loading Loading please wait....

Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing: buying guide and review (1954-1963)

Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing
The 300SL came about in the wake of Mercedes’ Le Mans and Carrera Panamericana victories in 1952; the company was keen to capitalise on those successes as much as possible. Developing the car into a road-going tour de force was a masterstroke; upon its unveiling at the 1954 New York motor show, the 300SL ‘Gullwing’ caused a sensation. Not only was its top speed around twice that of the typical contemporary family saloon, but it was also the world’s first production car with fuel injection.
 
Officially known as the 300SL Coupé, the Gullwing survived until 1957, with 1400 built before the Roadster replaced it. Often criticised for its unforgiving rear suspension, you could easily end up leaving the road backwards if you unsettled a coupé mid-bend. That’s why the Roadster’s rear suspension was improved significantly; the swing axles remained, but with a lower pivot point, while a transverse coil spring helped when the car was being cornered hard. As a result it’s more forgiving; the open-topped cars are also more plentiful as 1858 were built by the time production ended in 1963.
 
Which one to buy?
 
Although they’re closely related, there are more differences between the Gullwing and Roadster than you’d think; they’re very different to drive which is why they’re often bought in pairs. While British and American owners strive to keep their cars original, the Germans aren’t so bothered. As a result, quite a few Gullwings now have a five-speed gearbox along with disc brakes – there’s even one with anti-lock brakes.
 
The Roadster and Gullwing have the same engine, but owners could choose between two states of tune. In standard form there was 215bhp, but a raised compression ratio and spicier camshaft boosted this to 250bhp and 228lb ft of torque. Also, while most cars featured an alloy head and cast-iron block, the final Roadsters got an all-alloy unit; some Gullwings now have this lighter unit, although none came off the production line so equipped.
 
Refreshingly, condition is no bar to purchase, as the high values mean no car is beyond saving. German specialist Kienle Automobiltechnik works with the factory to provide parts, while Mercedes can help with anything from fresh parts to a complete restoration. So while the 300SL is extremely costly, it’s still one of the safes places to put your money. 
 
Performance and specs
 
Engine 2996cc, six-cylinder
Power 215bhp @ 5800rpm
Torque 203lb ft @ 4600rpm
Top speed 147-163mph depending on rear axle ratio
0-60mph 10.0sec
Consumption 18mpg
Gearbox Four-speed manual
 
Dimensions and weight
 
Wheelbase 2400mm
Length 4520mm
Width 1778mm
Height 1302mm
Weight 1293kg
 
Common problems
 
• Rot is rarely a problem, with most 300SLs at least part-restored by now. The spaceframe chassis can corrode, but never enough to cause significant problems. The most likely issue is corrosion that’s difficult to repair without removing the bodyshell, as this increases restoration costs, although most owners prefer to go for a body-off rebuild anyway. Letting in fresh chassis sections is easy enough, but look for evidence of poor crash repairs, with the frame out of true.

• All 300SLs featured undertrays to improve aerodynamics; they also stop everything underneath getting caked in crud. Some owners prefer to leave the undertrays off, but it’s not advised; if you buy a car without them, they can be remade.

• A lot of the body panels are aluminium, including the doors, bonnet, boot lid and sills, but the rest of the structure is steel, although 29 coupés were made with all-alloy bodyshells. There are few weak spots on a steel-bodied car; the front valance and rear wheelarches are the areas most likely to give problems, along with the blisters over the wheelarches.

• Derived from the 300D straight-six, the 300SL’s 3.0-litre engine is smooth, refined and durable, if the fuel injection is working properly. Problems often stem from a lack of use; the injection pump’s pig-skin diaphragm perishes, leading to over-fuelling and consequent washing of the bores. Stale fuel leads to clouds of black smoke when the engine is started.

• It’s usually possible to rebuild everything, including the engine and all ancillaries. An alloy head means maintaining anti-freeze levels is essential, to prevent internal corrosion. It’s possible to get the head’s waterways sealed, to ensure the metal doesn’t become porous.

• There were differences between Gullwing and Roadster gearboxes, the former having semi-straight-cut gears which produce more whine than you’d expect; the Roadster’s all-synchro unit is much quieter. Both types are very strong, with nothing more than bearing wear likely, although gearlevers can fall out when the nylon bush at the base of the stick wears out. Repairs are cheap and easy though.

• Don’t under-estimate the cost of replacing a clutch if you want to maintain originality. Genuine clutches can be temperamental, wearing out quickly. A new three-piece clutch kit is available, but some owners fit a modern diaphragm unit that’s easier to use and much cheaper.

• There were five rear axle ratios available, ranging from 4.11:1 for ultimate acceleration, to a 3.25:1 unit if relaxed cruising was more in order. All rear axles are strong, with worn bearings and gears the most serious likely fault. As a result, a bit of whine is common. Gullwings got a limited-slip mechanism.

• The rubber driveshaft gaiters and half-shaft oil seals perish; Roadsters featured a single gaiter while the Gullwing got two. Repair costs are surprisingly high.

• The recirculating ball steering differs between open and closed cars; there are two turns between locks for the Gullwing, but three for the Roadster. Neither box gives problems, so just check for excessive play. Mercedes didn’t offer right-hand drive 300SLs but a tiny number of cars were crudely converted in period.

• In 1961 the Roadster got disc brakes all-round, in place of the previous finned alloy drums. Fitted with a steel insert where the shoe makes contact, the drums can distort. It’s usually possible to skim the drums or fit a new insert, but if things have deteriorated too far you might have to buy replacement drums.
 
Model history
 
1952: 300SL racers notch up multiple victories around the globe.
1953: US Mercedes importer Max Hoffman persuades the factory to build a road-ready 300SL.
1954: Road-going 300SL debuts at the New York International Motor Sports Show.
1955: 190SL roadster goes on sale.
1957: 300SL Roadster supersedes coupé.
1958: A hard top is now offered; as a result, the Roadster can be ordered without a folding roof.
1961: Disc brakes all round replace the drums previously fitted.
1962: Engine is now all-alloy.
1963: Final 300SL is built.
 
Key clubs and websites
 
• www.mercedesclub.org.uk - UK-based Mercedes Owners Club and forum
• www.mercedes-benz-club.co.uk - The official UK Mercedes club
• www.mbca.org - Mercedes-Benz Club of America
• www.niemoeller.de - Parts and spares for Gullwings, from interior dashboard and seat trim, to engine and gearbox parts
 
Summary and prices
 
Gullwings have sat near the top of the market for decades, and it doesn’t look like it will change any time soon. For a top example, expect to pay up to £1m, although you might be able to find an example in need of some restoration work for from £500,000-600,000. Some models may fetch more money if they have rare options fitted, and the alloy-bodied versions are considerably more expensive. 
 
Words: Richard Dredge
Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing
Last updated: 3rd Nov 2015
collapse this

Mercedes-Benz 300sl cars for sale

15 Search results
Mercedes-Benz 300sl
29995 971750 GBP
  • 1986 Mercedes 300SL

    POA POA

    1986 Mercedes 300SL 1986 Mercedes 300 SL, 39,900 miles, Signal Red with Parchment leather, three owner vehicle, last owner nine years, just completed in excess of £13,000 re-commissioning by my company, including all new braking system, with new discs, new callipers, new pads, new sensors all round, new Dunlop tyres x 5, flat faced Alloys x 5 re-furbished, fully rebuilt front suspension, engine bay detailing, re-conolised leather interior including rear seats in Parchment, FMBSH, just fully serviced within the re-commissioning, all book’s and invoices, 19 old Mot’s, hard and soft tops, original Factory black soft top in super condition, all tools just soft nickel plated, supplied by my company nine years ago for 20K. Mot’d and taxed ready for this summer, the car drives perfect. £39,995.

    • Year: 1986
    • Mileage: 39900 mi
    For sale
    Alan Carrington
    01622 880005 VIEW CONTACT NUMBER
  • 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing

    £971,750 £971,750

    This 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing is a factory Rudge wheel example that was born in DB157 Beige. It currently wears aging but still very presentable ruby red paint. Other than the paint, this car is all original. It comes with 40 years of records and it's factory tool kit. It was also special ordered with the 3.64 rear axle ratio from the factory. It's had just three owners from new and has spent most of it's life in California. According to Paul Russell and Co, this is one of the best driving Gullwings they've ever driven. An absolutely original car that's nothing but honest for only $1,495,000

    • Year: 1955
    For sale
  • Mercedes-Benz 300 SL 1988 | Signal Red with Blue MB Tex

    £29,995 £29,995

    Details Current mileage 80,737 This car has been known to The SL Shop for some time, and was s upplied new by Car and Commercial Services of Aylesbury on 1st August 1988 In Signal Red with Blue MX Tex interior, this is a rare car. In all our time of dealing with 107s, we've only sold 1 other vehicle in this colour combination. With a full driver's handbook pack including the original maintenance booklet showing services performed at 880, 5940, 9468, 15468, 23116, 29664, 34113, 39211, 42452, 50143, 57280, 60852, 61740, 62389, 63499, 67976, 71784, 73112, 73255, and 73774 miles. Will be freshly serviced and MoT tested for the new owner. The registration mark KJO304 is included in the sale price.

    • Year: 1971
    • Mileage: 73774 mi
    For sale
  • Mercedes Benz 300 SL SOLD

    POA POA

    Year of construction 1959 iconic sports car of the 1950s first direct fuel injected line six engine fully restored Accompanied by rare and desirable hardtop Recent extensive refinish and service by 300 SL expert lot of invoices and history price SOLD EUR

    • Year: 1959
    For sale
  • Mercedes-Benz 300 SL 1988 | Arctic White with Blue Sports Check

    £39,995 £39,995

    Details 300 SL | 1988 | F Registered | Just 44,000 Miles | Arctic White with Blue Sports Check | Rear Seating | Illuminated Vanity Mirrors. Standard Equipment: Late Model with Galvanized Panels. 4sp automatic transmission with Sport/Economy modes Rear Seatbelt Mountings. ABS. 15 hole alloy wheels. Central locking. Electric windows. Heat insulating green glass. Graduated tinted windscreen. Front fog lamps. Power steering. Factory hard top with heated rear screen. Heated washer jets and door mirror lenses. Registered in 1988 the penultimate year of production for the improved end of line cars. Accompanying this crisp white example is a history file documenting previous owners, a file of service receipts and MoT certificates and service booklets confirming 11 service entries. As with all of our cars this example will be sold with a full service using correct filters and fluids, a comprehensive pre delivery inspection which includes multiple checks and extensive tests… anything that is found to be requiring attention is attended to or flagged for attention which is why our cars take time to come to market. The cars are then independently MoT inspected and come with a 12 month SL Shop w

    • Year: 1988
    • Mileage: 44000 mi
    For sale
  • Mercedes-Benz 300sl

    POA POA

    Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing (1955) Chassis No. 198.0404500061 Engine No. 198. 9804500060 Correct Matching Numbers: UK Registration: Early Production Series A true classic motorcar that has had star quality from day one. There has never been a time when a Mercedes-Benz Gullwing has failed to turn heads and been admired as probably the “finest classic car of all time”! Without doubt, those ‘”Gullwing Doors” are totally responsible for the cars total admiration. When the world first saw Hermann Lang climbing out of his car after winning Le Mans in 1952, they could not have created a greater sensation than anything else in motoring history. In fact, those doors were merely an expedient because the 300SL’s true spaceframe chassis and high sills necessitated hinging the doors on the roof. Such was the stir they caused, however, that the organisers of the Mille Miglia (where 300SLs took second and fourth) tried to ban them! The “SL” moniker (translated to English as Sport Light) reflected the pioneering use of a welded, tubular-steel, ultra-light frame construction that weighed only 182 pounds. The car also featured fully independent suspension in addition to its fuel-injected, 3.0-litre OHC straight-six engine with dry-sump lubrication. The engine was inclined to the side in order to reduce the height of the front end. The power was rated at 215 brake horsepower at 5,800 rpm (DIN) and delivered through a four-speed manual gearbox. A 161-mph top speed and 0–60 acceleration of approximately eight seconds, depending on the rear-end ratio selected from five options, made the 300 SL the fastest production automobile of its time. The 300 SL in its day was also raced and piloted by some of the world leading racing drivers and without doubt the number one driver associated with the car was of course, Sir Stirling Moss, who holds the “forever” course record for his famous Mille Miglia finish in 1955. It all added to the romance of a car that seemed destined to become a legend the moment production began of the “Gullwing”. The car has all the right ingredients to make these models the most incredible classic cars of all time! Our 300SL offered for sale is recorded in the Gullwing Group Registry as having been originally delivered to the USA on the 8th November 1954 to Wisconsin and supplied to a Mr Kiekhἃfer. Originally commissioned to be built in White, the car is now finished in the most desirable and highly sought-after colour combination of the 300SL in Silver Grey Metallic with Red Hide and the added benefit of fitted luggage. The motorcar has just completed a fresh comprehensive safety-check and MOT carried out by one of the UK leading 300SL specialists. No serious classic car collection is ever complete without the most legendary modern sports car of all times; a Mercedes Benz 300SL Gullwing! Now available to be personally inspected at our central London showrooms.

    • Year: 1955
    For sale
  • 1959 MERCEDES BENZ 300 SL ROADSTER

    POA POA

    --Original Hellblau (Light Blue - DB 334) with Blue leather interior, Grey carpeting, Blue convertible top and Silver factory hardtop, Restored, Documented History from New, Original Color Combination, Matching (chassis, Engine, Body) as documented by Mercedes-Benz Factory Build Sheets. This 300 SL Roadster has had four owners from new. Gull Wing Group records indicate this US-specification 300 SL Roadster was originally delivered to first owner Mr. Siegfried “Sigi” Benzel of Fort Lee, New Jersey. Mr, Benzel was German immigrant who built one of New Jersey’s most successful chains of automobile dealerships. He was also the owner of one of the oldest Mercedes Benz dealerships, Benzel-Busch located in his home town of Fort Lee, New Jersey. Mr. Benzel was a passionate collector of classic sports cars. Factory options include: Factory Hardtop, Becker Mexico Radio and Nardi Steering Wheel After some time in Mr. Benzel’s ownership, the 300 SL was sold to Mr. J. Hwang, Garden City, New York. After a decade of use, in 1973, Mr. Hwang sold the 300 SL to fellow Mercedes enthusiast, Mr. Liem, Fairfield, Connecticut. Throughout the ensuing years, Mr. Liem continued to use the 300 SL at various

    • Year: 1959
    • Mileage: 2016 mi
    For sale
  • 1962 Mercedes 300SL Roadster/SOLD

    POA POA

    Let's face facts: 300SL Gullwings and Roadsters have skyrocked in price over the last few years, so if you're going to plunk your money down to own one, make sure it's got a pedigree like this one. This spectacular Roadster has had just two owners for 95% of it's life and has gone a mere 77,000 original miles. It has its orignal, matching numbers engine, is still in its original colors, has all of it's original books, tools, jack, spare, radio... etc. Best of all, all of these facts are supremely well documented with copious receipts going back to virtually new. Over the years, expert servicing has been performed by 300SL luminaries Jerry Hjeltness, Steve Marx and Paul Russell. It doesn't get better than that. Price is SOLD

    • Year: 1962
    • Mileage: 77000 mi
    For sale
  • 1957 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Roadster

    £52,000 £52,000

    1957 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Roadster s/n 198.042.7500568 Fire Engine Red with Tan Leather Interior The 300SL was one of the most exotic cars available when it was new. Directly descended from racing cars, and chock full of innovative features, they were fast, beautiful, and expensive. Arguably the first 'supercar' ever (others claim that honor should be bestowed upon the Lamborghini Miura), the 300SL has been described as the McLaren F1 of its day. Thanks to Mercedes' development work during World War II in aircraft engines, the300SL became the first production car to feature fuel injection (directly injected into the cylinders no less), and the light but strong spaceframe necessitated the now legendary and often copied upwards opening doors on the closed variant of the car. The result was a stunningly beautiful but also functional car that was, depending on gearing, the fastest production car in the world. Surrounded by separate frame carbureted contemporaries, the SL was truly a glimpse of the future and remains today a very special car indeed. Its appeal is timeless and consequently, 300SLs have remained 'blue-chip' collector cars that are always in demand and perhaps even cultural

    • Year: 1957
    • Mileage: 25388 mi
    For sale
Related Specification
Related content