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*Please note this vehicle is titled 1956 and by its engine number, 1989805500669M.
Don Ricardo, Pasadena, California (acquired new in 1955)Current Owner (acquired from the above in August 2003)
Don Ricardo was an accomplished man in multiple felds. As a bandleader, he entertained countless fans nationwide for over half a century, and he is every bit as famous for his lifelong passion for Mercedes-Benz.
In 1927, Don Ricardo formed his first band, The Californians, which rose quickly in popularity and notoriety, and he became well known for his big band numbers and Latin rhythms. His band was a familiar sight at Lake Tahoe concert venues, the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles, and Catalina Island’s famed Casino in Avalon. In 1937, he became conductor of the NBC Orchestra, performing for the network’s radio shows. During WWII, drawing from his skills as a machinist, he oversaw a large group of designers and technicians at Caltech working on behalf of what would later be revealed as The Manhattan Project.
Following the war, he returned to music, which enabled him to pursue his other passion, automobiles. Over the next several decades, Don Ricardo amassed an amazing Mercedes-Benz collection, including a completely original 500 K and an intoxicatingly proportioned SSK, among many others. All the while there were at least two rather special Gullwings in what he called his Pasadena “14-car garage – with a house attached.” In 1967, he prepared his aluminum-bodied Gullwing, chassis no. 5500804, for a speed-record attempt at the Bonneville Salt Flats and achieved a class record of 153.711 mph, which stood for nine years.
His other special Gullwing is the car offered here. Don Ricardo purchased chassis no. 5500628 new – for the then princely sum of $9,300, including options – in Los Angeles in 1955. Soon after taking delivery, he successfully campaigned his new red Gullwing, supported by factory-trained mechanics, on Southern California drag strips, winning the Southern California National Championship 1956/57 in the over-1,500cc class at Pomona. His best standing quarter mile was 13.86 seconds at 101.26 mph. Following the Gullwing’s retirement from competition, he maintained it as a dazzling show car for the next 45 years. As was prevalent in the period, Don Ricardo made numerous modifications to 5500628 and, incredibly, they remain intact today. Countless mechanical components in the engine compartment are polished or chromed, and they are mirrored in the painstakingly polished bare-aluminum surface of the underside of the hood. The interior features black German square-weave carpets, beautifully preserved factory original black leather upholstery, and a black semi-sheen cloth headliner. A matched set of authentic black leather Karl Baisch fitted luggage shows as new and fills the rear parcel area. To complete the dramatic effect, Don Ricardo installed a wooden Nardi steering wheel and black SE-series shift knob. Even the trunk has been enlivened with period trim and accessories.
Outside, the Gullwing’s factory-fitted Rudge knock-off wheels sparkle with chromed centers and fully polished outer rims, and its rare and delicate concave-star grille is still proudly in place. Underneath, its custom, period-fitted dual exhaust system remains intact and the original belly pans have been polished to a show-level gloss. Also, in the late 1960s, Don Ricardo used his considerable connections to secure a very special license plate number for the 300 SL, several years before the advent of California’s personalized plate program. The black and yellow California plates “SLR 300” became synonymous with his Gullwing and remain with the car, as do an original set of Continental tires and several of the more than the hundred-plus awards Don Ricardo received showing the car over the years.
In 1978, the Gullwing was trailered to El Mirage dry lakebed to be photographed by Henry Rasmussen for his popular Survivors Series books. The Gullwing appears in color plates on the cover and throughout the book European Sports Cars of the Fifties with Don Ricardo at the wheel in his racing suit, helmet, and goggles. The fascinating article immortalizes how special Don Ricardo was to the Mercedes-Benz collecting hobby, and this Gullwing looks simply spectacular in every shot.
Don Ricardo passed away in 2001, and two years later his estate sold the Gullwing to the consignor, its second owner. Continuing to look just as it did in the 1978 photo shoot, it has been expertly maintained by the current owner’s collection staff and by the renowned Paul Russell and Company. Over the past dozen years, the Gullwing has had very light, occasional use, including a recent 80-mile local rally.
An immensely important and historic Gullwing, 5500628 is believed to retain a portion of its original paint, as well as original chrome, glass, and brightwork. As it has never required major disassembly or restoration, the integrity of the original factory build is undisturbed. Additionally, the fact that Don Ricardo’s personal modifications are still intact speaks to how well preserved and special this Gullwing truly is.
For decades, Don Ricardo was respected as a pioneer in the car collecting hobby, and he was a great authority on technical aspects of all his cars, but particularly his 300 SLs. Gull Wing Group members who date back to its earliest years recall Don Ricardo as one of the great personalities of the club and a trusted friend who was often consulted for the final word regarding esoteric questions on all things Mercedes-Benz. Today, his beloved 300 SL has been faithfully kept just as he left it. Gooding & Company could not be more proud to bring this very important Gullwing to market.