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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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  • 1961 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Roadster

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    1961 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Roadster VIN: 198 042 10002637 In 1961, only two years after becoming the 49th state, Alaska took delivery of its first and only 300 SL. The roadster must have been an exotic sight sitting on the show room floor of Anchorage Studebaker, Packard, Mercedes-Benz. The lucky man who drove away with the rare treasure was Dr. William Sedwick. For the next 42 years the car would make a welcome fair weather traveling companion through the beautiful Alaska countryside for Dr. Sedwick and his wife, driving the 65 miles from Anchorage to their summer vacation home on Nancy Lake. It is believed that early during Sedwick's ownership that the original cast-iron engine failed and a factory replacement was installed. The replacement engine would be the more advanced, aluminum block version of the W198 engine that came out in 1962. This engine change would give the Roadster the same lighter front end, improved handling, and higher performance that is shared with the final 210 roadsters from late 1962-1963. In 2003, after only 45,000 miles, the car moved on to a new owner, Gordon Apker of Seattle, Washington. Mr. Apker enjoyed the 300 SL for one year before deciding to press

    • Year: 1961
    For sale
    Canepa
  • 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
  • Mercedes-Benz 300 SL

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    - A very special 300SL with only 24,400 miles from new - Comprehensive history file containing a detailed usage log, copies of previous V5's, approximately 15 previous MOT certificates, and old tax discs - Long-term ownerships by Mercedes-Benz enthusiasts, it is reported to retain its original tyres and front brake pads Within the volumous history file for this 300SL lies a note book that the forth owner used to fanatically document every journey they did in the car, noting the mileage covered, the reason for the journey, and the weather conditions. However, the first owner was apparently a Matthew Giles who bought E866 DPC (as it was registered then) new on August 1st 1987 and owned it until October 1992. Ownership then passed to someone from West London, but after five months it is believed to have been repossessed by the finance company and then stored for fourteen months while the hard top was retrieved. In May 1994 it was purchased by a Roger Thomas of Devon and registered with his number plate RCT 8. A copy of a maintenance invoice from this time records the mileage at about 17,300 miles. Mr Thomas seemed to struggle with the lack of space in the SL and after travelling about

    • Year: 1987
    For sale
  • 1960 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Roadster

    POA POA

    1960 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Roadster s/n 198.042 10-002559, engine no. 198.980 10-002614 Silver with Black 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, the 300SL 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

    • Year: 1960
    • Mileage: 75777 mi
    For sale
  • 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
  • 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
  • Mercedes 300 SL Roadster

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    Mayfair 020 7125 1400 | Maldon 01621 879579 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Roadster. Supplied new to Milan, Italy in 1959. The SL remained with its first owner until 1994. The second owner commissioned a total restoration at Kienle Automobiltechnik in 1994/1995. The SL was completely dismantled and all components including engine, gear box, axles and brake system were fully overhauled. During restoration a number of upgrades were installed including a diaphragm spring clutch, adjustable throttle body, additional fans and an exchangeable air filter cartridge. Regular maintenance and repairs have been carried out and a record of supporting invoices are available. Improvements during restoration include diaphragm clutch, additional radiator cooling fan and exchangable air filter. One of the best driving SL Roadster's we have had the pleasure of owning. This SL is in first class condition and is finished in its original factory Anthracite-Grey (172G) with Red Leather interior. Supplied with a matching Anthracite-Grey Factory hardtop, 2 piece fitted luggage set, Becker Mexico radio, polished wheel rims, all books and tools. Please contact us for further details.

    • Year: 1959
    For sale
  • Mercedes 300SL Auto

    POA POA

    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
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