1957 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Roadster
- The 13th production example built; displays many rare early production features
- One of 554 examples produced in 1957
- Original matching-numbers engine
- Exhaustive 2002 restoration, refreshed by a marque expert in 2013
- Numerous exhibition awards
- Meticulous documentation, including heritage certificate, restoration invoices, and factory data card
At the 1957 Geneva Motor Show, Mercedes-Benz introduced a new version of the celebrated 300 SL wearing open coachwork, the 300 SL Roadster. In an early suggestion of the increasing focus the manufacturer would place on luxury cars over the ensuing decades, the new roadster was above all a more refined car than its winged predecessor.
There was no denying the 300 SL’s mechanical performance, which had decidedly improved in the roadster, with the updated six-cylinder engine receiving the competition camshaft used in the NSL racing Gullwings, good for a lift of 20 horsepower. Handling also benefited from a revised rear suspension with a lower axle pivot-point, minimizing the Gullwing’s tendency for oversteer. Despite the added weight of chassis reinforcement required by an open model, the roadster was every bit the performance car that the Gullwing had proven itself to be.
The roadster’s overwhelmingly luxurious character, however, generally obscured its performance capabilities. With a reclining soft-top, the model was never subject to the uncomfortably hot cabin issues that beguiled the Gullwing, and the roadster’s redesigned tube frame afforded lower door sills, facilitating far easier access than the Gullwing’s challenging ingress and egress.
Upholstered in leather and usually equipped with a Becker radio and climate control, the roadster was also offered with sporty Rudge knock-off wheels, fitted trunk luggage, and an ivory or black steering wheel. The new 300 SL was an improvement on the Gullwing in nearly every capacity, at least from a road-going perspective, and it has since evolved into one of Stuttgart’s most collectible models, a darling of both concours fields and vintage rallies.
This outstanding example is one of only 554 examples produced in 1957, and it claims several notable superlatives, including an extremely early position in the model’s chassis number sequence, a dormant period of at least a decade that led to a more recent barn find, and attention from award-winning craftsmen that has resulted in stunning condition.
As just the 13th example of a production car recorded in the Gullwing Registry (not including the prototypes), chassis number 7500089 is one of the earliest roadsters ever built. Though there is some evidence to suggest that the car is just the fifth example imported to the United States, it is relatively conclusive that the car is at the very least one of the first 10 such roadsters to enter America.
As documented by a factory build sheet and a heritage certificate issued by Mercedes-Benz Classic in Stuttgart in 2004, this 300 SL was originally finished in black paint and upholstered with red leather with white piping. The car was factory-equipped with instruments in English, sealed-beam headlamps, a rear-axle ratio of 3.89:1, and a two-piece trunk luggage set.
As an early roadster, this car features many carryover features from the outgoing Gullwing, as well as several early production anomalies not found on later examples. A Gullwing-style scuff plate near the accelerator pedal, thinner gauge sun visors, and several Gullwing-style nuts and fasteners are among at least 27 eccentricities that distinguish this roadster from the majority of cars that followed. A comprehensive list of nuances can be found in the car’s file.
Completing assembly on 28 June 1957, the 300 SL was delivered to its American distributor on 31 July. By the early 2000s, the car had surfaced in Ohio as a long-stored barn find, with the engine disassembled in the trunk. The 300 SL wore gold paint with matching wheels, claimed only two known prior owners, and apparently had undergone some restoration efforts in 1994. The 300 SL was then discovered and purchased in November 2003 by Jay McDonald, a collector who had become enamored by the marque and had been searching for an appropriate roadster for over a year.
Mr. McDonald soon commissioned a full frame-off refurbishment by Brian Anderson of Classic European Restorations in Escondido, California. The car was completely dismantled and cataloged with photos, while the body was placed on a rotisserie for media blasting and minor shaping corrections that were followed by a deep refinish in midnight blue paint. The frame was taken down to bare metal and properly powder-coated, and the suspension, brakes, and rear-end were all rebuilt as needed. The engine and transmission were removed, disassembled, and rebuilt, and many parts were sourced from HK Engineering in Germany.
Cosmetically, the interior was reupholstered in proper Parchment leather for an outstanding color contrast, and HK provided a correct set of Rudge wheels (optional equipment for roadsters when new), which were painted in matching blue. All electrical systems and gauges were reconditioned, as were the Becker radio and period ivory Bakelite wheel, while a new two-piece luggage set was sourced in the matching interior color. Completed in the summer of 2005, the restoration soon exhibited to great acclaim, with best-in-class awards bestowed at the 2006 Los Angeles and Palos Verdes Concours d’Elegance, and a Best of Show at the Gullwing National Convention in San Diego.
In 2008, Mr. McDonald sold the show-winning roadster to Thomas McLeod, who in turn sold the car to the consignor, a passionate collector of vintage sports cars. After conducting significant research into the Mercedes’ build history, the consignor commissioned a meticulous freshening of the restoration in early 2013 by Mark Allin of Rare Drive in Kensington, New Hampshire. A former shop manager and 14-year employee of the esteemed Paul Russell and Company, Mr. Allin is a seasoned specialist in 300 SL models, whose restorations have been awarded at Amelia Island, Cavallino, the FCA Nationals, Meadow Brook, and Pebble Beach. Mr. Allin’s attention to the roadster resulted in an exquisite level of presentation that immediately resulted in a class award at the inaugural 2013 Pinehurst Concours d’Elegance and portends continued future exhibition success.
With such meticulous attention to detail and a remarkably early position in the roadster model’s chassis sequence, this breathtaking 300 SL would make an outstanding addition to any collection and an ideal candidate for the enthusiast seeking instant success on the concours field or in vintage driving events. With a 1957 build date, this roadster is also one of relatively few examples that are eligible for the Mille Miglia Storico or California Mille.
Accompanied by a proper toolkit and skull pads, as well as factory documentation, chassis number 7500089 checks all of the proverbial boxes and figures to bring immeasurable satisfaction to its next caretaker.