Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing

The 300 SL production sports car presented in 1954 was based on the successful competition version of 1952. Its space frame weighed only 110 lbs. and was particularly sturdy, but did not permit the fitting of normal doors because of the high frame side members. With its characteristic upward-opening doors, the dream car of the 1950s popularly became known as the Gullwing.

300, of course, represented the engine’s displacement of three liters, while SL denoted sport leicht (sport light). Initially introduced as a coupe, the legendary sports car was conceived as a high-performance street machine with a thinly veiled racing character. The gullwing doors became the car’s visual signature and solved the cabin-entry problems posed by the car’s light tubular frame. Additional styling cues included bulges over the wheel openings, two longitudinal hood bulges and distinctive egg crate-like grillwork on both front fenders, which alleviated excessive heat and noise inside the car. Aluminum was used extensively for the bodywork, particularly for the doors, hood, trunk lid and interior sheet metal. The rest of the car utilized steel bodywork, although 29 examples are known to have been produced with all-aluminum bodies. Compared to competitive sports cars of its time, the 300SL developed an immediate reputation, not only for performance but for exceptional build quality as well. Whereas comparable sports cars featured carburetors, solid rear axles and pushrod engines, the 300SL offered Bosch fuel injection, independent rear suspension and an overhead camshaft. The six-cylinder engine produced 215 brake horsepower and 210 pound-feet of torque and was mated to a four-speed, fully synchronized transmission. Such figures translated into 0-to-60 times of approximately eight seconds – a truly impressive feat in the mid-1950s.

Part of the RM Auctions event in Arizona in January, 2009; in Florida in March, 2009; in Michigan in July, 2010; in California, in August, 2010; in London in October, 2010; in Arizona in January, 2011; in Michigan in July, 2011; in Florida in March, 2011, in California in August, 2011; in London in October 2011; in Arizona in January 2012 and in Arizona in January 2013.

Sources: Mercedes-Benz press, RM Auctions and Gooding & Company
Photo Credit: Copyright Paul Markow, Darin Schnabel, Studio E Photography, Tim Scott and Pawel Litwinski

Gallery: Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing