1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing
- “The Gym Teacher’s Gullwing”
- Remarkably original, including beautiful factory interior; original engine
- Three private owners from new; a California car for most of its life
- Desirable factory Rudge wheels and fitted luggage
- A successful participant in numerous runnings of the Colorado Grand
THE LEGENDARY GULLWING
Mercedes-Benz’s 300 SL claimed 2nd in the Mille Miglia, 1-2-3 in the Sports Car Race in Berne, Switzerland, 1st and 2nd at Le Mans, 1-2-3-4 at the Nürburgring, and 1st and 2nd at La Carrera Panamericana. Yet more was to be desired. From his Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Park Avenue showroom, the company’s United States distributor, Max Hoffman, said that there was a market in America for a fast, sensual Mercedes-Benz coupe, and a production version of the racing 300 SL, complete with the fascinating and now legendary “gullwing” doors, necessitated by the unusual, tall frame design, would be it.
The “SL” moniker (translated to English as “Sport Light”) reflected the pioneering use of a welded, tubular-steel, ultra-light frame construction that weighed only 182 pounds. The car also featured fully independent suspension in addition to its fuel-injected, 3.0-liter (2,996-cubic centimeter), OHC straight-six with dry-sump lubrication, and 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 on the rear-end ratio selected from five options, made the 300 SL the fastest production automobile of its time.
Appropriate for an automobile that Max Hoffman had almost single-handedly willed into being, the production 300 SL made its debut in the United States, not in Germany, which was a Mercedes first. More than 1,000 of the 1,400 cars produced between 1954 and early 1957 were delivered through Hoffman, to whose showrooms the rich and famous flocked. The 300 SL was as much a status symbol in its time as it is today, as it was favored by everyone from Hollywood stars to racing legends to genuine royalty.
The 300 SL was also raced and piloted by the top drivers of the day, such as John Fitch, Olivier Gendebien, Paul O’Shea, Prince Metternich, and, of course, Sir Stirling Moss, who holds the “forever” course record for his famous Mille Miglia finish in 1955. It all added to the romance of a car that seemed destined to become a legend the moment production began. It had all of the right ingredients: incredible exclusivity, incredible speed, and an incredible price.
“A thoroughbred in every sense of the word,” advertising boasted, “and a car which will be recognized by all enthusiasts as the ‘last word’ in sporting automobiles; a car which puts indescribable pleasure into driving!”
THE GYM TEACHER’S GULLWING
According to both the Eric LeMoine and Gull Wing Group registries, the 300 SL offered here was originally delivered through Max Hoffman’s New York dealership, in Light Metallic Blue (DB353) over red leather (1079) interior, and equipped with two of the most desirable factory options, Rudge knock-off wheels and fitted luggage.
The first owner of the car was Raymond Maggard of San Pedro, California. Born in Los Angeles, Mr. Maggard was typical of the idiosyncratic and fascinating individuals who bought these cars new. A captain in the United States Army parachute infantry Airborne Division 1510 during World War II, he received the Purple Heart. Upon returning home, he was a track and field star at UCLA, including being the 1947 NCAA champion in the pole vault. He then joined the staff of Gardena High School, where he taught physical education and Spanish, and coached track, tennis, and football for a remarkable 35 years. One can imagine Mr. Maggard showing up at track meets and the football field behind the wheel of a Gullwing, much to the astonishment of his students!
Mr. Maggard eventually sold the Gullwing to another owner in Los Angeles, who put the car into storage, wearing a repaint in dark blue but otherwise remaining original. After being repainted Graphite Grey in 1995, it was subsequently sold through a Washington State dealer to the well-known father and son enthusiasts Peter and Paul Hageman, who became only the third private owners, keeping the car on its longtime California black plates.
In a recent conversation with RM Sotheby’s, Paul Hageman recounted that the car was driven numerous times with comfort and pleasure on the Colorado Grand and the Pebble Beach Motoring Classic, after which the original and matching-numbers engine was expertly rebuilt—for the first time!—by the renowned 300 SL guru, Siegfried Linke. Receipts for the repaint and later service work are both on file, along with an original catalogue and owner’s manual.
Aside from the paint, the car remains thoroughly and wonderfully original, including its red leather interior, which has a wonderful patina, like a comfortable old baseball glove. While it is no longer accompanied by its original belly pans, inspection of many other sought-after features is thoroughly satisfying; the “curved star” in the grille is still present, as are the correct Bosch headlamp rings, and even the original mat in the trunk! While the original luggage is no longer present, a period-correct luggage set has been acquired and installed. Most importantly, all of the Rudge knock-off wheels are original, and have their proper stampings.
There are frequently 300 SL Gullwings available, but few, if any, have the satisfying originality and, to utilize an overused word, patina of this charming beast. It is honest, pure, and will still put indescribable pleasure into driving for its fourth fortunate private owner, following in the footsteps of great enthusiasts, including a war hero as athletic as the car he drove.