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

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

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Mercedes-Benz 300sl
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  • Mercedes-Benz 300 SL LHD MANUAL Nautic Blue with Cream

    £39,995 £39,995

    Details Mercedes-Benz 300SL (R107) 1987, E Registered, 83,197 miles Nautic Blue with Cream Sports Check Rare Left Hand Drive Manual Gearbox model Optional Equipment: Air Conditioning, Left Hand Drive, Manual Gearbox Factory Standard Equipment: ABS, Power Steering, 15 Hole Flat Face Alloy Wheels, Central Locking, Electric Windows, Heat Insulating Green Glass, Graduated Tinted Windscreen, Heated Washer Jets, Front Fog Lamps, Rear Seatbelt Mounting Provenance: This car comes with a ring binder full of documents and receipts, including the original registration document from 1988. The service book features no less than 13 service stamps, 6 from Mercedes-Benz dealers, 6 independent stamps and one of our own. Commentary: The ultra desirable Nautic Blue and Manual Gearbox makes this one of the rarest 107 SLs we've come across. First registered in Germany in September 1988 this 300 was kept for many years until it passed to an associate. In 2003 ownership passed to the former registered keeper who kept the car in the South of France. One of our collector customers has owned her for the past two years and has travelled less than 1000 miles in this time.

    • Year: 1988
    • Mileage: 83197 mi
    For sale
    The SL Shop
    0844 414 2116 VIEW CONTACT NUMBER
  • 1957 Mercedes-Benz 300SL

    $925,000(£756,002.50) $925,000(£756,002.50)

    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 $925,000

    • Year: 1957
    For sale
  • Mercedes Benz 300 SL

    €39,500(£35,218.20) €39,500(£35,218.20)

    Year of construction 1987 kilometres 154000 km color schwarz 040 leather beige delivered new to Germany two onwers since new full service histroy rare manual gearbox price 39.500,- EUR

    • Year: 1987
    For sale
  • Mercedes 300SL Auto


    1988 300SL Automatic 23,500 miles from new Finished in Arctic white with blue sport cloth and navy soft top. Fitted with factory specification of rear seats, factory hard top, 15-hole alloy wheels, central locking, fire extinguisher, illuminating vanity mirrors. Supplied new by Charles Sidney Mercedes Benz of Bradford on 1st August 1988 this car has lived a very cosseted life only covering a very small mileage during its 28 year life. The history file contains 19 MOT certificates dating back to 1992 along with various servicing invoices. The original stamped service booklet is present along with all of the other original handbooks in the correct wallet. A very proper example indeed.

    • Mileage: 23500 mi
    For sale
  • Mercedes 300 SL Roadster


    Mayfair 020 7125 1400 | Maldon 01621 879579 1957 300 SL Roadster LHD The Mercedes-Benz 300 SL is one of the finest and most influential post-war sports cars ever built. Originally conceived in 1954 as a coupe, with its iconic ‘Gullwing’ doors, it was followed by the roadster in 1957, which, like its predecessor, was developed as a road going version of Mercedes’ successful W194 racer. As with many European manufacturers, the market in North America was particularly important to Mercedes and the roadster was largely built on the advice of New York based importer Max Hoffman who saw the strong sales potential in the US for a convertible version of the popular Gullwing. Aside from the obvious external design change in eliminating the roof, the roadster benefitted from a number of technical improvements over the coupe including a lower sill line, which improved access to the cabin, and a redesigned rear suspension set up, which significantly improved handling. Performance was further enhanced with a higher compression engine and the adoption of the competition camshafts initially used in the NSL Gullwing race cars. The roadster also received, as standard, climate control, leather seats

    • Year: 1957
    For sale
  • Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Arctic White with Blue MB Tex

    £39,995 £39,995

    Details Mercedes-Benz 300SL (R107) 1988, F Registered, 44,750 miles Artic White with Blue MB Tex Optional Equipment: Rear Seating Factory Standard Equipment: 4 Speed Transmission with Sport / Economy modes, ABS, Power Steering, 15 Hole Flat Face Alloy Wheels, Central Locking, Electric Windows, Heat Insulating Green Glass, Graduated Tinted Windscreen, Heated Washer Jets, Front Fog Lamps, Rear Seatbelt Mounting Provenance: 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. Commentary: The combination of white paintwork, blue interior and wood detail makes this a very desirable looking 107.

    • Year: 1986
    • Mileage: 44750 mi
    For sale
  • 1955 Mercedes Benz 300SL Gullwing


    1955 Mercedes Benz
300SL "Gullwing" Chassis No. 300SL/198.040-5500354
 Engine No. 198.980.5500331
 Exterior Paint: DB180 Silver Metallic
 Interior color: Red Leather
 Commission No. 668 031
 Body No. 198.040.5500340
 Gearbox No. 5500377
 Rear Axle No. 5500412
 Final Drive Ratio 3.64:1
 Left Front Axle No. 5500335
 Right Front Axle No. 5500335
 Steering box No. 5500372
 Completed May 31st, 1955
Shipped June 2nd, 1955
Shipping Method Ocean Vessel, Port of Los Angeles, California, USA
 Invoiced To: Mercedes Benz Distributors Incorporated, North America. Selling Agent Mercedes Benz, Los Angeles 
 The Mercedes Benz 300SL Gullwing is one of only a few iconic vehicles that has sustained cultural, artistic, and performance importance for over six decades. Originally released in 1954 with production culminating in 1957, 1,400 cars were produced and delivered to a worldwide audience eager to own one of the finest road-going sports cars ever assembled for public use. The automotive press heralded the 300SL as a triumph of engineering and design. Delivered with production fuel-injection (first of it’s kind), and achieving the world's fastest top speed, the 300 SL (S-Sport, L-Light) confirmed M

    • Year: 1955
    • Mileage: 7782 mi
    For sale
  • 1957 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Roadster


    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
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