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

Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing and Roadster: Buying guide and review (1954-1963) Classic and Performance Car
Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing
The Mercedes-Benz 300SL came about in the wake of the company’s Le Mans and Carrera Panamericana victories in 1952. 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 300SL 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 safest places to put your money. 
 

The Mercedes 300SL in racing

 
Heavier than its racing predecessor, but also more powerful, the road-going 300SL arrived in time for the 1955 season and was soon mixing it with Ferraris and Alfa Romeos in the Grand Touring categories. Although the Mercedes factory never entered works cars, it offered generous support to its many private owners. Frequently overlooked in the light of Moss and Jenks’ record-breaking 1955 Mille Miglia victory in the 300SLR is John Fitch’s fifth place overall and win in the GT category. 300SLs also placed seventh and tenth.

More successes followed. Belgian Olivier Gendebien won the Liège-Rome-Liège Rally and a Gullwing came home first in the Tulip Rally. Werner Engel finished the year as European Touring Car champion in his 300SL. 
 
The Grand Touring category was even more hotly contested in 1956. Another victory came in the Liège-Rome-Liège Rally, this time for Willy Mairesse. The Acropolis and Sestriere rallies fell to the SL, and Stirling Moss brought one home second in the Tour de France.
In the USA, which was the Gullwing’s most important market, Paul O’Shea won the Sports Car Club of America Production Class D championship in 1955 and 1956, with Class C victory going to Harry Carter in 1957.
 
Inevitably, with no further development by the factory, the magnificent Mercedes 300SL was gradually outclassed as the field moved on. But what a legacy it left behind.
 

Performance and specs

 
Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing
 
Engine  2996cc, six-cylinder
Power 215bhp @ 5800rpm
Torque 203lb ft @ 4600rpm
Transmission Four-speed manual
0-62mph 7.0sec 
Top speed 147-163mph depending on rear axle ratio
Insurance group   -
Fuel consumption  18.0mpg
Price when new  £4393
 

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.
 

Owners’ clubs, forums 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 although it doesn’t look like it will change any time soon, the increases have certianly taken a breather for now. 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 £575,000-675,000. Some models may fetch more money if they have rare options fitted, and the 29 alloy-bodied versions are up to four times more expensive. 
 
The Roadster versions were built in slightly higher numbers, and prices are slightly lower. Around £750,000 represents the top of the market, although more ordinary cars can be had for £275,000-£395,000. Projects start from £200,000. 
Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing
Last updated: 5th Jul 2017
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Mercedes-Benz 300SL
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  • 1957 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Roadster

    POA POA

    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
    POA POA
    Fantasy Junction
    +1 510 653 7555 View contact number
  • Mercedes 300SL Convertible

    £8,950 £8,950

    1992 Mercedes 300 SL Convertible Stunning example of R129 model Superb blue metallic paint, black leather interior Full service history, mileage thought to be correct Factory hardtop and stand, soft top, wind break Electric hood, windows, seats etc Absolutely immaculate example of a R129 Merc, superb blue metallic paintwork, factory hardtop and stand, excellent soft top, black leather interior, electric windows, mirrors, hood, rollover bar and seats, wind-break, full service history with odometer reading of 90,000 believed to be accurate, refined and very taught. Comes with Driver's Handbooks, spare key set, lots of history. Price: £8,950 suitable for printing Mobile: 07711 509600 Email: mark@pioneer-automobiles.co.uk Phone: 01635 248158 Viewing: By appointment only Copyright ©2017 Pioneer Autos Ltd

    • Year: 1992
    For sale
    £8,950 £8,950
  • Mercedes 300SL

    POA POA

    1987 300SL Automatic R107 57,600 miles from new. Finished in champagne metallic(473) with cream leather interior, brown soft-top, factory hard-top, 15-hole alloy wheels, still fitted with its original Blaupunkt Oxford radio-casette. Supplied new by Mejestic Garage Ltd, Mercedes-Benz main dealer of Bournemouth to a A.P.Coackley of Swanage. This car is no stranger here at Avantgarde as having purchased her from another Bournmouth resident sometime around around 8 years ago we have supplied her to a further 2 owners. The first of which took her to reside with him in Brittany and used his local Mercedes-Benz main dealer for servicing. The last owner, a local M-B club member who regularly displayed her at shows, purchased her from us back in 2012 and has used our local trusted M-B specialist for servicing. Comes with the original handbook-pack including original stamped maintenance booklet. A nice example, well-know to us here and supplied with a comprehensive service history file. PRIVATE NUMBER PLATE NOT INCLUDED IN SALE.

    • Mileage: 57600 mi
    For sale
    POA POA
  • 1960 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Roadster

    POA POA

    1960 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Roadster VIN: 198 042 10 002509 Engine: 198 98 010002552 Originally prepared as a show car by Mercedes, this 300SL was featured at the 1960 Copenhagen Motor Show. Exhumed from long-term storage in a garage in New York in 2010, this Roadster had been in single-family ownership for over 50 years. With just over 15,000 original miles, the matching-numbers car was complete and undisturbed with its original hardtop, tools and copies of build sheets. According to copies of the Mercedes-Benz Wagenkarte (build sheets), this roadster was completed at the Stuttgart factory on February 9, 1960, in a very rare and fashionable color combination of Blue Gray (DB 166) over a natural leather interior. Both the wheels and the optional hardtop were painted in the same shade, and the car was given some special features. As noted on the Wagenkarte, this 300 SL was delivered as a show car for display at the 1960 Copenhagen Motor Show. As a show car it differed from stock examples with polished intake runners, polished and chromed hardware in the engine bay, along with a gloss valve cover. Needless to say the showcar was a big hit, and soon after the event, the car is believed t

    • Year: 1960
    For sale
    POA POA
  • 1963 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Roadster

    POA POA

    1963 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Roadster VIN: 198042-10-003257 The last run of the legendary 300 SL Roadster happened in January and February of 1963. Twenty-six cars would be built in those two months, with the last six built in February. Chassis 3257 was completed the day before the factory closed on February 7th 1963, making it the penultimate 300 SL. Being the second to last 300SL means that this car benefits from every improvement ever made to the 300SL platform, including disc brakes and the very rare, all-alloy engine featured only in the last 200 cars. 3257 was delivered from the factory in white with a red leather interior, and black convertible top. What makes this 300SL's early history immensely interesting is what happened to the car in 1963. Fresh from the factory it was sent to Mercedes in Salzburg, Austria. Research indicates that the car did not sell on its initial outing and was returned to the factory for upgrades. Reasons might have been that this 300SL was rather unadorned, and the new 230SL that had been released in 1963 was much more affordable. The result of this return to Stuggart was a second build sheet for 3257. Obviously aimed for the US market, the car was fit

    • Year: 1963
    For sale
    POA POA
  • Mercedes-Benz 300SL R107 Antraciet '88

    €41,950(£0) €41,950(£0)

    With hardtop The Mercedes-Benz R107 and C107 were produced from 1971 through 1989, being the second longest single series ever produced by the automaker, after the G-Class. They were sold under the SL (R107) and SLC (C107) model names as the 280 SL, 280 SLC, 300 SL, etc. up to the 560 SL. The R107 replaced the W113 SL-Class in 1971 and was replaced by the R129 SL-Class in 1989. The SLC replaced the W111 Coupé in 1971 and was replaced by the C126 S-class coupe in 1981. Following the discontinuation of the SLC in September 1981, the 107 series continued initially as the 280, 380 and 500 SL. At this time, the V8 engines were re-tuned for greater efficiency, lost a few hp and consumed less fuel- this largely due to substantially higher (numerically lower) axle ratios that went from 3.27:1 to 2.47:1 for the 380 SL and from 2.72:1 to 2.27:1 for the 500 SL. From September 1985 the 280 SL was replaced by a new 300 SL, and the 380 SL by a 420 SL; the 500 SL continued and a 560 SL was introduced for certain extra-European markets, most notably the USA. Also in 1985, the Bosch KE Jetronic was fitted. The KE Jetronic system varied from the earlier, all mechanical system by the introduction of

    • Year: 1988
    For sale
    €41,950(£0) €41,950(£0)
  • Mercedes-Benz 300SL R107 Grey '87

    €53,950(£0) €53,950(£0)

    The Mercedes-Benz R107 and C107 were produced from 1971 through 1989, being the second longest single series ever produced by the automaker, after the G-Class. They were sold under the SL (R107) and SLC (C107) model names as the 280 SL, 280 SLC, 300 SL, etc. up to the 560 SL. The R107 replaced the W113 SL-Class in 1971 and was replaced by the R129 SL-Class in 1989. The SLC replaced the W111 Coupé in 1971 and was replaced by the C126 S-class coupe in 1981. Following the discontinuation of the SLC in September 1981, the 107 series continued initially as the 280, 380 and 500 SL. At this time, the V8 engines were re-tuned for greater efficiency, lost a few hp and consumed less fuel- this largely due to substantially higher (numerically lower) axle ratios that went from 3.27:1 to 2.47:1 for the 380 SL and from 2.72:1 to 2.27:1 for the 500 SL. From September 1985 the 280 SL was replaced by a new 300 SL, and the 380 SL by a 420 SL; the 500 SL continued and a 560 SL was introduced for certain extra-European markets, most notably the USA. Also in 1985, the Bosch KE Jetronic was fitted. The KE Jetronic system varied from the earlier, all mechanical system by the introduction of a more modern

    • Year: 1987
    For sale
    €53,950(£0) €53,950(£0)
  • 1986 Mercedes 300SL R107

    POA POA

    Description A very well maintained example of this iconic 80’s roadster. Superbly presented in the most desirable colourway, Nautical Blue with dove grey full leather, this 300sl is the most desirable spec to have a R107 in. Coming from clearly cherished ownership, this car has had a lot of care lavished upon it, including a very impressive full service record – further backed up by the way this car drives. She is still so smooth and quiet, one of the best we have driven for a long time. Being a later facelift car, she shows no signs of the dreaded rust which often plague the earlier models, areas like the heater box are in exceptionally good original condition. Fitted with a brand new soft top, a new headlining for the hardtop and recent paintwork to a very good standard, she is ready to enjoy all year round. An affordable everyday classic with so much style in the best colour combination available. An appreciating yet imminently usable 300SL.

    • Year: 1986
    For sale
    POA POA
  • 1991 Mercedes 300SL R129

    POA POA

    Description This very early example of the fast appreciating R129 SL surely has to be one of the very best on the market today. A collector’s quality car, displaying just 68k, she is so original and unblemished, with very low ownership – just 1 former keeper!. Coming with original tools, handbooks, unmarked hardtop, even dealer supplied cleaning kit, this car must be seen and driven to be truly appreciated for what she is, an unmolested and cherished survivor. Fitted with the silky 3 litre six cylinder engine she has just come from a comprehensive service from our workshops, ready to take on any classic driving tour, to any show or pride of place in any collection. An exceptional example of the breed and a fast appreciating modern classic.

    • Year: 1991
    For sale
    POA POA
  • Mercedes-Benz 300SL

    £1,150,000 £1,150,000

    -Bespoke built by Mercedes for the Turin Motor Show of 1956 -Highly desirable options list including Rudge Wheels -Matching Numbers -Original factory paint colour stunning DB180 Silver -Fitted Luggage -Superb driver This car was specially made by Mercedes-Benz as a “Standwagen”, or Motor Show Display car to represent the best of Mercedes-Benz on their stand at the 1956 Turin show. It is well-known that Mercedes put particular extra effort into making these cars absolutely perfect in presentation, but also covetable in specification. Hence this car has had the following very expensive options from new:- -Rudge wheels -Beautiful Specially hand-made Nardi steering wheel, with cast-in folding hub to gain access to the Gullwing seat -Short “Sports” Gearlever -Metallic Silver paint The Rudge wheels are a very important feature. They were an extremely expensive option when the car was new, adding an extra- large percentage alone to the price. These are such a coveted option, they still add 10% to the value of a Gullwing today. Lots of Gullwings have had modern replica Rudge wheels fitted now; they are retro-fit, but add next to nothing to the value. Also, the car was finished in DB180 Silver from new for the show, because Mercedes knew it was the best colour, highlighting the Mille- Miglia and GP winning “Silver Arrows” cars. It also comes with a handbook and toolkit, fitted leather luggage, and even the original 300SL tyre pressure gauge! The car was subject to a bare-metal restoration in the U.S. some years ago, but still presents and drives beautifully. It will require some minor chassis work prior to delivery, but this is included in the purchase price. A car that continues to stun and stop people in their tracks over sixty years on. The car is EU taxes paid and UK registered.

    • Year: 1956
    • Mileage: 89818 mi
    For sale
    £1,150,000 £1,150,000
  • 1957 MERCEDES BENZ 300 SL ROADSTER

    POA POA

    --Silver with Red leather interior, Red carpeting and Silver factory hardtop, Showing 66,000 kilometers, 4-speed, Older cosmetic restoration and recent rebuilt engine. The 300 SL Roadster offered here is an early-production model, hailing from the beginning of the 1957 production run. It is European specification and thus has the advantage of its European spec headlamps which are widely considered more attractive than the sealed-beam units used on U.S. delivery 300 SL’s. This 300 SL Roadster was originally delivered in White-Grey with Green leather interior and a green soft top. This 300 SL Roadster is an older cosmetic restoration. It shows an honest patina throughout with no previous accident damage. The interior also shows a slight and honest patina throughout. The engine runs well, the gearbox and clutch work well, this 300 SL Roadster was previously part of a large collection of automobiles and maintained by the collections in-house mechanics. The engine is a correct replacement block and has been stamped with the proper engine number but is missing the original number plate, the serial number plate on the firewall has been confirmed original, as is the chassis number stamping

    • Year: 1957
    • Mileage: 2017 mi
    For sale
    POA POA
  • 1958 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Roadster

    POA POA

    Chassis #198.042.75.00.625 Engine #198.980.75.00.627 According to the Mercedes-Benz Classic Certificate from 2003 this car was delivered new by the German Mercedes-Benz Koblenz Branch on May 23rd 1958. The Original Colour was Graphit Grey (Code 190) with Red leather interior (Code 1079). The car has a Radio Becker Mexico and a light Grey Softtop (Code 708). We have a list of all the owners since the car was imported into United States in 1964, re-exported to Germany in 1987 and finnaly sold to the present owner in early 2016. The car was completely restored in Hamburg in 1992 and repainted in Ivory white with Red leather interior. It is not Matching numbers anymore (the engine has been restamped, but retaining an original engine bloc from 1957). The car is in excellent overall condition as the pictures show clearly. The previous owner bought the car in 2003 and maintained it meticulously for 13 years before being sold to its present owner in early 2016. There is a 2014 German "Classic Data" rating with a -1 The car is Swiss Veteran registered Price on request http://www.grabersportgarage.ch/1958-mercedes-benz-300-sl-roadster.html Swiss Tax paid

    • Year: 1958
    For sale
    POA POA
  • Mercedes-Benz 300SL R107 '86

    €34,950(£0) €34,950(£0)

    with hardtop The Mercedes-Benz R107 and C107 were produced from 1971 through 1989, being the second longest single series ever produced by the automaker, after the G-Class. They were sold under the SL (R107) and SLC (C107) model names as the 280 SL, 280 SLC, 300 SL, etc. up to the 560 SL. The R107 replaced the W113 SL-Class in 1971 and was replaced by the R129 SL-Class in 1989. The SLC replaced the W111 Coupé in 1971 and was replaced by the C126 S-class coupe in 1981. Following the discontinuation of the SLC in September 1981, the 107 series continued initially as the 280, 380 and 500 SL. At this time, the V8 engines were re-tuned for greater efficiency, lost a few hp and consumed less fuel- this largely due to substantially higher (numerically lower) axle ratios that went from 3.27:1 to 2.47:1 for the 380 SL and from 2.72:1 to 2.27:1 for the 500 SL. From September 1985 the 280 SL was replaced by a new 300 SL, and the 380 SL by a 420 SL; the 500 SL continued and a 560 SL was introduced for certain extra-European markets, most notably the USA. Also in 1985, the Bosch KE Jetronic was fitted. The KE Jetronic system varied from the earlier, all mechanical system by the introduction of

    • Year: 1986
    For sale
    €34,950(£0) €34,950(£0)