1956 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing
RM | Sotheby's - AMELIA ISLAND 2018 - Offered on: Saturday, March 10, 2018
- Restored in 1992-1994 by Kienle Automobiletechnik in Germany
- Air conditioning for enjoyable touring discretely installed when restored
- Reconditioned in April 2007 by Kienle
- Finished in elegant dark blue (DB322) with oyster beige interior
- Driven only 7,910 miles since restoration
The inspired heritage of the Gullwing is well known. Seeking to rebuild the company's reputation for incomparable automobiles, the Mercedes-Benz competitions department under Alfred Neubauer and Rudolf Uhlenhaut designed a super-light aircraft-style tube-frame chassis around their best engine, the 3-liter six-cylinder engine from their luxury 300 sedan but with Bosch mechanical fuel injection. In its enclosed aerodynamic coupe form, the Le Mans-winning 300 SL could only be entered from the top, requiring the innovative doors that were immediately christened "Gullwing" by the motoring press.
The second inspiration came from Max Hoffman, the leading American importer of European exotic cars of the time, who believed that a customer version of the Gullwing would find a ready market in the U.S. and was willing to underwrite their development if Daimler-Benz would produce them. Displayed at the New York Auto Show in 1954, the Gullwing prototype became the headliner, attracting more than enough orders to justify his gamble. Displaying the stunning automobile at every possible venue and convincing noted American drivers to race it, Hoffman rapidly built up a demand for the Gullwing.
With that heritage in mind, when a husband and wife in Palm Beach who had lived for many years in Germany began their collection, they asked their Fort Lauderdale dealer in classic cars to search out 300 SLs for them. He found their first acquisition, a roadster, in 1991 and this Gullwing in April 1992. The only information available on the Gullwing was that it had been purchased in Florida in 1987 and sold to their dealer in March 1992. Though complete, and in good running condition, with the original Graphite Grey paint still able to hold a shine, the red leather interior was worn and was in need of restoration.
In particular, they were somewhat dismayed on initial inspection to uncover the fact that a factory replacement engine had been fitted. With no information available on the car's early history, it might be surmised that like many of the other 1,000 Gullwings imported into the U.S. out of the 1,400 produced, this example might very well have been raced in its first life in the amateur sports-car races that were so popular at that time.
Regardless, their Gullwing was to receive a second life, and like the roadster the year before, they flew with it back to Germany, where the body was properly restored by specialists in alloy body-panel repair at Mercedes-Benz Autowerkstatt in Duisburg. The engine was sent to the Mercedes-Benz engine restoration facilities in Bremen for rebuilding, and the body and chassis went to Kienle Automobiltechnik in Heimerding, known worldwide for the quality of its Mercedes-Benz restorations. No expense was spared with costs exceeding $700,000 for the mechanical and cosmetic restoration, which was done to the highest of standards.
With both paint and interior requiring complete replacement, the couple selected an elegant factory-correct combination of dark blue paint and oyster beige leather to replace the colors shown on the original data card. Complementing the dark blue finish, chrome Rudge knock-off wheels were fitted, which also counterpointed the bright shine of the intake manifolds in the engine compartment. At the recommendation of the restorer, an air conditioning system was fitted to overcome the only deterrent to comfortable long-distance touring in the Florida climate.
As with the roadster before it, when the Gullwing was completed in November 1994, the couple returned to Germany and made a number of road trips with it along the same roads and to the same destinations in Germany, Italy, and Austria that they had enjoyed when they were living in Germany.
They returned to Florida with the car and in 2007 decided to recondition both 300 SLs. Along with their other 300 SL, the Gullwing was shipped back to Kienle in Germany. During this trip, disc brakes were installed, the air conditioning was upgraded, and some engine work was done before the car was returned. Since the original restoration, the car has accumulated only 7,910 miles, driven regularly on short-distance trips. Now, as the couple faces the need to reduce their collection as they change residences, the Gullwing is reluctantly being offered for sale with their hopes that a new owner will appreciate it as much as they have.
The 300 SL comes equipped with a tool kit, including the correct style of copper-headed hammer that would have originally come with the knock-off wheels (though, of course, a proper modern shop hammer is used to remove the wheels). A complete file, nearly four-in. thick, documenting the restoration, including photos and receipts, will accompany the car as well. In addition, the couple is including in the sale the framed photograph of a blue Gullwing by noted German automotive photographer Rene Staud that hung on the garage wall alongside their Gullwing.