8-9 September 2013
1956 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing
- Chassis no. 198.040.6500296
- Engine no. 190.980.6500296
Sold for £739,200
- One of the most famous Mercedes-Benzes; a modern legend
- Formerly owned by 300 SL legend Don Ricardo and Dick Smothers
- Rudge-style wheels and fitted luggage
Whilst Mercedes-Benz initially had no plans for series production of its racing 300 SL, its U.S. importer, Max Hoffman, had other ideas. Hoffman, a master marketer and a man of great insight, convinced Daimler-Benz to offer a production model by ordering 1,000 of them for sale in the United States. Fuel injection replaced the race car’s carburettors; the Bosch mechanical unit would be the first for a production car. After a handful of early production models were made in alloy, as the competition cars were, the new Karl Wilfert-designed body was largely steel, retaining aluminium doors, hood, and boot lids, and included the bumpers (with over-riders for U.S.-spec cars) and numerous creature comforts, including a tilt-wheel for ease of entry and featuring a sumptuous interior that is requisite for road use.
Of particular note, the 300 SL was the first Mercedes to be introduced in the United States before it was shown in Germany, and when it was unveiled in New York on 6 February 1954, it took the automotive world by storm. The “SL” (translated to English as Sport Light) moniker reflected the pioneering use of welded tubular-steel frame construction. It also featured a fully independent suspension in addition to its fuel-injected, 3.0-litre (2,996 cubic centimetre) OHC straight six with dry-sump lubrication; the motor was inclined to the side in order to reduce the height of the front end. The power, rated at 240 brake horsepower at 6,100 rpm (SAE) and 215 brake horsepower at 5,800 rpm (DIN) with the factory-optional or dealer-installed “sport” camshaft, was delivered through a four-speed manual gearbox. A 161 mph top speed and 0–60 acceleration of approximately eight seconds, depending upon the rear-end ratio selected from five options, made the 300 SL the fastest production automobile of its time.
The remarkable, upward-opening “gullwing” doors of the racing version of the car continued to production and contributed largely to the unique visual signature of the 300 SL. When production ended after the 1957 model year, Hoffman’s original request for 1,000 cars was exceeded, as production of the semi-hand-built car reached just 1,400 units. Demand has always been strong, and today, the 300 SL continues to be one of the most recognised and coveted of all sporting cars. It is almost indisputably considered the “core” model for any serious collection.
The 300 SL Gullwing offered here was delivered new on 4 December 1956 to Southern California. It was originally painted Black DB40 with a Rot mit MB-Tex cream, or red and cream plaid, interior, and it was once part of the noted collection of Don Ricardo, the NBC Orchestra bandleader who, prior to his passing in 2001, was the premiere Mercedes-Benz collector on the West Coast of the United States. Ricardo’s astounding collection included an all-original 500 K, which he drove regularly in Los Angeles, and a 1913 Benz, as well as many gullwings, one of which he had raced at Bonneville. Ricardo’s ownership is the highest mark that one can stamp on a 300 SL Gullwing.
After leaving the Ricardo fleet, this car was acquired by Dick Smothers, who, with his brother, Tom, formed the popular musical comedy team of the Smothers Brothers. The Smothers brothers had diverse interests, investing their screen income into a winery and a carefully chosen collection of wonderful cars, amongst which was this 300 SL. It eventually left the Smothers stable and made its way through several collections in Switzerland and England before it reached its latest home with the present owner.
Restored in Silver Metallic with red leather upholstery, the car is equipped with chromed Rudge wheels and fitted luggage, with the latter being a must for anyone wanting to enjoy a Gullwing as the factory intended. This car is well-presented, with its finish and interior showing only minor wear from road use, and it would require only light freshening for local shows. The chrome throughout has been re-plated and is largely fresh and in excellent condition, with it still retaining some good original pieces.
The 300 SL is a car that attracted celebrity owners when new, and it has continued to attract them ever since. This particular car benefitted from the care of noted celebrities who were also knowledgeable and respected connoisseurs, and it is ready to pass into the care of a new owner with similar good taste.