Auctions and Brokerage
Karl Kunze Company, Berlin, Germany (acquired new in 1959)Walter Kupka, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada (acquired circa 1974)Bud Kanke, West Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada (acquired in 1979)Paul Herbesmann, British Columbia, CanadaBruce Stevenson, Portland, Oregon (acquired in 1996)Seth Gersch, Hillsborough, California (acquired from the above in 1998)Anthony Podell, Rolling Hills, California (acquired from the above circa 2002)Current Owner (acquired from the above)
With its DNA rooted in the 300 SL racing cars of 1952, which successfully returned Mercedes-Benz to top-level international racing and scored a commanding 1st Place and 2nd Place finish at Le Mans that year, the breathtaking 300 SL coupe debuted at the 1954 New York Auto Show to widespread acclaim. Demand for a roadster variant spurred development shortly after coupe production began, with German magazine Auto Motor und Sport reporting the first sighting of a modified open 300 SL at Stuttgart in 1956. While 300 SL Gullwing production wound down in mid-1957 with 1,400 built in all, production of the comprehensively refined 300 SL Roadster commenced. Just 1,858 300 SL Roadsters were ultimately constructed through 1963, with the model largely hand-built.
The process of creating an open 300 SL was quite complex, with the roadsters being extensively re-engineered compared with their closed predecessor. Handling was improved with rear-suspension upgrades and standard Michelin X tires. Compensating for the 300 SL Roadster’s additional weight, its three-liter engine received a competition camshaft and an optional high-compression ratio.
Predictably, the roadsters were quite popular among the top celebrities of the era, further raising the 300 SL’s image. Despite costing over $11,000 when new, the low-production 300 SL Roadster was never among the most profitable models for Mercedes-Benz. But the influence and halo effect that the cars had when new are stronger than ever today – no serious collection of the world’s greatest sports cars is considered truly complete without at least one high-quality example in residence.
According to its build record, this 300 SL was originally delivered in April 1959 to the Karl Kunze Company, a metalworking enterprise in Berlin. Instrumentation in kilometers and amber rear lenses serve to confirm that this 300 SL spent its earliest years in Europe. By the early 1970s, the Roadster had been imported into western Canada in the ownership of Walter Kupka who owned a repair garage specializing in fine European makes. In 1979, well-known Vancouver restaurateur and longtime automotive enthusiast Bud Kanke purchased the 300 SL. He kept it in his collection for the next several years, and the roadster had one additional Canadian caretaker before making its way to the US to the ownership of hotelier Bruce Stevenson in Portland, Oregon. Making its way further south, Seth Gersch of Hillsborough, California, had custody for two years before selling the roadster to Southern California collector Tony Podell. In Mr. Podell’s care, the roadster received attention to several mechanical systems, including brakes, fuel, suspension, cooling, and more. Numerous receipts chronicle the completion of extensive mechanical work during his 13-year tenure with the car. Following the work, Mr. Podell successfully participated in two of the most popular vintage rallies, the Copperstate 1000 and the Colorado Grand.
Finished in its original color of Weissgrau (DB 158), the gentle patina of the red leather interior, wide lap belts, and chromed Rudge-style wheels add to this roadster’s exciting sporting presence; and its soft top neatly stows beneath the hinged tonneau. Though the engine number is illegible on the car’s wagenkarte recently obtained from the factory, its stamped number falls within the proper sequence in terms of production. Furthermore, the Gull Wing Group registry lists this roadster as retaining its original engine. A largely complete factory tool kit accompanies the roadster, and a two-piece set of color-matched, fitted luggage adorns the trunk.
Today, 55 years on, the 300 SL Roadster stands as one of the most usable, enjoyable, and comfortable sports cars of its era and can be driven with confidence in modern traffic. This beautifully presented roadster now requires only a new caretaker to take part in the continuation of its international adventure.