50 Year Ownership: 1956 Mercedes-Benz 300SL

There are few European vehicles as iconic as the original Mercedes-Benz 300SL “Gullwing” coupe. There is no surprise that this car is listed with a million-dollar price tag, as it has been an immensely collectible model for years. Even in the midst of economic upheaval, most classic car experts would opine that an original or carefully restored 300SL is as good as gold in terms of holding its value. This example is being offered for the first time in 50 years following decades in the care of one owner. It left the factory in “DB50” white paint with a red leather interior; it is now silver in color and listed here on eBay for $1,750,000.

It’s hard to deny why the 300SL has remained so sought-after all these years. You’re selling it short to simply call it a limited-production German coupe built for high-speed cruising, although those credentials alone would make any car desirable. It’s the profile, which had never been seen before its introduction and nothing else has come close in the intervening years to matching the striking style of its gull-winged body. The air vents in the roof, the bulbous trunk lid, the eyebrows over the fenders – there were so many small but significant details in the design that the 300SL would be worth almost as much for the styling alone; throw in the high-performance capabilities and the valuations are hardly a surprise.

If you follow the collector car marketplace, you know that despite the ups and downs affecting everything from muscle cars to one-off prototypes, the 300SL has been steadfast in attracting top-flight bids. For enthusiasts who fly at the top end of the marketplace, I imagine owning a 300SL is like owning a major league sports team: not everyone gets the opportunity to do so, even if they have the necessary funds in the bank. The listing notes the original interior as having red leather but not the plaid seat upholstery, which I would assume was added at a later date. Would you leave this as-is or return it to full red leather?

The inline-six engine is numbers matching, which is another arrow in the quiver of this 300SL in terms of assigning value. The engine bay, like the rest of the car, is nicely detailed, and the seller certainly got the final execution correct in terms of presenting this example as a turnkey driver that can be enjoyed as-is. However, one does not exactly take a real-deal Gullwing to the grocery store, so this car will either be used sparingly as part of a private collection, or the next owner will try to bargain down to account for a respray in its original color. Would you leave this gorgeous 300SL as-is or strip it down and paint it white as it was when it left the factory?

Comments

  1. Howard A (retired) Member

    Um, it’s more than “just” a paltry million. $750 grand is certainly worth mentioning. Not when it comes to this beauty, I suppose. Like, dang, a thousand dollars short,,yeah, right. If auctions taught me anything, if they have $1.7 mil, they have $1.8. Couple cars in the world that are off the scale. XKE, GT40, and this. I made models of these, as close as I came.
    So, I ask BFs nation, suppose you had the money, what would you do with it? Seems a shame to put a velvet rope around it, and driving this fantastic machine in city traffic? I’ve always wondered what people that spent the budget of some 3rd world country on a mere automobile, actually does with it?

    Like 15
    • Nevadahalfrack Nevadahalfrack Member

      A thought provoking question, Howard.
      I suppose it would depend on what the new owner is all about. Is it art that they appreciate in the viewing, something to make others oooh and ahhh?
      Or is it a device to take the owner to a new experience? And with that what lifestyle changes would you want to make? The first time some portly oil baron tried to get in the cockpit would make that decision for them as to it being just an art piece or not..
      From another perspective we could refer back to the wisdom of Peter Egan as he wrote of a college friend arriving on a new Honda, and another looking at it somberly then to exclaim “that would buy a lot of beer and pizza”..

      Like 10
    • RayT Member

      I can only point to the example of a retired Air Force Captain who bought his Gullwing in Germany in 1956. When I met him circa 1999, he still had it, and enjoyed driving it though age had made it a little more difficult for him to get in and out… That one, in white, had some legitimate “patina” but was as well cared-for as one could hope. No, he didn’t drive it in the city, but freeways and back roads were fair game.

      When I was quite young, my godfather visited us one day driving a new (’57) 190SL. A decent enough car, if a bit sluggish. He informed us he had intended to buy a 300SL, but an incident in the dealer’s service area dissuaded him: the owner of a Gullwing came in with its exhaust spewing black smoke and a profound miss. The service manger (a German, naturally) said to the owner, “You haff fouled zuh plugs! You must always keep the engine above vier t’ousand rpm!”

      Me? If I had the money, I would a) be able to afford a place out in the tulies and b) drive the thing as much as I could. Never fouling the plugs. Lovely as they are to look at, driving them in incomparably better!

      Like 9
      • Doone

        Your story reminds me that there was always a resident German service manager in the volks and audi service departments who was always ready to tell you what you did wrong with the car instead of what was wrong with it. Had several Vdubs back then but have only had 1 Audi which after 2 years put me off German cars for 20 years. Der problem ist du, mein klient.

        Like 3
    • James_HGF

      It’s possible the new owner will drive it. Perhaps after showing it a few times, humans are a funny lot.

      300 SLs were daily driven and raced though not by the hoi polloi. They had to make do with a used MG or similar. In the eighties I knew a fellow who traded his everyday 300SL gullwing straight across for a used Chevy El Camino for his small business in Menlo Park.

      Saw a daily driver 300 SL gullwing at a tiny rural horse show in Nascar Land in ’63. Not pristine, driven and wearing its accumulation of mud and whatever. Not exactly a field car.

      Having recently watched Stanley Kramer’s 1959 Sci Fi movie “On The Beach” I realized you might find sports car racing scene of interest (carnage bc earth’s nuclear apocalypse). Search tube for “On the Beach Grand Prix” 3:44 mins. MGs, Jaguars, and Porches etc., tossed, flipped, burned – destroyed. A Jag XK 120 roadster is the tow car for John Edgars MG TC Diedt bodied car that slams into an Austin Healey before dying a flaming death. Later the same XK 120 tows a flaming #23 to its over the cliff faming death. However, it’s not the #23 Doretti, rather a 1951 Nash-Healey Le Mans convertible. Movie glitch even shows the #23 Doretti in race action after the Nash Le Mans sacrificial death. It is a movie!

      Current value estimate for a Ferrari Monza 750 like #492m driven by scientist and racing driver Fred Astaire as Julian Osborn is 4.5 to 5.5 million dollars.

      Like 2
      • BCB42

        Holy moly!
        I’m crying now…
        Seriously!

    • Solosolo UK Solosolo UK Member

      Howard, if I had enough money to buy this 300SL I would definitely drive it as often as the sun came out! I had the chance to buy one very cheaply about 40 years ago but having two children it wasn’t a sensible family car so I passed on it. At least I can say that I have actually driven one, and that was a wonderful experience in itself.

      Like 2
    • Quidditas

      I would enjoy it as much as possible on the open road.

      If I had the asking price, I would also have the time and money to enjoy it.

      There is only one problem, getting in and out at my age.

      Like 2
  2. bobhess bobhess Member

    You don’t have to drive this car to appreciate it. It’s high on my lists of best designs and “a beer, a chair, and just sit and look at it”. Beautiful. First one of these I ever saw was white with red interior but I’ve favored the silver color over all the rest available. That first look is still with me.

    Like 9
  3. angliagt angliagt Member

    While tracking down leads on the 1956/57 races at
    the county airport in McKinleyville,CA (where William Snell
    died,which begat the Snell Foundation),I contacted a guy
    who raced there,& also had a 300SL.
    He stopped by my house one day,& gave me a lot of
    Black & White pictures of the races,& the local car club –
    Redwood Sports Car Club.He told me he bought the 300SL
    for $5500 in the late ’50’s,& that he still had it.
    He later told me that he had it restored,& finished 2nd
    at the Silverado Concours in Napa,California.He also told me
    that he sold it.
    I asked him if he got more than $5500 for it.

    Like 7
  4. wuzjeepnowsaab

    I think 1.25 is the right number for it. Obviously this is not just a Benz grail…it’s an entire automotive production history global grail car. Maybe THE collector car. As for what would you do with it? What would you do with a Van Gogh painting? Or an Honus Wagner baseball card?

    Like 3
  5. Fr Bill Yanson

    Keep the silver; replace the tartan (“plaid” is a garment, not a pattern . . .).

    Like 8
    • Steve

      I was thinking the same about the plaid, Is the car maybe Scottish?

      Like 1
  6. Harry

    I would buy it snd paint it British racing green. I like that colour.

    Like 6
  7. mike

    Why do you use Ebay to sell this rare of MB???? Send her a real auction.

    Like 8
    • Solosolo UK Solosolo UK Member

      I don’t think many millionaires make use of E Bay so I also wonder what it is doing on that site.

      Like 4
  8. Yblocker

    Ok, I call bullsh!t. There ain’t no car on God’s green earth worth this kind of money. It’s a car, made with metal, plastic, blood, sweat, and dirty hands, the same as every other one. And we squabble over $5,000 rusty classics. I could on and on with this one, think I’ll have a drink instead.

    Like 8
  9. Gunner

    One of the most beautiful and iconic European automotive designs ever. So many famous and well known individuals were seen behind the wheel of one. I think that the color silver is very much associated with mid century Mercedes. I would leave it and even though I am not very partial to the color red, I think it looks very nice here. All this Gullwing needs is a new driver. As far as price, I would say that something is only worth what someone is willing to pay. Period. I also think that regardless of how much an automobile is worth, it should be driven. That is what they are made for, built for, and to just admire them from the outside does it no good. An automobile that dreams are made of for sure to many of us gearheads.

    Like 3
  10. DavidH

    I went to a party in high school at a friends house in town. There were two of these inside the house. The parents were gone and I, being young and dumb, sat there on the fender and drank beer. $1,750,000.00!!! I will probably never be that close to another gullwing in my life.

    Like 2
    • Paul N

      your story made me think of Ferris Buellers day off.

      Like 2
  11. MLM

    Imagine having this and a Ferrari 250 GTO in your garage.

    Like 4
    • Ike Onick

      Somebody does.

      Like 1
    • Herman

      How did you get past my security to see inside my garage?

      FYI, I drive both of them on occasion.

      As for this one I would leave it Silver, open a bier, have a seat on my garage sofa, and enjoy both, then when sober drive it in the country and visit farmers markets filling the back with crates of fruit, free range eggs, and cider. Because I can I guess.

      • BCB42

        Bier. Echt, das.

  12. Chris Webster

    I’ll be the contrarian here. Styling wise I find these poorly executed. Basic shape is OK, but the ‘eyebrows’ the miss match between the rear side glass and rear window, and most of all those ghastly, bulged dog dish hubcaps.

    Clean those up and it would look Ok.

    • John Gates

      The eyebrows over the wheel openings actually serve a positive aerodynamic purpose – they are not just some styling artifice. You don’t have to like them, but there is a good reason (if you are racing). Happy Motoring!

  13. Keith in Banff

    I live in Banff Canada, and a few years ago over a dozen 300SL gullwings and coupes showed up at the Banff Springs Hotel after driving all the way from California!! So awesome to see them lines up for show, and to know they’d been driven there!

  14. J. Edwin White

    SL300? How’s that for a registration plate? It lived in Aberdeen, Scotland and belonged to a man named Eddie Matheson. Had a ride in it but despite its reputation found it noisy and didn’t inspire. Very clever engineering but the bodywork was fragile.

    Like 1
  15. Tom

    The 300SL has more than appearance and performance that drives up the price. It’s also one of very few cars that qualify for the 1% supply and demand market. The rest of us can’t really comment as to its value or drivability as we will never get the opportunity to do either. If I were in a position to spend this kind of cash… I’d buy a super yacht instead. Just saying…

  16. T. Mann Member

    1956 300SL WOW

    The Buyer of this car will make a profit./././

    Like 3
  17. Howie

    Well at least it is not on Craig’s List.

    Like 8
  18. Barney wilkins

    Went to the salt flats a few years ago and there was one of these being raced. It was a full on race car with the requisite full on roll cage as mandated for high speed runs. I asked the owner about turning such a car into a race car. He said he had owned it since it was new and that it had always been a race car. That’s what he bought it for. I was impressed

    Like 1
  19. Howie

    I think we all missed something, the seller is gullwingmotorcars in New York.

    Like 11
  20. Stacey Hagan

    I believe from the factory you could get a dual set of seat cushions, one set plaid cloth and the other in leather. A car I have owned in Matchbox and model scale only. Even with the design mismatch, it is an entirely beautiful piece of rolling metal.

    Like 2
  21. John Prill Member

    I think that I’ll pass on this one…the cheesy red tartan plaid (whatever) sucks, in my humble opinion!

  22. John Muller

    One of my prior customers, BASF Southfield, MI has or had one of these and would display it roped off in their lobby for all to see up close but not touch. If I am not mistaken it was repainted by Chip Foose before it was set out for viewing. Love it hate it, it’s an interesting car and was way ahead of its time. I would hope it gets driven by whomever can afford it!

  23. Keith Moore

    Get rid of the god awful red plaid tartan, replace w red leather. ( maybe a restoration auto shop could find original old red leather as new red leather would look out of place, if not then I would replace the whole interior ? Maybe? ) A respray is not how you treat a car of this pedigree. I would go back to original white ( not my favorite ) or give it a proper very expensive Mercedes Silver paint job. I would also drive it, then drive it some more, then take it to the blue ridge mountains an hour away and drive it, then later on I would take it to Charleston SC 3 hours away and drive it around charleston then head to Beaufort SC. From there I would head to Amelia Island for the March Concours Show. I’ll let others park their pieces of art and look at them. ( not saying right or wrong, saying what’s right for me ) That this car and I would be the best of friends. And me being retired at 69 I could use a friend like this beautiful girl. And yes she is definitely a girl. 😎

  24. JoeNYWF64

    Was a/c, p/w & cruise control avail on these?

  25. Jack Barley

    I much rather buy and DRIVE a fantastic’56 corvette for $100,000 and invest my remaining $1,650,000 I saved.

    • Solosolo UK Solosolo UK Member

      And at the end of the day all you will have is a’56 Corvette along with several thousand other people! If you have enough money to buy this car then you have enough money to insure it or have it repaired should it get damaged. I don’t know how much your investment of $1,650,000 will be worth in ten years time but I’m sure this 300sl will still be a better investment.

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