18 January 2013

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Lot 127

1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing

  • Chassis no. 198.040.5500637
  • Engine no. 198.980.5500630

Sold for $847,000

215 hp, 2,992 cc SOHC six-cylinder engine with Bosch mechanical fuel injection, four-speed manual transmission, coil spring independent front suspension, coil spring and swing-axle rear suspension, and four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes. Wheelbase: 94.5 in.

• A 1955 example with a “curved star” grille

• Includes fitted luggage and a factory belly pan

• Refinished in red with a black leather interior

• Iconic, matching-numbers Gullwing

The 1954–1957 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing Coupes are perennial contenders for the best sports car of all time. The fact that the 1,371 steel-bodied and 29 alloy bodied cars can still run with (and away from) modern traffic puts them in the first tier of collectibles. If ever there was a case of “win on Sunday, sell on Monday,” this was it.

The race in question was Mexico’s 1952 La Carrera Panamericana, a vicious, 2,000-mile road race, which eliminated 53 of the 92 starters and was known for being extremely dangerous—to drivers and spectators alike. A week after Mercedes had gone 1-2—it would have been 1-2-3 save for John Fitch’s disqualification—the company had 400 orders for the 155 mph 300SL Gullwing Coupes. The cars were so fast in the La Carrera that team manager Alfred Neubauer was unable to keep up with them in a Douglas DC3 spotter plane.

La Carrera was the fifth race the 300SLs had entered. The gullwing coupes placed 2nd in the Mille Miglia, 1-2-3 in the Berne, Switzerland Sports Car Race, 1-2 at Le Mans, 1-2-3-4 at the Nürburgring, and 1-2 in Mexico. La Carrera was actually an afterthought; Mercedes-Benz had planned to cease 300SL production before the November race, since the car had accomplished what the factory had set out to do. However, the company’s importer in Mexico City and U.S. distributor Max Hoffman in New York pleaded for an entry.

It was the first time a Mercedes would be introduced abroad instead of in Germany, making it clear that the U.S. was the target market. Indeed, 125 of the first 166 300SLs built in 1954 were sold through Hoffman’s New York and Los Angeles dealerships. In a world where the VW beetle could do 70 mph and a Porsche might touch 100 mph, the 300SL could hit 161 mph with the right gearing, which is still impressive today.

While a 1954 Cadillac Eldorado cost $5,738, the new 300SL retailed for $6,940, almost 20 percent higher. The rich and famous flocked to the showrooms (or most likely had the cars delivered). First-year owners included the Duke of Edinburgh, King Hussein of Jordan, King Baudoin of Belgium, the Ali Khan, Argentine dictator Juan Peron, King Constantin of Greece, and movie stars like Sophia Loren and Zsa Zsa Gabor.

Mercedes-Benz withdrew from racing after the 1955 Le Mans disaster, but privateers flocked to the tracks with their 300SLs, and the factory was happy to help them.

John Fitch and Olivier Gendebien won their class in the 1955 Mille Miglia, then Gendebien won the Liege-Rome-Liege and Alpine rallies. W.I. Tak won the Tulip Rally, Werner Engle won the European Touring Car Championship, Armando Zampiero won the Italian Sports Car Driver’s Championship, and Paul O’Shea won the SCCA’s D Production Class in the U.S. In 1956, Prince Metternich finished 6th in the Mille Miglia, Shock and Moll won the Acropolis and Sestriere rallies and the European Rally Championship, Stirling Moss was 2nd in the Tour de France, and Willy Mairesse won the Liege-Rome-Liege race.

The car on offer today is a “matching-numbers” example that was built in August of 1955. It is one of the earliest cars to be fitted with the “curved” three-pointed star in the grille. The body is steel, and the doors, hood, and trunk are aluminum. It remains a mechanical marvel, still fascinating to engineering students 57 years later. The space frame is ingenious, and the high, wide door sills contribute to the torsional stiffness sacrificed for the gullwing doors, and the tilt wheel facilitates driver access. The Bosch mechanical fuel injection works smoothly enough for daily use, and the engine is canted about 30 degrees to enable the hood line to be brought down.

The cabin is light and airy, and fitted luggage was available to make the most of the rear space. The streamlined belly pans, which assisted the car to its top speed, also contained the engine heat. It was common in the day to see 300SLs gliding down the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, with the gullwing doors “up” for improved airflow, but perhaps it was also a matter of style.

Much of the car’s early history can be traced in Illinois. It was owned until 1964 by a body shop mechanic at Loeber Mercedes-Benz in Lincolnwood, and then passed to Josef L. Klingler, a well-known collector with 130 cars. Klingler campaigned the car in several SCCA vintage events from 1987–1989. Later, Mr. Steven Schultz acquired the Gullwing in 2004. Schultz kept the car until 2012, when he sold it to the previous owner.

This Gullwing was recently disassembled and repainted in red, and the chrome was also replated. Showing an indicated 53,943 miles, it retains its black leather interior and fitted luggage, and it is also equipped with the factory belly pan. Along with a handsome Nardi steering wheel, it has the correct Becker Mexico radio and is serviced and ready to go. Nicely presented, this 300SL is reported to run and handle well, especially on the open road, its natural element.


Please note that this vehicle is model year 1955, however titled as a 1956.

Please contact our exclusive automotive transportation partner, Reliable Carriers, for a shipping quote or any other information on the transport of this vehicle.

Alexander Weaver

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California, United States

Alexander Weaver joined RM Sotheby’s in 2011 as a Car Specialist after graduating from Furman University in South Carolina. Born... read more

Augustin Sabatié-Garat

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United Kingdom

Augustin Sabatié-Garat joined RM Europe in 2012 as a Car Specialist after more than a decade in the collector car hobby. Gradua... read more

Barney Ruprecht

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Ontario, Canada

Barney’s interest in classic cars began at an early age after being introduced to his father’s all-original 1965 Porsche 911. Barney l... read more

David Swig

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California, United States

David Swig joined RM Sotheby’s West Coast division as a Car Specialist in May 2015. David is a life-long automobile enthusi... read more

Don Rose

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United States

Don joined RM in 2006 after several years of professionally trading sports and classic cars, and after earning a reputation as a noted... read more

Donnie Gould

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Florida, United States

Donnie Gould joined the RM team in 2002 as a partner and Car Specialist after more than two decades in the vintage automobile auction ... read more

Gord Duff

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Gord Duff began his journey with RM Sotheby’s in 1998. Since then, he has gained an intimate knowledge of a variety of marques a... read more

Jake Auerbach

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California, United States

Jake Auerbach got his start in the automotive industry at an early age, spending his summers during high school working at a classic c... read more

Kurt Forry

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Having worked for Bonhams’ Automobilia department for over 10 years, Kurt Forry joined RM Sotheby’s with more than a decad... read more

Matt Malamut

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California, United States

A long-time car enthusiast and Southern California native, Matt studied Automotive Technology at San Diego Miramar College and complet... read more

Michael Squire

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United Kingdom

Michael Squire joined RM Sotheby’s European Division in the summer of 2016. He comes to RM with a prestigious racing background ... read more

Mike Fairbairn

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Ontario, Canada

As one of the three founding partners of RM Sotheby’s, Mike has a long-standing interest in the classic car industry. Graduating... read more

Oliver Camelin

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United Kingdom

With an extensive background in exotic sports car history and sales, a particular passion for American curves, and fluency in three la... read more

Paul Darvill

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United Kingdom

Paul Darvill joined the RM Sotheby’s European team at the beginning of 2015. Paul holds a degree in French and Politics from the... read more

Pete Fisher

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Pete Fisher was first introduced to antique cars in high school, working for Classic Coachworks in his hometown of Blenheim, Ontario. ... read more

Shelby Myers

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California, United States

Shelby Myers grew up with the classic car industry infused into every aspect of his life. He had the unique opportunity to watch the R... read more

Tonnie Van der Velden

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United Kingdom

Tonnie Van der Velden joined RM Sotheby’s European division in September 2015 as a Car Specialist. A lifelong enthusiast, Tonnie... read more