2022 | Pebble Beach Auctions
1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing
From The William M. Wonder Collection
$2,000,000 - $2,500,000
Retains Matching-Numbers NSL-Series Engine per Factory Records
Equipped from New with Rudge Wheels and Numerous Sport/Competition Options
Offered in Original Colors of German Racing Silver over Blue Leather
Part of The William M. Wonder Collection for Nearly 20 Years
Very Rare and Desirable Specification More Common to Alloy-Bodied Examples
2,996 CC SOHC Inline 6-Cylinder Engine
Bosch Mechanical Fuel Injection
240 BHP at 5,800 RPM
4-Speed Manual Gearbox
4-Wheel Hydraulic Drum Brakes
Front Independent Double-Wishbone Suspension with Coil Springs
Rear Independent Swing-Axle Suspension with Coil Springs
Please note that this vehicle will need attention to its brakes and shifter before regular road use.
Richard Wolfe, Columbus, Ohio (acquired new in 1955)
Stephen Mohlemann, Austin, Texas
Peter Fino, Itasca, Illinois (acquired circa late 1970s)
Manny Dragone, Connecticut (acquired from the above in 2004)
William M. Wonder (acquired from the above in 2004)
If not for US importer Max Hoffman and his passion for a sports coupe based on the highly successful Mercedes-Benz W194 series race cars, the immortal 300 SL line would never have come to production.
The racing success of the factory team was having a positive effect on Mercedes-Benz sales in the US. However, without a car clearly related to the race-winning machines, the marketing advantage of the immensely costly racing effort was limited. Accordingly, Mercedes-Benz management approved the 300 SL project after Mr. Hoffman made a firm commitment to purchase 1,000 of the cars for US distribution.
Integral to the marketing plan for the groundbreaking new sports car was the expectation that the cars would be used in competition by private owners in order to drive sales in the showrooms, so the factory ensured that the 300 SL was accepted by the FIA for international racing events. As a result, the factory made the production Gullwing available with a host of optional competition-oriented parts, raising its already newsworthy capabilities to new heights. While the majority of the 1,400 Gullwings were completed with standard components, a small number of customers ordered their cars with special high-performance features.
Such is the case with the very special Gullwing offered here. It was delivered in Frankfurt in export specification to young American enthusiast Richard Wolfe of Columbus. A member of a highly influential family, Mr. Wolfe’s considerable resources enabled him to acquire the finest of whatever he desired. According to a copy of its factory-build record, Mr. Wolfe specified his Gullwing to be optioned with Motor mit Sonderteilen für sportliches Fahren (motor with special parts for sporty driving), commonly referred to as the NSL series engine that featured a high-performance camshaft, modified injection pump, and recalibrated distributor, which added a not-insignificant 20 hp. Appropriately, this Gullwing’s matching-numbers engine is stamped with the NSL designation. Perhaps equally important, he also purchased the sport suspension option, which included stiffer, shorter springs and special shock absorbers that lowered the car, enhancing peak performance. In keeping with its competition capabilities, Mr. Wolfe specified Rudge knock-off wheels, and German Racing Silver (DB 180) paint, accented by a blue leather interior. Taken all together, Mr. Wolfe’s Gullwing featured most of the options which were part of the upgraded equipment on the alloy-bodied model (type 198.043), but without the fragility of its body and plastic windows.
By the late 1970s, the Gullwing reached the ownership of noted 300 SL enthusiast Peter Fino, a resident of Itasca, Illinois. It was the first of his many 300 SLs, and he later had the interior re-trimmed in blue leather. While initially unaware of chassis 5500784’s rare configuration, he realized that his car had special equipment when having the injection pump serviced. It soon became a favorite in his collection, and he retained the Gullwing for well over 20 years. In 2004, Mr. Fino sold the Gullwing to Manny Dragone, a dealer in Connecticut who, after refinishing 5500784 in its original silver, sold it to Lillian and William M. Wonder. The William M. Wonder Collection has been the perfect home for the Gullwing, where its enhanced capabilities have been fully appreciated, by both Mr. Wonder and his son, James, who have driven it frequently over the years.
Nothing short of iconic, even when new, Gullwings have only grown in popularity and have come to define many aspects of the collector-car hobby. But 5500784 is proof that not all Gullwings are equal. This is a 300 SL Gullwing that has never been comprehensively restored, preserving the integrity of the factory assembly, and has spent nearly 20 years within the discipline of the racing environment in The William M. Wonder Collection. Presented here is a Gullwing that offers something truly special, with factory enhancements that place it over and above the many standard-specification examples. This German Racing Silver coupe proudly sits – slightly lower – on its original Rudge knock-off wheels, a subtle reminder of what lies beneath. Its next chapter has yet to be written, but will likely include tales of adventure on epic roads and locales.