Celebrating the Spirit of Competition

1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing Coupe

Chassis Number : 4500108             Horsepower : 215           Displacement : 6-cylinder, 3.0 L           Wheelbase : 94.5"

These Cars

In 1954 the SL (Sport Light) Mercedes-Benz was introduced. Because its low-slung chassis incorporated a frame which extended over to the side of the body, the doors were hinged at the roof, thus giving the gull wing appearance when both were opened. This car had many design features besides its doors, most notably the fact that it was the first production car with fuel injection. It had an overhead valve inline 6-cylinder engine of 3-liter capacity which developed 190 horsepower. In line with the 4-speed manual transmission, rack and pinion steering, and independent front and swing axle rear suspension, the top speed of 152 miles per hour was reasonable with a 0-60 in 7.2 seconds.

The car was introduced shortly after Daimler-Benz had converted its war effort and in 1952 they were victorious in the World Sports Car Manufacturers Championship as well as in the recently formed Sports Car category. American distributor Max Hoffman recognized the market for this car in the United States and after successful sales in 1954, he received his first order on this side of the ocean in March 1955. Subsequently a total of 1400 Gullwings were produced from 1954 to 1956 of which 1100 came to the United States distributed by Mr. Hoffman.

The cramped quarters and the heat control in the coupe led to the development of a roadster with similar chassis but with modifications, such as disc brakes unveiled in 1957. The beautiful lines of the roadster are incomparable for any car of its time. With the 6-cylinder engine tilted it was possible to achieve a low hood line which complemented the functional streamlining of the rest of the car. It is true that these cars were capable of engaging in various types of road racing, “right out of the box,” from a dealer’s showroom floor. Approximately 26 lightweight (all aluminum body) models furthering their sporting intentions even further.

Our Car

In 1970, while casually reading The New York Times, I read an ad from a Philadelphia suburbanite indicating that a low mileage Mercedes Gullwing was for sale. After a brief phone call, the owner was aware that I was on my way. The owner, a pool builder, took the car in exchange for his work, only to find that his wife found the care too difficult to manage, hot, and not particularly useful for uxorial duties. Cash was quickly exchanged and I drove her home. Since then very little has been done.

With about 38,000 miles and no major repairs, she was a serviceable car which got some extra activity as a pure passenger vehicle, though when parked on the street one day the Becker radio was gone forever. I have found that accelerating during a rapid turn produces some funny things are the rear which I do not want to relive. But, nevertheless, the acceleration is remarkable, shifting is easy, and steering is particularly precise.

For the purposes of exhibition and because she has the beautiful Rudge knockoff wheels, we removed the bumpers and put her in the configuration as she would have looked had she participated in Watkins Glen. When one looks at the entire spectrum of sports cars from the 1950s that were readily available in America, and that could produce the excitement of a racing machine, the Gullwing certainly ranks high, yet with enough conveniences to be more useful than the open bodied all-out sports racing cars.