Gullwing Holy Grail: 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL

The historic and significant Mercedes-Benz 300SL Coupe (Gullwing) was built between 1954-57, although a roadster was also made between 1957-63. Originally not considered to be a production car, it was built in Germany but targeted at the U.S. market. 1,400 coupes were built in four years, with 1955 being the most prolific at 856 copies. Their value and scarcity cause these cars to turn up infrequently on the resale market, such as this beautiful 1955 edition. This one is offered here on Gull Wing Motor Cars out of Astoria, New York, but the coupe is from California and can shipped anywhere in the U.S. The price: $1,295,000 (anyone got a rich uncle they can put me in touch with?).

Based on the Mercedes-Benz 1952 racer, the W194, the 300SL was inspired by M-B’s authorized U.S. importer at the time. He perceived there was a market for such a car – and he was right. It was introduced in early 1954 at the International Motor Sports Show in New York City to get it into U.S. buyers’ hands as quickly as possible. With its inline-six engine, the car was mechanically sophisticated for its day and was capable of reaching 163 mph, making it the fastest production car in its era.

SL is short for “super-light” in German, a reference to the car’s racing-bred light tubular frame construction. The 300 SL was voted the “Sports Car of the Century” just before Y2K. BTW, the selling price for the 300SL in the U.S. was $6,820 new (two-thirds the cost of the roadster). Some famous name-droppers owned one of these cars at one time (coupe or roadster): Tony Curtis, Pablo Picasso, Sophia Loren, Clark Gable, Glenn Ford, Paul Newman, Yul Brynner, Ralph Lauren and Frank Lloyd Wright, just to name a few.

We’re told that the seller’s 1955 Gullwing is largely an original car that spent a great deal of tine in California (where the plates are presumably still registered) and is coming out of 40 years of private ownership. It comes with factory-equipped Rudge wheels, which supposedly was a special order. The seller says the color combination including Fueurwehrrot paint (red) is original, but that implies that the paint itself is not original. There are no signs of “significant rust or accident damage” (does that mean there is some or is the seller just leaving that open?). The gray interior is all original and in top shape.

As you would expect at this price range, this is a matching numbers automobile. Present is a 2,996cc M198 straight-six that would have been good for 240 hp and 217 lb-ft. of torque. The transmission is a 4-speed manual. The car has been serviced (not sure what that would have included) and started for the first time in quite a while. The engine is said to run strong but will require further tuning for regular road use. The seller suggests the rest of the mechanicals be inspected for any work they may require.

The Gullwing will be delivered with its original tool roll, jack, owner’s manual, registrations from previous ownership dating back several decades, and a 1970s-era California Blue Plate that reads “A 300 SL”. For the heck of it, I consulted Hagerty to see what value they place on these rare and important cars. A lowly one in Fair condition is about $900,000 while Concours could run you almost $1.5 million. So, if you’ve always dreamed of having one of these cars, you’re going to have to be in the right pay grade to afford one.

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Comments

  1. Steve R

    Beautiful car, thank for the feature. I’m drawn more towards the muscle cars you guys highlight, but am glad you go out of your way to spotlight a wide variety of cars in various conditions.

    Steve R

    Like 11
  2. DETROIT LAND YACHT

    Love these cars…but prefer the roadster.(as if I have the money for either)
    Gullwing Motors getting fancy with the photos.He usually just shoot in the park outside his garage…on a cold overcast day.

    Like 3
    • Paul

      and the cars don’t look that good, LOL

      Like 2
  3. Smokey Member

    I have always admired these cars and would love to have one except for one reason. If you live in an area that gets very warm in the summer the Gullwing would be hard to enjoy. Notice the shape of the doors. The windows cannot be rolled down. Also I have never seen one that has air conditioning installed. Can it be done I wonder? Getting into or out of this car is very difficult for anyone with physical limitations

    Like 4
    • DETROIT LAND YACHT

      There’s a small handful of people who build replicas of these cars in roadster and gullwing configurations…with all the modern creature comforts…and much more horsepower.(of course). MOst of them do a great job of getting the dimensions and “look” right as well. And you’ll only have to come up with six figures instead of seven.

      Like 4
    • Bill McCoskey

      Smokey,

      Funny you should ask about A/C in a Gullwing!

      Many years ago I had a client who owned a silver Gullwing. He asked me to take a good look at the possibility of adding air conditioning to the car, as I had done similar installations to 3 other vintage cars he owned.

      For those cars I searched out either factory A/C units and installed them as if they were there from new [1956 Cadillac Coupe DeVille & M-B 280SL], or if no A/C was available, I would find a period system that could be adapted to fit, and appear to be period to when the vehicle was new, as with his 1950’s Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith. [I used a 1953 Cadillac limo Frigidaire trunk unit & compressor]

      Of course there was never an approved A/C system for a 300 Gullwing [either M-B factory or aftermarket] so I looked at adapting a system. 3 critical areas required attention: Compressor location & mounting, Evaporator location, and Condenser location.

      The design of the interior “under dash” areas would have required a unit in the passenger footwell that made it almost impossible for someone to get in & out of the passenger seat. The evaporator would need to be installed in the rear of the car, and copper lines run under the body. The only real changes would be four 1.5″ holes to be drilled [2 for the lines, 2 for drains] and a few mounting screw holes. A matching carpeted cover would be installed over the unit.

      There was room in front of the radiator to install the A/C Freon condenser. Again, the only modifications would be a few screw holes in the radiator cradle assembly.

      The compressor [a 1950’s original type, not a modern smaller unit] was a serious problem. Between the locations of the mounting brackets, and the lack of room to mount it at the front of the engine, there was simply no possibility of mounting a period correct compressor without doing major mechanical & body changes to the car, changes that would make it difficult to return it to pre-A/C condition.

      So we decided it was not a good idea to add A/C to the gullwing, but to give the owner a little bit of relief from the hot interior conditions, I installed non-permanent state-of-the-art temperature insulating padding where it could not be seen, and I located a new-old-stock, period correct, 5″ round chrome automobile accessory fan that I mounted to a powerful magnet, and he could place the fan wherever he wanted to blow air on himself during slow or stopped traffic.

      Like 11
      • Smokey Member

        Bill…….Thanks so much for the Gullwing air conditioning information. This certainly confirms my doubts about not being able to cool down this MBZ . I also want to thank you for all of your learned automotive information you have contributed to this site over the years. It makes coming here for our classic car talk so much more enjoyable AND informative!!

        Like 4
    • Stan Marks

      Well, Smokey. I guess you’ll have to pass. Oh well……

      Like 1
  4. Luke Fitzgerald

    Million and a quarter and it’s doesn’t even run properly

    Like 4
  5. Scott

    The reference of “SL” meaning “super light”…questionable in my opinion…even with the Wikki reference I think “SL” references “sehr leicht” in German, roughly translated: “very light”..

    https://www.linguee.com/german-english/translation/sehr+leicht.html

    Also some commentary about whether it meant “sports light”.. or “very light” in the 1969 vintage:
    https://www.autoworldmuseum.com/1969-mercedes-benz-280-sl.html

    I own a Jensen- no dog in this fight! Great write up, great website!

    Like 2
  6. Pebblebeachjudge

    This was the first production super car, so how does an owner of 45 years view it today: You’d never tire of it, dialed in, they are fantastic. Considering the dollar was decease in value in the following 4 years, the 1.2 m will be equal to 750 k by the next election, but the dollar Price will increased to 1.6 – 1.85m. Wait for it.

    Like 4
  7. Jcs

    The market on these has actually been just a tad soft as of late. On the flip side, not quite as many on the market as a result. Bucket list indeed, said everyone ever.

    Like 3
  8. Tooyoung4heyday Member

    No doubt a car with great lines. They’ll never be in my price range but I do like this in the red as opposed to the silver you’d usually see.

    Like 4
  9. Richard Haner

    I remember in the early 60’s my dad who was an enthusiast and truck driver coming home form work one day and telling me he had found a gullwing for sale and that he really wanted to buy it, but that it was $5000 and he didn’t have the money….what a return on investment that would have been…

    Like 1
    • Rixx56 Member

      Likewise; I recall reading an add in
      the mid 60s Milwaukee Journal…
      asking $5600! ‘No dice’, says dad.

      • Bill McCoskey

        Here’s my “Dad said NO!” moment;

        It was the summer of 1968 and I was 16. I was looking at a 23rd series Packard Eight sedan, 18,000 mile original car, for $800. Dad said yes to that one. [We bought it.]

        The guy selling the Packard also had a 1937 Packard 12 convertible, a beautiful original car. I recognized the car from a black & white photo I had in my Packard literature collection, the first owner was Clark Gable, and he [the current owner] had a copy of the original title to prove it.

        The price was $6,000, at a time when the average new car cost was half that price. Of course dad said NO! The man who bought it then sold it in the late 1970s for close to $100,000.

        You can see a photo of Gable sitting at the wheel of this car, just use this link:
        http://legendaryclarkgable.com/autos.html

  10. A.J.

    No fitted luggage? I have to pass.

    Like 5
  11. Keith

    Just a great piece of rolling art. Love it

    Like 2
  12. david r

    you’d think for that price it would be completely sorted out. I mean, c’mon!

    Like 1
  13. Tom

    I have a couple of stories to ad. I tried to purchase a Gullwing while I was in College. It was painted Corvette blue. Another $5,000 Gullwing missed opportunity. The car was owned by a man who was running a home for girl’s that was being closed. I was trying to sell my 3.8 S Jaguar to raise the money but I could not get it sold in time. The best Gullwing story I know of was a local German repair shop had at least two Gullwings that he could not sell. He ended up trading them for 540K’s.He loved telling this story as the value of the 540k’s started to rise to record prices.

  14. Lbpa18

    My dad, also a car guy, used to tell stories of being able to buy a P51 in the crate for something like $2500 in the 50s but couldnt afford it. I often think what Id pick up if I could go back in time, but with some cash. Id feel pretty cool rolling up to one of my new Mustangs in one of my new 300SLs. :)

  15. Joe Samascott

    beautiful car, yes, but for the money, I would buy my 5 favorite muscle cars, build a heated garage to put them in, and have money to drive, and work on them for the rest of my life.

    Like 4
  16. Dennis Zozula

    My friend’s father was an outstanding craftsman with a reputation for working with aluminum. He was hired by the owner of a gill wing. The owner parked on his slopped driveway, opened the doors and took some packages into the house. You can guess the rest.

  17. Bing

    Nice car but it would be more beautiful if it was painted Red,

    Like 2
    • Stan Marks

      IMHO, Every car ever made, should be painted red.

  18. Randy

    Remembering back to my ‘sports car years’, I bought a real nice one in ’65 for $4950. Comments about getting some fresh air in these are right — you only have ‘relief’ from the small wing ‘windows’. To ‘open’ the side windows you have to pull over to a stop, open the gullwing door, get out, pull the side glass release latch and remove the plate glass from the outside of the car. Did that hassle bother me — heck no!

    A mechanic friend at the local MB dealer (who serviced these) had his for sale in ’66 for $3000 and did not even get any interest. The model that really was popular was the Roadster — this was because you didn’t have to ‘hump’ over that high sill to get in.

    Unfortunately, I got pulled onto active duty and eventually sold it — one of my bigger mistakes!

  19. Cattoo Cattoo Member

    An old friends father has one of these squirreled away in a non descriptive building with an apartment on the upper floor. Still there far as I know.

    • Bing

      Cattoo,
      Could that old warehouse be in Dallas?

  20. tony t

    <> Photos!!???

    • Randy

      I don’t see a method to attach photos here, otherwise I would.

  21. John

    Barn find?
    Not quite.

    Like 1
  22. Treg Forsyth

    Wanna spent some real money?…try buying one of the less than 30 alloy bodied 300sl that were built, 3-5 million and up.

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