When I think of cars that moved along the art of the automobile, a few come to mind. The original Mini. The Citroën DS. The Audi Ur Quattro. And this car, the Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing. A road going race car for the street, the 300SL was the brainchild of importer Max Hoffman, to bring the power of the W194 300SL to the street. Beautiful as it was, the car did have its compromises, most notably the high door sills, necessitated by the shape of the space frame underneath. Only 1,400 Gullwings were built over the course of four years. There was even a more special, alloy bodied version of the Gullwing, known as the Competition. Only 29 of these harder edged 300SLs were built and they don’t come up for sale. When they do, rest assured a princely sum of money will exchange hands. This 300SL for sale in California doesn’t have the alloy body, but documentation shows that it was originally built with the Competition engine, Competition suspension, wider Rudge knock-off wheels and Competition tires.
Engine: 3.0 liter inline six
Transmission: 4-speed manual
Mileage: 450 mi
One of a handful of “In-House/Factory-Prepared” competition 300SLs built. Assembled and tested repeatedly by the Mercedes Benz Factory in the December of 1955 and then shipped new by truck to Switzerland, February 13th, 1956. The only document released publicly by the Mercedes Factory on this 300SL is the finally assembly record or “data card.” It identifies in addition to many other specific details that this particular example was built with: -Competition “NSL” Engine -Competition Suspension -Competition Wider SLR type Rudge Racing Wheels -Competition Racing Tires. The engine uses dual-point ignition, revised ignition and cam timing and a different fuel-injection metering unit and internal governor which allows the engine to produce 250bhp rather than the standard 215bhp of the regular production 300SL. Lighter weight is acheived thoughout the car as with the use of an alloy starter motor rather than steel. Visually in addition to the obviosly wider SLR wheels is the use of an 8,000rpm tachometer and corresponding 270kph odometer.
What happened after being completed and leaving the Mercedes Benz Factory is one of the greatest mysteries we have ever encountered. The car was built for endurance racing as confirmed by the Mercedes Factory on multiple occasions going back to the early 1970s but without identifying individual drivers and specific races. Nothing is known at this time about where this 300SL raced and by whom until it surfaced four years later in an old race shop in Rome, Italy. It remained stored there as last raced until the mid-1960s when an up and coming Italian/American actor named Anthony Russel discovered her by chance and purchased her. He did not know anything other than it was an old race car and he felt it fit his image and would help his acting career to be seen in such a car. Russel had professional still photos taken circa 1964/65 by the famed Renaldo Tridici Studio in the beautiful Borghese Gardens of Rome, one of these photos still exists to this day accompanies the car upon its sale. Russel never raced the car but did have problems finding replacement tires as they were were wider competition versions whic were not easy to come by in Italy. The car also required high-octane, premium fuel which was still not easy to obtain in much of Italy at the time.
In the late 1960s Russel returend to the States and moved along with his 300SL to Beverly Hills, California where he took up acting again. He did not have the success he had hoped for and this Mercedes was sold to the aspiring collector, Ron Kellogg in 1969. Kellogg was the first to correspond with the Mercedes Factory about the car and was told it was an endurance racer but without specific reference to drivers or particular events. Kellogg believed it to be a Mille Miglia veteran but could never find supporting documentation. He sold the car to then 300SL International Group President, Mitch Leland in 1971. Leland not long after began a decade plus long restoration of the car with Scott Grundfor. It did not start out as a restoration according to Leland but a simple service and oil change at Scott’s. The car however remained there on and off again over the next eleven years undergoing what was at the point the most comprehensive restoration ever undertaken on such a vehicle. The engine, gearbox, suspension and brakes were all rebuild by legendary 300SL Racer, Don Ricardo and now known to be the last examples that he completed as a matched set.
Upon completion of the work, a very well know poster was made of this 300SL and it was sold for many years commercially through Mercedes Benz’s Franchised dealers. In the mid-1980s to commemorate the centenary celebration of Mercedes Benz, Pop Artist Andy Warhol was commissioned to do a series on the 300SL Gullwing. His work was based on Leland’s original poster which Mercedes provided to Warhol rather than having to provide him with an actual vehicle to have to work with. Print copies of several different versions of Warhol’s work can be obtained easily today with copies almost always available on Ebay. Not long after the restoration was completed, Scott approached Leland with an offer he could not refuse and the car was shipped to Tokyo, Japan were it joined the very private and secretive HATA Collection. After more than twenty years in storage and nearly forgotten to the world, we acquired this incredible machine. Have no doubt, this is without exception one of the most important non-alloy bodied, full-competion 300SL Gullwings in existence.
Last year, an alloy bodied Gullwing sold at Gooding & Company for a record price of $4.62 million, including auction fees. If this was an alloy bodied SL, you would be looking at a $2 to $3 million car here, at least. Your garden variety Gullwings are pulling anywhere between $700,000 to $1,000,000 these days, so I would say the asking price here is just about realistic, given the history and that you are getting some exclusive features to set this car apart from the rest of the Gullwings out there.