Ask a classic car expert to name the five most collectible automobiles ever built and chances are very good that the 1954-1957 Mercedes Benz 300SL Gullwing is on the list. Instantly recognizable by its upward swinging doors, the Gullwing was a stunning accomplishment at the time, with the prototype of this motoring icon being tested less than six years after the devastation of WWII left the Mercedes factories in ruins. Borrowing liberally from existing Mercedes models, the early racing versions of the 300SL achieved great success on the track, including an improbable 1-2 finish upon their first attempt at the fabled 24 Hours of Le Mans sports car race, in 1952, with other successes at the Nürburgring and La Carrera Panamericana, the treacherous Mexican road race.
The coupe’s defining characteristic, its hinged-at-the-roof doors, were actually necessitated by the use of an extremely rigid space frame chassis, a first, which had unusually high sides and precluded horizontally opening doors. The unusually wide door sills of the 300SL also bear witness to this construction. Another unique feature of the car was the mounting of the dry sump engine at an angle 50 degrees from vertical. This allowed the 300SL to have an extremely low hood profile, essential for the aerodynamic efficiency required to be competitive against its more powerful competition from Jaguar and Ferrari.
The street version of the 300SL bowed in 1954 at the behest of Mercedes’ U.S. importer, the irrepressible Max Hoffman, who claimed he could sell 1,000 if they were built. In fact, over the Gullwing’s four year run, approximately 1,100 were made to U.S. specification, confirming Hoffman’s confidence. With only 1,402 made, the 300SL coupe is a rare car, but in fact the rarest of the Gullwings are the 29 built in 1955 & 1956 which were ordered with bodies made entirely of aluminum alloy. The alloy option package also included revised camshafts, a special rear end ratio, highly desirable Rudge wheels, and plastic side and rear windows for further weight savings; all this for the not unsubstantial premium of $1,307 above the nearly $7,000 base price of a ‘standard’ 300SL.
In collecting circles, the Mercedes Benz 300SL Gullwing ticks all the boxes: revolutionary yet timeless design, great performance, and possibly the most important determinants of current collectability — it was rare, expensive and special when new. And so it is today. With prices for good to great Gullwings now ranging from $1,000,000 to over $2,000,000, the market has spoken on this blue-chip collectible. ~submitted by Michael Leven, AAG Agent, Turlock, California