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That Mercedes-Benz chose to launch its extraordinary mid-fifties sports car not in Europe but in New York City spoke volumes about the market targeted for this dramatic coupe. US importer Max Hoffman had challenged the Mercedes-Benz management to develop a street version of the all-conquering 300 SL racer, the W194, which had brought the marque back to the winner’s podium after WWII in such a convincing fashion. Hoffman’s guarantee of 1,000 orders was enough to ensure that the 1954 New York International Motorsports Show would be the perfect venue for the model’s first appearance.
The reaction was as Hoffman predicted: Well-heeled sportsmen seized the opportunity to own – and indeed to race – this potent piece of advanced engineering. The 300 SL Gullwing proved itself as a style icon in club racing as well as on the boulevard. This second role, the perfect motoring accessory of the glamorous set, contributed to its eventual replacement by the further refined 300 SL Roadster in 1957.
With just three owners from new, this Gullwing has been carefully maintained and loved since the day it was delivered to a Toronto family. Remaining in this ownership from 1957 until 2006, it had covered a mere 56,000 miles at the time it was sold to its second caretaker. This enthusiast was thrilled with his purchase, which was still wearing its original finishes of red paint with green tartan cloth interior.
This 300 SL Gullwing was determined by its solid condition and history to be a perfect candidate for a thorough, top-quality restoration. An irreplaceable file of paperwork, dating back to 1957, documents its low mileage and maintenance from its earliest days. Its decades of respectful, sparing use and fastidious upkeep has preserved the Gullwing like few others.
In 2007, the Gullwing was brought to RM Auto Restorations shop in Ontario, Canada, for a complete restoration. The work involved the removal of the body from the tube-frame chassis and both were fully restored. Examination confirmed that the Mercedes-Benz’s body was straight and solid, save for some minor corrosion in the lower sections. Further, the engine was completely inspected and repaired as required and the suspension was overhauled.
New belly pans were made for the 300 SL, and all trim items were refinished. The original color scheme was changed to the dramatic black (DB 40) exterior with red leather expertly sewn and fitted into the cockpit. The restoration of the car’s innumerable small parts are chronicled by hundreds of photographs as is the final assembly. A series of images of the gleaming body being reinstalled on the restored chassis recalls the treasured factory photographs of the 300 SL assembly line. The spectacular results of the multi-thousand hour effort are immediately apparent upon inspection. This is without a doubt one of the most attractive, well-finished, and correct Gullwings in existence today.
This Mercedes-Benz had traveled only 150 miles before it passed into the hands of its third custodian in mid-2011. Since then, it has seen 1,000 miles pass, reaching a total of just over 57,000 miles from new. The consignor has shown the Gullwing in concours competition just once – the only time it has appeared since the completion of the restoration. That appearance, in a special class of 300 SL Gullwings and Roadsters at the 2012 San Marino Concours d’Elegance in California resulted in a Best in Class prize among formidable competition.
During the current stewardship, the Gullwing has been expertly maintained by noted Mercedes-Benz 300 SL specialist Rene Luteraan in Van Nuys, California, who has thoroughly sorted the car post-restoration. Today the Mercedes-Benz remains outstanding in appearance – beautifully maintained and fastidiously cared for – showing little evidence of use. Its presentation is as well suited for leading concours events as it is for high-speed touring or rallying.
On a recent extended drive, the Gullwing was found to perform extremely well, exhibiting smooth power at all speeds, confident braking, and outstanding road manners. The legendary engineering of the 300 SL is most apparent in this finely prepared example. This 300 SL Gullwing will undoubtedly provide its next owner, just its fourth in 57 years, the rare opportunity to own one of the very best of the best.