was not afraid to use the car as Stuttgart intended, and reportedly, he was once ticketed at 140 mph while behind the wheel. The 300SL was his everyday car, used for everything from drives to and from the clinic, to long-distance business trips. In particular, it would be regularly driven from Illinois to New Orleans for the doctor’ s vacations, and it would make the return trip with its wheel wells loaded up with hyacinths for his fish pond back in Oregon.
The car passed to Dr. Warmolts’s son, its second and current owner, in the mid-1980s, when the original owner was in his early 90s. This very short chain of ownership is, importantly, documented in the latest Gullwing Registry, confirming this as a two-owner 300SL. While the car remained in good original condition under its most recent paint, age and decades of use had taken their toll, and the owner elected to have a complete restoration performed by marque expert Don Witherspoon, of Hernando, Florida.
Due to the dedication of both the sentimental Mr. Warmolts and the skilled restorer, the exhaustive and photo documented body-off restoration took four years to complete to original factory standards, with no facet of the car left untouched. The work is documented through a large collection of receipts and records, which have been carefully assembled and will accompany the car to the next owner. It is important to note that this car has perhaps the lowest original ownership of any 300SL that RM Auctions has had the pleasure of offering.
Time and technology had made possible a few minor improvements to the original 300SL equipment during the restoration—all of which, it should be noted, were designed to be easily reversible, should the new owner of this example prefer a pristinely stock automobile. The heat of Florida inspired the fitment of excellent and fully modern air conditioning, which anyone who has driven a 300SL during a Southern summer will appreciate. Seatbelts were installed for improved safety, and a hidden AM/FM stereo CD player was tucked away, should the owner need to hear anything other than the sweet sounds emanating from under the hood. The result is a Gullwing that is not just a pretty face, but a car that can be actually driven and used year-round, and one that offers many of the comforts of a modern automobile. As noted, all the original parts needed to return the 300SL to factory original condition accompany the sale.
The change from white to a silver finish was less of a practical decision; Dr. Warmolts’ son simply preferred the car in silver. The result happily recalls the 300SLs of racing fame, particularly when running at speed, and it makes for a classic combination with the original-style red leather upholstery.
There are numerous 300SLs available for sale, but the opportunity to purchase one from the family that has owned and cared for it since new is scarce indeed. To combine that with an excellent, high-quality restoration is nearly impossible. The Warmolts family’s Gullwing desirably combines “all of the above” with a wonderful, thoroughly documented history and sympathetic modern upgrades, which make it as much of a pleasure to drive in the future as it was to be driven in the past. Hyacinths are optional.
AddendumPhoto-documentation of the restoration process is available upon request.
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