1957 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Roadster
- Proudly offered by its owner of 40 years
- Driven and enjoyed over 100,000 happy miles
- Extensively documented, with its original engine
- One of a handful originally finished in Strawberry
- The beloved possession of an enthusiast
Certain cars and their owners do not need a writer to tell their story. They tell it themselves, better than anyone else, as they know one another better than anyone else could. It is the symbiotic relationship between man and machine, in which each is taught and learns to love the other’s idiosyncrasies over decades spent together on twisting roads and wide-open highways.
On the lakeside roads in the industrial town of Sarnia, Ontario, a lifelong enthusiast can be found behind the wheel of his 300 SL Roadster. It is one of the few original 300 SLs to be found “north of the border,” and it is perhaps the last that is still regularly used and enjoyed. For nearly 40 years, through two restorations and over 100,000 miles, Bill Martin and his Roadster have always been on the road to some new adventure.
In the fifties, I used to go to Elkhart Lake to the races, and of course I saw people racing Gullwings and Roadsters, but I didn’t have any money in those days. I sold my business in 1975, and in 1976, I went sort-of looking for a car. I had called Gullwing Service in Boston, and they had a Roadster but said it wasn’t very good. One of the classic mistakes of my life was when they said they had an aluminum Gullwing there, with the NSL engine and all that, and they wanted a grand less than $30,000. I had the money but said no. I figured that if I paid $30,000, I’d have to buy my wife a new kitchen!
Shortly thereafter, I went to Carlisle with a friend of mine, and this car was there. The guy wanted $11,000 and turned down my offer of $9,000. When I got home the phone was ringing, and they had accepted the offer. I went down to Baltimore, Maryland, and picked it up on the side of the road. Even though it had a blown head gasket, I drove it home to Sarnia and soon began taking it apart. It took me about 10 years to get it all back together.
I researched the car’s history and know it back to the time it was purchased by Rooster Bush, who was the largest Oldsmobile dealer in the United States, operating out of a town called Lenore in North Carolina. He was a great guy. He had seen the car at an auction sale for a Studebaker dealership in Charlotte and bought it out of their basement for, I think, $2,000. His daughter, who now runs the family dealership selling Buicks, wanted a Corvette instead, so he kept the car for about 10 years before he sold it. I have never been able to find out the original owner, but the rumor was that it had been owned by a general and titled in a woman’s name.
At the time I restored it the first time, I had a great friend in Detroit, Lynn Yakel, who was one of the earliest members of the Gull Wing Group and had a barn full of cars and parts. His wife, Roberta, was an engineer at Ford and had her own white Gullwing. I could call Lynn and he would know every part on the car by part number, and he hardly had to look in the book!
Myself, the Yakels, Mark Dutton with his Roadster, and Gordon Black with his Gullwing from Ohio, once headed for California. You know, you kind of observe the speed limit until you get to St. Louis, and then you get the urge to go a little faster. We got to a place called Tucumcari, west of Oklahoma City, where we stopped for lunch and then headed for the Gull Wing Group’s convention, which was being held north of Albuquerque.
We were running at about 110 mph when we got behind an ambulance and he wouldn’t move over. Two semis passed by, also going about 110 mph! We thought, what the hell, we’ll pass on the right! The ambulance driver was furious. We wound up doing about 170 miles in two hours and figured we would at least have a lot of company if we went to jail. Now that I think about it, we did 170 miles in two hours a few more times! We once ran into a state trooper who saw us coming over a hill, and then, when we saw him later at a gas station, the attendant told us, “He’s unhappy because he can’t catch you. They took away his big engine!”
They were great trips, every one of them. My wife preferred to fly, and that’s okay, because when you travel like that, we would go for an hour or two without a break, running at 100 to 110 mph, it was great to be with people who all thought along the same lines, and you don’t need to be with someone who’s not happy with the way that you’re driving—it just destroys the whole trip. Far, far better to go alone.
I have driven the car at least 100,000 miles. I do most of the repair work myself, good or bad. I’ve driven to California two times in the last 10 years, and both times the speedometer cable broke on the return trip. But I have tools, and I have spares, so I am not afraid to hit the road. There are likely 3,000 Gullwings and Roadsters, but I doubt if over 100 of them are still driven on a regular basis, and I am probably one of the last owners who does his own maintenance, so this is sort of the end of an era.
I feel that I’ve been there, done that, and at 78, the time has come to sell it. It’s been enjoyable; in fact, it’s been amazing.
Here is an opportunity to acquire an incredible 300 SL Roadster that is important not for its awards or its laurels but for the man who has owned and loved it for most of its life. Its history is engrained in every one of those 100,000 amazing miles.
Please note that this car is matching numbers and the title is in transit.