Auctions and Brokerage
Nancy and William R. Roche, San Francisco, California (acquired new in 1956)Fred Lustig, Reno, Nevada (acquired from the above in 1974)Newton Withers, Anaheim, California (acquired from the above in 2006)Current Owner (acquired from the above in 2007)
This 300 SL Gullwing, according to a copy of its original build record, was dispatched from Stuttgart on October 10, 1955. Special from the start, this example was painted in Erdbeerrot (Strawberry) Metallic (DB 543), one of only 12 originally painted in this sporting shade – less than 1% of total production. In the 64 years that have elapsed since, this Gullwing has led a particularly charmed life, and it presents today as one of the finest unrestored examples of its kind.
Retailed through Mille Miglia Motors on Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco in early 1956, the coupe was purchased by Bill Roche and his wife Nancy, who kept their cherished Mercedes-Benz garaged at their home in an upscale San Francisco neighborhood. Early service records reveal fanatical attention to the car’s mechanical maintenance, with the engine oil being changed four times over Mr. Roche’s first 13 months and 5,200 miles of ownership; and invoices indicate that almost all of its recorded mileage to date was accrued within the first seven years of its existence. Beginning in about 1963, Mr. Roche put the Gullwing into a state of static preservation, reportedly even draining the fuel lines and dutifully turning the engine over by hand on a monthly schedule.
According to the son of Fred Lustig, the Gullwing’s second owner, this is the condition in which he and his father found the car when they purchased it in 1974. Mr. Lustig then continued the regimen upon adding it to his collection in Saratoga, California, where it resided alongside several other significant, if elder, siblings, including an 1898 Benz Velo, a 1900 Benz Ideal, and a 540K. Mr. Lustig, an avid Mercedes-Benz enthusiast, served as the president of the Mercedes-Benz Club of America for many years and, within that club, his Strawberry Gullwing was often a reference standard for originality, guiding many restorers’ pursuits of authenticity during a time when many Gullwings were undergoing first restorations. Mr. Lustig, who later relocated to Reno, Nevada, was a friend of legendary car collector Bill Harrah, and for many years this 300 SL was on static display within Harrah’s Automobile Collection in nearby Sparks.
In 2006, the Lustig family decided to sell the Gullwing, and it soon came to the attention of Southern California car collector Newt Withers and his business partner. Upon their arrival at Harrah’s collection facility, the two immediately recognized this car’s rare status as a time-warp original example, which showed less than 9,500 miles. Since it had not been started in several years, the Gullwing was transported directly to respected Mercedes-Benz expert Jerry Hjeltness near San Diego. Hjeltness gently returned the 300 SL’s systems to full operation. In addition to the Gullwing’s outstanding overall condition, it was noted at the time that the car retained rarely seen factory details, including the green-painted finish on the back side of the wheels and the two small drain holes punched along the lower edge of the side-glass rubber. Upon the Gullwing’s return to the road later in 2006, Mr. Withers later reported that the 300 SL felt to him like a virtually new car, driving amazingly well with impressive throttle response and nary a squeak nor rattle.
In 2007, the Gullwing was acquired by the consignor, who added it to his world-class private collection. Displaying just 9,950 miles at the time of cataloguing, the 300 SL is believed to retain the vast majority of its original paint, possibly with a light clear coat added at some point. It retains its original black Roser leather interior which presents astoundingly well. Included with the sale are the factory keys; the original manuals, featuring handwritten notes of the first owner in the service record; a matching luggage set; and a tool roll, as well as a touring kit.
It is evident that each of this Gullwing’s four owners have treated the car with the utmost care and respect and, as a result, it can claim a level of preservation and originality seldom seen on any sports car of its era. With many of today’s collectors looking to preserve unrestored examples of significant cars, this rare Strawberry Gullwing should be particularly prized. Gooding & Company is proud to offer this highly significant 300 SL, and welcomes close inspection of this important historical artifact.