Automotive Icon: 1956 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing

The word “iconic” is used so often to describe cars of all types, but within the Mercedes-Benz marque, the 300SL Gullwing is a car that definitely deserves that label. While only around 1,400 of these Gullwings were ever produced, more than 80% of the cars produced found their way to the USA. This 1956 model is going to require a full restoration, but with good examples now selling for between $1,300,000 and $2,000, 000, the money spent on restoration should represent a sound investment. Located in Madison, Wisconsin, you will find the Gullwing listed for sale here on Bring A Trailer. I have to say thank you to Barn Finder Patrick S for spotting the Gullwing for us.

While the Gullwing is most definitely a German designed and manufactured car, its very existence was the brainchild of New York Mercedes-Benz distributor, the late Max Hoffman. He envisaged a race car for the road, based on the successful W194 sports racing car. He was able to convince Mercedes-Benz management that such a car was a viable proposition, and design and construction were commenced. When the car was first released in the USA, sales were initially not what was expected in spite of the styling catching the public’s imagination, and this was attributed to the high price of the vehicle. The Gullwing was priced at up to four times the cost of many American luxury performance cars of the era, which placed it out of reach of all but the most affluent people in American society. Slow initial sales of new examples also then negatively impacted used Gullwing prices, and the Gullwing looked like it was going to be an unloved and unsuccessful car. However, this low used price made the car accessible to more people, and the public readily accepted the Gullwing and its 160mph performance, and the car became a success. Today the Gullwing rates among the most desirable of collectible cars, and even rough examples will still command 7-figure sales prices.

Our feature Gullwing has been owned by the same family for 50 years but has not seen any form of active duty since 1984. During the last 34 years, the engine has not been started. The body and frame of the Gullwing are both structurally sound, although the current paint, which is a repaint in the original color that was applied in the 1970s, is looking tired. There are also a number of small dings and marks on the paint and body. The underside of the car is solid, although there is a coating of surface corrosion. There are also some sheet-metal areas under the car that have suffered from rot-through, but none of these are structural.

The engine that Mercedes produced for the Gullwing was something very special for a road car of the time, and was based on the same engine that powered the W194 race car, While the engine as fitted to the W194 delivered 175hp, the same engine produced 215hp in the production Gullwing. This power increase was largely due to the installation of Bosch mechanical fuel injection on the road car’s engine in place of triple carburetors on the race car. This also gives the Gullwing a confirmed top speed of 160mph, making it the world’s fastest production car at the time. Our Gullwing still has its numbers-matching engine and 4-speed manual transmission. The engine hasn’t fired a shot since 1984, but a recent leak-down test has produced promising results regarding the overall state of the engine. However, in a car of this value, I think that I would be relying on a significantly more thorough inspection. The mechanical fuel injection has a tendency to “wash” lubricating oil away from the pistons and cylinder bore on engine shutdown, and this is something that would need to be checked.

The black leather upholstered interior looks quite good, but there are some details that would need to be addressed before it could return to its former glory. The wheel has a number of cracks and would need to either be restored or replaced. The leather also looks a bit dry and stretched in places, but this should be able to be revived without the need to reupholster the entire interior. The factory clock has also been removed, and it has been replaced with a voltmeter, and this would need to be changed to protect the car’s authenticity. The car is fitted with some nice, genuine accessories. These include dual heaters and a Becker Mexico TR radio. One aspect of the interior that has held up exceptionally well is the upholstery around the bottoms of both door openings. Due to the high and wide sills of the Gullwing, these are prone to wear and scuffing, particularly as people climb out of the vehicle. The upholstery in this area on both sides actually looks to be quite good.

While the high initial retail price of the Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing hurt early sales numbers, the car became a very popular car for those who were able to afford it. The low production numbers, coupled with the breath-taking performance of the day, pretty well assured the car of future classic status. This car is going to require a complete restoration from the ground up. This is not going to be a cheap proposition by any means. At the time of writing, bidding is sitting at $815,000, and the cost of the restoration is an unknown quantity. However, with a minimum resale price following the restoration of $1,300,000, and that figure likely to continue to increase, then if you had the money, it would be a restoration well worth undertaking.

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Comments

  1. Nick G

    LS3 Rat rod. Come on! I dare you.

    13
    • Tom Justice

      It would be the most expensive rat rod in history by a factor of 10 but you would never ever see another one.

      5
    • glen

      Sure, take a potential million plus vehicle, and make a ratrod, brilliant!. I know you’re kidding, …right?

      8
    • Tracy Johnson

      What is it wit you LS3 obsessed people? Most boring engine ever. If you want to ruin a great classic Mercedes and loose a bucket full of money put a stupid Chevy engine in it!

      9
      • Miguel

        I just saw one of these on a YouTube video where the owner had replaced the engine with an AMG engine. I don’t know which one he used, but the car was heavily modified, so there is one less original car available now.

        3
      • ctmphrs Member

        The LS haters are so eloquent.

        4
    • Peter

      Get Off! ( :

      • Robert

        It’s beautiful. Unfortunately it’s also wway outta my price range. Deffinatly a Top 10 of the most desirable cars ever built. ’60 Jaguar E-type… Keep it all ORIGINAL. park it in your living room

  2. Vance

    That would truly be an abomination. I double dog dare you.

    6
  3. Wolfram

    that would be cool, and then show up on every event where this Richi Rich’s hang out their’e money with their zillion $ show cars where they not even know where to fill in the engine oil in, if i had the money this would be definetely one of my hobbies LMAO

  4. Derek

    Restore the underbody and mechanical parts, but leave the interior and top bodywork as is (unless rut’s showing, in which case sand it back and hand-paint a repair). Shabby chic? Unrestored ones’re probably now less numerous than “oh, look, it’s another restored silver SL”.

    6
  5. DETROIT LAND YACHT

    Convert to EV!
    Woven black & red inserts in the seats…back-lit star in the grille.

    4
  6. Luki

    A few years ago at the Cincinnati Concours there was one that came pretty close to being a rat rod.

    3
    • Robert

      It’s beautiful. Unfortunately it’s also way outta my price range. Definitely a Top 10 of the most desirable cars ever built. KEEP IT ORIGINAL!!!

  7. geomechs geomechs Member

    Although I’ve never been a big fan of exotic sports cars, this is one that I would love to have at my place. I built a scale model of one back when I was about 11 years old and figured that’s about as close as I’d ever get to owning one. I saw a couple of these at the BJ auction in Scottsdale a few years back. It seems that one belonged to Clark Gable and his sold for $2.5M and the other sold for $2.2M. My budget would probably be around $2200 so I’ll have to dream on. The Bosch injection system isn’t a bad system to run or tune but it is a major expense to rebuild. If this was to come my way, I’d see about converting it to the three Solex (?) carburetors. Much cheaper to fix and easy to tune. I’ve spun a few gas injection pumps for later sedans and they’re fine as long as you run them daily. I would have a problem with ethanol in the gas as that could ruin those expensive barrels and plungers…

    6
    • Nick G

      When I was 5 years old my father bought a 1958, 180d. I got to sit in a brand new, red 300SL that was in the show room. Even at that age I was in awe.

      PS. Tracy Johnson. I guess a hood scoop would be out of the question? Hmm.What would be functionally synonymous with hood scoop ;-)

      3
      • CobraSteve

        You were luckier than me. My father also had a 180Dc but all I got was the composite brochure which had everything from the 180 to the 300SL Roadster, including the 300 Sedan (I believe they’re referred to as “Adenauers”). Still have the brochure!

        Only car more “cool” than a 300SL would be a C111…any C111. Diesel, gasoline, or even Wankel power…I’m easy.

        1
  8. Luki

    https://blog.daimler.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/DSC_1676-940×375.jpg

    This work for you?

    This is a real 300 Gullwing.

    Nice hood scoop huh?

    6
  9. Kenneth Carney

    @ Detroit Land Yacht: i like how you think
    man! It would indeed make a good one.
    If that were not feasible, then how about a 3800 V-6 from a Buick Grand National?
    Pair that with a good 4-speed gearbox
    and you’d have a real winner there! I’m
    surprised that no one’s come up with a
    kit car version of this car as yet. Or, you find an empty shell and build it your way.
    Even a more available 190 SL would be
    a real screamer when equipped the way
    that I’ve mentioned. Be the first on your
    block to have a rocketship with class!

    2
  10. Mountainwoodie

    Can you imagine having a Gullwing hanging around in the garage undriven for thirty years? I’d sleep in it!

    6
  11. Chris In Australia

    I can’t be the only one who finds these ugly. The cheap looking, protruding dog dish hubcaps. The ugly ‘eyebrows’ over the wheel arches. Tiny, large radiused windows on the greenhouse.

    1
    • cyclemikey

      No, Chris, you’re the only one. :)

      18
    • Gérard Planche

      Er…Chris: MAYBE you are the only one!
      But lucky we all have different tastes: imagine if we all loved -and only had available- just one car model (I stop short of mentioning makes and models)?
      For one, sadly, this blog might not exist!

      4
  12. Jim in FL

    Surprised nobody brought up Leno’s barn find 300. It was an ex race car and he restored it to streetable running condition but kept the paint and interior driver quality. I think he may have gone back later and took care of the cosmetics.but I know there are a bunch of videos from several years ago of him driving it around in “rough” form.

    3
  13. Ken Smith

    Last year at one of the big auctions, an unrestored barn find of one of these actually sold for a couple of hundred thousand more than a perfectly restored one – at the same auction!

    4
    • Dickie F

      Hi Ken.
      I remember an unrestored one selling for $400k more than a restored one, at the 2014 Gooding & Co. auction in Scottsdale, Ariz.

  14. CobraSteve

    Exotic cars…most of us have lusted after one, and many of us still do. Sort of like the hot girl from our youth…always just beyond our reach. Once we do manage to get hold of it (the car or the hottie), we soon realize the price we paid was too much or we set our expectations too high.

    Therefore, I’ll stick to Triumphs and MGs and have a ton of fun without having to ask for permission from the Pope or take out a second mortgage on my home if I break a crankshaft. For the best rate of return in terms of smiles per miles, it’s hard to beat ol’ British sports cars!

    6
    • geomechs geomechs Member

      I like your attitude, and I almost completely agree, right down to the hottie. But I’ll take the 4-door sedans, the 3/4 ton trucks, and the British bikes. I had an MGB, which I had a lot of fun with but it wasn’t me…

      2
      • CobraSteve

        Thank you! I hope nobody construed my comment as sour grapes…if one can afford a super exotic, then I’m happy for them.

        I have more respect for an individual who does his/her own wrenching, though, but that’s the sailor in me. Half of sailors only want flat-out racing and no maintenance, and the other half enjoy tinkering on their yacht as much as they do sailing.

        For me, the joy is in the tinkering. Taking a sow’s ear and making a silk purse, or at the very least, taking the car up to the next level for the next caretaker. I believe most of us here on Barnfinds fall into this category?

        6
  15. Bruce

    The engine, transmission and the rest of the chassis are not the problem. I have had the chance in my past to help restore one of these. There are a number of serious rust traps designed into the body shape. This is especially true of the Eyebrows over the wheels. They are leaded in and if there is any kind of leak or break in that seal there is absolutely no metal behind and the eyebrow is likely to be paper thin metal as well as there is no way to paint that interior of the eyebrow. Those are the worst spots but there are others.

    These are truly breathtaking cars when finished and they drive well even by todays standard. Full of quirks that make them truly special including the doors, the tilt steering wheel among others. Parts however expensive are largely available from the factory. Worth restoring to new, Yes. Expensive HELL YES, Time consuming I would repeat myself but again yes with emphasis.

    The problem is that these are cars that are truly worth restoring due to being landmark cars and rarity. I hope who ever purchases this car restores and has a series of Youtube Videos of the restoration. I would love to see someone else do the work this time.

    10
    • Dickie F

      I have not researched this, but does the un-restored Gullwing car not sell for more than the fully restored one?

      1
  16. A.J.

    I recently saw an old newspaper ad for a ’56 ALLOY BODY! Gullwing in Santa Barbara, CA. The ad was from 1965 and the asking price was $6500. Big money in ’65, but, boy it’s worth many millions now.
    This one is so cool. You almost never see one come up on the market.

    3
  17. Coventrycat

    If it’s already worth a fortune, just make sure it’s road ready and drive it. It’ll never depreciate even as it is.

  18. Del

    The Prime Minister of Canada just restored his Dads Gull Wing.

    Info probably on the net.

    I think it cost around 300,000 but it might have been in better shape than this one.

    Neglect is bitçh

    4
    • CobraSteve

      I think I just discovered a new nickname for my ex….

      3
    • treg forsyth

      I work at a chrome shop in Siney BC where I work did all repairs and polishing for the PM’s car, his was a 300SL roadster/soft top, the chrome bill to do everything inside and out to concours standards is pushing 30,000 cad. we have done the chrome on many of these cars including one of 30 aluminum alloy bodied gullwings, purchase price on this one was 1million in this shape, Rudi and co. (see web sit for pics) restored it, our shop did the plating, last we heard there was offers on the car over 7 million, expensive aluminum I guess.

  19. Butchb

    Am I right in saying these cars were hand built at the factory?

    I studied metal-bumping from a Master metal guy named John Miller, who had the shell of one of these on a rolling skate in his shop, I think he told me they were hand built at the Mercedes factory.

    He told me the one in his shop belonged to a Dr. who would send him a check from time to time for the work. Usually after he’d threaten to throw it out of his shop because he hadn’t heard from the owner for so long. That one had some serious rust in the rear section, and John was hand forming new panels for it.

    John passed some years ago and I don’t know what happened to the car after that.

    1
  20. stillrunners

    wow…..

  21. Michael Ridley

    I did not know these were worth so much. There are two or three in a barn down the street. I will have to see if he wants to sell a couple. HAHAHAHAHAH

    • CobraSteve

      If he won’t sell one, I have an old Ford 8N we could possibly work a trade?

      1
  22. Del

    Or he might take a scrap Jaguar ?

    Apparently even scrap Jags are worth
    30 grand ?

    Not

  23. glen

    It’s at $885,000 at the moment!

    1
  24. leiniedude leiniedude Member

    Out of my range. BID TO $1,100,000 ON 12/19/18

  25. Pete

    If I had the juice, I would send this thing directly to germany and let the Mercedes restoration shop do the work to get it right. Then 2 million wouldn’t be a problem.

  26. mark Passarelli

    I can do that car for $300K.. Frame off, Show quality. http://www.ranchomerced.com

  27. Robert

    Borris Becker, the former tennis pro, has a company, in Germany I think, that is devoted to restoring these exact cars. Probably cost you $300K-$500K. But hey, if you want it done right? It’s not like you’re gonna pull this into your garage and DIY

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