Auctions and Brokerage
*Please note this vehicle has been on long-term static display and will require mechanical attention prior to road use. Please note this vehicle is titled 1955.
William and Claudia Burkey, Bozman, Maryland (acquired by 1965)R. Thomajan and M. Thomajan, Austin, Texas (acquired in 1989)
The 300 SL Gullwing created a sensation when it debuted at New York’s International Motor Sports Show in February 1954. In the years since, it has earned a reputation as one of the most iconic automobiles ever released to the public. Mercedes-Benz built 1,400, and owning a Gullwing identified the caretaker as a true motoring enthusiast.
The first known custodians of this early production Gullwing were William and Claudia Burkey, residents of Maryland’s Eastern Shore; they held the car in the mid-1960s and may have been the original owners. Chassis 4500101 was originally finished in Black (DB 40) over a red leather interior, and one Maryland-based collector recently recalled that the Burkeys had a Mercedes-Benz 300 D dating to the 1950s in addition to their gleaming black Gullwing. Mr. Burkey, a Yale graduate, popular local businessman, civic leader, and avid Rotarian, was a founder of the Eastern Pennsylvania Sports Car Club and was once president of the National Association of Knit Goods Manufacturers. He is also credited with the design and construction of an electric automobile. Though they are said to have led a quiet life, the Burkeys were quite active in their local sailing club and were often seen in the small towns of Bozman and St. Michaels in one of their Mercedes.
The next known owner of the Gullwing was Robert Thomajan, a prominent attorney with a head for business and a heart rooted in all things adventurous. He was living in New York when he purchased the 300 SL in the late 1980s and, before long, the Gullwing was sent for a full restoration in the New York area. Though the restorer’s identity remains unknown, the overall result of the work is quite correct and should make a favorable showing in a concours setting. Refinished in the traditional hue of German Racing Silver with a blue leather interior, proper details include a set of five 1954 date-coded Sudrad wheels, leather-upholstered A- and B-pillars, and exposed dome light switch; as well as fender welting on the body “eyebrows” and a Treadle-Vac brake booster, all of which are exclusive features of early Gullwings. Chassis 4500101 also retains its concave star in the grille, short-profile marker lights, and a neatly fitted set of belly pans. The engine compartment is particularly well finished and retains its original, matching-numbers engine and early, square-weave screen behind the grille.
Around the time the show-quality restoration was completed, Mr. Thomajan relocated to Austin, Texas, where he became a popular local business owner in addition to practicing law. Outings in the Gullwing were few, and following what must have amounted to no more than break-in mileage, in the mid-1990s the car was placed on display in the Central Texas Museum of Automotive History in the nearby town of Rosanky.
Mr. Thomajan passed away in 2004, and the bright silver Gullwing is now owned by his widow. Upon the closing of the museum in early 2012, the 300 SL was moved and became a welcome and popular sight on the showroom floor of the Mercedes-Benz dealership in Austin, where it remained until late 2015.
The Gullwing has recently received expert work on the fuel and braking systems and, in December 2015, the Gullwing was started for the first time in more than 20 years. The engine, fitted with a later-model distributor, never skipped a beat and showed smooth acceleration and strong oil pressure. As with any car that has been in long-term storage, it should receive further inspection and maintenance prior to being returned to full road use, but upon view, the quality and accuracy of the restoration still show prominently.
As Gullwings continue to enjoy a unique status in the world of sports cars, they have become an increasingly popular choice with collectors on extended rallies and tours. Their legendary quality construction and performance make them truly exhilarating to drive at speed. Presented here is a seldom-seen opportunity to re-introduce a beautifully restored Gullwing to the world, a generation after it last saw the road.