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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
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Mercedes-Benz 300sl cars for sale

28 Search results
Mercedes-Benz 300sl
24495 1072500 GBP
  • 1957 Mercedes 300SL Roadster

    £949,995 £949,995

    Matching numbers Received a full cosmetice restoration Restored to concours standard Comes with the original M-B build sheet This is a superb example of a matching numbers 300SL Roadster, which was originally supplied to the US market, and has chrome wheels. In the early 1990's, the car received a thorough mechanical re-commissioning by noted 300SL expert Scott Grundfor who restored the car to concours standard. It was subsequently treated to an extensive cosmetic restoration by Tom Drummond's Quality Restoration services in California. After a bare-metal strip down, the roadster was refinished in black, and trimmed with a light-brown Bamboo interior. The gauges were restored, and all chrome and bright work re-finished to factory correct specifications. As one of the early-production 300SL Roadsters, this example has the less corrosion-prone non-alloy block 2996 cc 6 cylinder engine and 4 wheel independent suspension with drum brakes. It comes with the original M-B build sheet and tools and full original documentation. This car is in truly superb condition, with mirror-like paintwork and chrome, and an interior that looks almost too good to sit in, and smells wonderful. The underbo

    • Year: 1957
    • Mileage: 53300 mi
    For sale
    Cheshire Classic Cars
    01244 529500
  • Mercedes Benz 300 SL Gullwing

    POA POA

    Year of construction 1955 color light metallic leather dark blue fully restored by marque expert matching numbers example delivered new to the USA. Since years in the BRD documented History today on original Rudge wheels price auf Anfrage/ POR EUR

    • Year: 1955
    For sale
    Movendi
    0049 211 7888 016
  • Mercedes Benz 300 SL Roadster

    POA POA

    Year of construction 1958 kilometres 110502 km color hellblau 334 leather Creme 1060 first paint and trim delivered new to Germany with fully documented history 110.502 documented Kilometers 38 years in the lat ownership matching numbers price auf Anfrage/ POR EUR

    • Year: 1958
    For sale
    Movendi
    0049 211 7888 016
  • Mercedes Benz 300 SL Roadster

    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
    Movendi
    0049 211 7888 016
  • 1962 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Roadster

    POA POA

    1962 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Roadster s/n 198.042-10-003050, engine no. 198.982-10-000003 White with Cognac 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 perh

    • Year: 1962
    • Mileage: 55285 mi
    For sale
    Fantasy Junction
    +1 510 653 7555
  • 1962 Mercedes-Benz 300SL

    £1,072,500 £1,072,500

    This 1962 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Roadster is one of just 210 produced with disc brakes and an alloy engine block. It wears it's striking original color combination, white with beautifully preserved red interior. It's been under single family ownership for the last 30 years and is a European spec example with just 80K kilometers. It also comes with it's factory black hardtop as well as it's owner's manual and jack. For just $1,650,000.

    • Year: 1962
    For sale
  • 1986 Mercedes-Benz 300sl Gullwing Recreation by Ostermeier

    £155,675 £155,675

    1986 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing Recreation by Ostermeier s/n 658761 Black with Tan Leather Interior Tony Ostermeier built approximately 50 hand-crafted and impressively accurate Gullwing recreations. They were so accurate and well-made that some of his reproduction parts were used during the restorations of genuine 300SLs. Under the skin, the cars featured modern Mercedes running gear, mostly from the contemporary W124 300E, including drivelines, suspension, brakes, and fuel-injected 3.0 liter inline-6 powerplants. The bodies were made of aluminum reinforced with aircraft epoxy/fiberglass, and steel, and the shape for it was molded off an original 300SL Gullwing to ensure the accuracy of its forms. The specification was modern, including 4-wheel disc brakes, air conditioning, and full leather interiors. This particular example has covered 16,000 miles and is in excellent condition, with minor paint blemishes and light weathering to the chrome. The overall visual impression is extremely strong and the look and aesthetic of the car are shockingly accurate. Even the seasoned enthusiast would peg this as a genuine 300SL based on a quick walk around the car. The interior is quite accu

    • Year: 1986
    • Mileage: 16000 mi
    For sale
  • Mercedes 300 SL Gullwing

    POA POA

    Mayfair 020 7125 1400 | Maldon 01621 879579 This 1955 300 SL Gullwing is a full matching numbers example in original factory colour specification. First owner was famous German racing driver Kurt Ahrens. This is an unmolested and cherished original that benefits from a recent sympathetic restoration that includes a professional bare metal re-spray and re-trim, engine, gearbox, axle and brake reconditioning by a German specialist. Full original tool kit and jack. This is an exceptional and useable example with very low mileage.

    • Year: 1955
    For sale
    JD Classics
    01621 879579
  • 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
  • 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
  • 1957 Mercedes-Benz 300SL

    £711,750 £711,750

    1957 Mercedes 300SL roadster. Red with black leather interior. Originally born with very desirable color Blue Grey and black leather. It's been a California car all it's life. Mechanically excellent . For only $1,095,000

    • Year: 1957
    For sale
  • 1962 Mercedes Benz 300SL disc brake roadster

    POA POA

    1962 Mercedes Benz 300SL disc brake roadster, DB353 Silver-Blue metallic with red, blue convertible top, Serial Number 19804210003010, Engine Number 19898010003039, 3.0 litre in-line 6 cylinder iron block engine, 4 speed gear box, factory disc brakes, European headlights, factory hard top, fitted luggage, tool roll and jack, correct in all respects with original matching numbers engine, show quality Rudi & Company restoration, exceptional throughout.

    • Year: 1962
    For sale
  • Mercedes-Benz 300SL W107 ,full history, all service books, hardtop

    £24,495 £24,495

    Beautiful Mercedes-Benz 300 SL automatic with air conditioning and hardtop. Original European delivered car. Perfectly maintained 300SL. Maintenance "Up to Date" the original books with stamps are present. Perfect fittings of all panels. The interior is excellent and the leather seats are like new. Wonderful car to drive, and in a condition like this starting to become rare. Over 350 Classic and sportscars in stock. More information and photos on www.thegallerybrummen.nl. Or contact us by phone: 0031-575-564055

    • Year: 1986
    • Mileage: 132538 mi
    For sale
    The Gallery
    +31 (0)575 56 40 55
  • 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
    Fantasy Junction
    +1 510 653 7555
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