21 November 2013
1960 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Roadster
- Chassis no. 198.042.10.002562
- Engine no. 198.980.10.002622
- Body no. 198.042.10.00072
Sold for $1,650,000
- The progenitor of the modern supercar
- Charming provenance; two owners from new
- Impeccable restoration to award-winning standards
- Rare original accessories
Film director John Lasseter once said, “The art challenges the technology, and the technology inspires the art.” If ever an automobile’s art was born from its technology, it was in the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL. The innovative space-frame chassis was literally wrapped in steel, with the aluminum doors, hood, and trunk lid providing lightness. Formed by the shape of its engineering, the 300 SL’s breathtaking good looks came naturally.
Like most closed cars, the 300 SL was only improved by being turned into an open car, resulting in the Roadster, which debuted in 1957. If the original Coupe had been a legend, the Roadster was a style symbol that appealed to everyone, young and old alike, as long as they had excellent taste and a spacious bank account. It has long been said that no 300 SL Roadster ever had a boring original owner. This particular 1960 model is no exception.
This Roadster was originally delivered to the legendary Mercedes-Benz dealership at 430 Park Avenue, which was a building that was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright specifically for the American importer of European sports cars, Max Hoffman, and his New York salesroom. Prominently displayed on the showroom floor, businessman Elston J. Tribble and his daughter Marthé, a sophomore at Vassar College, were walking past the dealership when the Roadster’s svelte body caught their eye. In a letter written to the current owner, Marthé recalls that “both of us were transfixed by the racing lines and elegant beauty of the car.”
After having lunch that afternoon, nearby at Le Pavillon on Fifth Avenue, Elston knew that Marthé was considering dropping out of college to try to find fame in a career in fashion; this was a career path that neither mother nor father approved of. Whereupon Elston realized his opportunity: he promised to purchase that very 300 SL Roadster for Marthé, if she would in turn promise to remain at Vassar and graduate with her degree. Marthé, not immune to her father’s generous offer, quickly agreed, and the car returned home to Princeton, New Jersey.
Young Marthé kept the promise to her father, and the vehicle remained with her for the remainder of her collegiate education. Her 300 SL would become a frequent sight on the roads between Vassar’s Poughkeepsie, New York, campus, Princeton, and Marthé’s future husband’s alma mater, Yale University. Early on, Elston remarked that the car’s color matched Marthé’s blue eyes, and henceforth, the car would forever be known to the family as “Blue Eyes.”
Blue Eyes would go on to be cherished and enjoyed by Marthé long after her college days were over. The odometer displayed 34,646 miles when Marthé stored the vehicle in the family garage in the fall of 1986 for the coming winter. She fully intended to drive it again come spring; however, for other life priorities, the car would remain locked up and untouched for the next 20 years, until it was rediscovered in 2006. Once uncovered, the current owner purchased the 300 SL from Marthé, on the condition that the car will be restored, in her own words, “to its former glory.”
Opting to first show the Roadster in its as-discovered state, Blue Eyes was warmly received on the Preservation Class show circuit in 2007 for the 50th anniversary of the 300 SL Roadster. It won The Star magazine “Find of the Year” Award at the Mercedes-Benz June Jamboree, a Silver Star for “Extraordinary Preservation of Originality” at Starfest, hosted by the Mercedes-Benz Club of America, and Best 300 SL Roadster at the Gullwing Group Convention that September. An article entitled “Reviving Old Blue Eyes,” by Contributing Editor John Kuhn Bleimaier, was the feature story in the May/June issue of The Star, the official Mercedes-Benz Club of America magazine. After a year of Preservation Class competition, the car would undergo the full concours-level restoration that Marthé so desired.
After being meticulously restored by Steel Wings in Hopewell, New Jersey, for over a period of two-and-a-half years, Blue Eyes emerged in award-winning condition. As the car had rarely been used during the Tribble family’s ownership, it remained largely original, and a vast majority of its original parts could be refurbished and reinstalled. Both the original matching-numbers engine (number 198.980.10.002622) and gearbox were fully rebuilt at this time to as-new condition. While the car was originally delivered in Blue Gray (DB 166) over Cream leather (1060), the owner opted to refinish the car in a striking, later factory 300 SL color, Middle Blue Metallic (DB 396), while the interior was restored to its original shade of cream leather. He also took the opportunity to install a factory-correct soft top in Navy Blue (723), as the car was originally delivered in coupe specification with only its hardtop.
The restoration team and current owner went to immeasurable lengths to obtain correct parts for the car, often in collaboration with the Mercedes-Benz Classic Center. In addition to the vast expertise of Steel Wings and the Classic Center, no expense was spared when hiring top-rated specialized subcontractors in paint, interior, and chrome. As a result, every component on the car is original as it would have been in 1960, down to the correct windshield wipers, which are engraved with the word “Germany” and cost nearly three times the price of the replacement MB Sekurit windshield they rest on.
Proving to be even more successful than in Preservation Class condition, Blue Eyes soon graced the cover of the Gullwing Group’s 300 SL Star Letter. It included an article that chronicled the car’s trip to the Monterey peninsula and the celebrated The Quail: A Motorsports Gathering in August of 2010. While in California, the current owner also visited the late 300 SL expert and Gullwing Group member George “Pinky” Winther to assess the overall correctness of his freshly restored Roadster. While very impressed with the overall quality, Winther was challenged to find inaccuracies, and those few that were found have since been corrected.
Blue Eyes would go on to collect numerous Best of Class trophies at such prestigious shows as the Greenwich Concours d’Elegance and the Boca Raton Concours d’Elegance, as well as an Excellence in Class Award at the Cavallino Classic Concours at Mar-a-Lago. The Roadster earned blue ribbons in the Best of Mercedes-Benz Class at the Concours d’Elegance of America at St. Johns and the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance in 2011, where the car competed against various rare Mercedes-Benzes produced in the post-war period for the 125th anniversary celebration of the marque. Blue Eyes also took First in Class Show Roadster at the October 2010 Gullwing Group Convention in Saratoga Springs, New York. Not only do these awards confirm this 300 SL Roadster as one of the best of its kind, but also that it is one of the best of its marque in general, as it is a masterpiece of both concept and execution.
Equipped with a number of original features, including the factory hardtop, tool kit roll, jack, and manuals, the car also includes its original window sticker that is addressed to 430 Park Avenue. Other features include a new soft top, a period-correct Nardi steering wheel, a Mercedes-Benz Salesman’s Databook, and a rare period set of Rudge-style accessory hub caps. Most notably, Blue Eyes comes with an original Karl Baisch two-piece luggage set that perfectly matches the cream interior and is in virtually new condition; this is a rare period treasure that would be nearly impossible to source today. Three leather bound books that document the entire restoration process through photographs, showing the car as-found, in restoration, and post-restoration, are also included with the sale, providing a fantastic visual timeline of the Roadster’s entire restoration process. The overall condition of the car is truly something to behold. The paint is a perfect showcase of the amount of effort and money put into the restoration, and the interior shows no signs of wear whatsoever, requisite of a vehicle so highly acclaimed by concours judges. Blue Eyes is truly a low mileage example, as it has only traveled 35,500 miles since new, with 800 of them largely being accumulated in post-restoration road testing.
When recently asked about her experiences with the car, Marthé fondly replied, “Needless to say, whenever I was out with Blue Eyes, I got a lot of ‘looks’ in that car.” While Mercedes-Benz produced only 1,858 of their 300 SL Roadsters, this example truly stands in a class of its own. With only two owners in the last 53 years, it is incredibly well-documented, immaculately restored, and has countless concours trophies to its name, both from Preservation Class and full concours judging—characteristics that are almost unheard-of in any single show vehicle.
This 300 SL Roadster is truly flawless, and it represents a classic automobile that sits squarely at the intersection of historical importance and objective beauty.
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