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Lot 139

1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Coupe

  • Chassis no. 198.0404500143

Sold for $676,500

215 bhp, 2,996 cc overhead-camshaft inline six-cylinder engine, Bosch mechanical fuel-injection, four-speed manual transmission, independent front suspension with unequal-length A-arms, coil springs and anti-roll bar, independent rear suspension with high-pivot swing axles with radius arms and coil springs, and four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes. Wheelbase: 94.5"

- Special Order example delivered new with rare Rudge wheels

- Attractive color combination

- Legendary performance, handling and styling

As was the case with several of Europe’s most important sports cars, Porsche and Ferrari included, the importation of a road-going 300SL to the United States would not have been possible without Max Hoffman. In fact, in the case of the SL, Hoffman, who was appointed Mercedes-Benz importer for the US market in 1952, deserves much of the credit for the development of the production car. While attending a meeting of Daimler-Benz’s Board of Directors, he assured everyone in attendance of the salability of the current model lines but also expressed particular interest in a production version of the famed 300 SL racing car. Initial objections to the proposition were based on the belief that the SL’s development was carried out very quickly to meet Mercedes’ reentry into sports car racing.

Thankfully, the determined Hoffman prevailed, leaving Germany with an order for 1,000 SLs, half of which became the more affordable 190 variant. Subsequent months of engineering, refinement and testing produced a car of outstanding performance, class and presence.

Introduced in 1954 to thrilled crowds in New York, the Mercedes-Benz 300SL was essentially a supercar with a price tag well in excess of $7,000! Its popular success in the United States was undoubtedly due to the burgeoning American fascination with smaller, nimble European sports cars – an interest expressed by many GIs returning from World War II. Additionally, the 300SL capitalized on the company’s racing successes and benefited from the technological advancements available therein.

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.

The gullwing doors used on the racing version of the car were continued on the production car, as they were necessary to maintain the structural integrity of the space-frame construction. This novel approach to building a car was not without difficulties. Mercedes had gone all the way towards a theoretically perfect multi-tube space-frame structure where all the tubes were slim and absolutely straight and none had to withstand bending or torsional stresses of any nature. Taken to these extremes, this would deny access to the car altogether, so there were inevitable compromises needed to gain entrance to the passenger compartment. To ease the problem, the frame was very deep along the sills, and the doors were arranged to hinge along their top edge and open upwards in “gull-wing” fashion.

Hoffman’s original request of 1,000 cars was exceeded as production of the semi-hand-built car reached 1,400 units. The 300SL Coupe was discontinued after the 1957 model year. Today, it remains one of the most recognized and coveted of all sports cars ever built.

According to the Gullwing Register, 67 300SL Coupes were built by Daimler between August and December 1954 – roughly 12% of total production. These very early cars are particularly desirable and include the car we have the pleasure of offering here, which was shipped new to the Mercedes distributor in New York on December 30, 1954.

Finished in Medium Red, it was delivered new with the extremely desirable Rudge wheels, as confirmed by its listing in the Register of “Special Order.” Known owners in the same Register are Chester Flynn, Charles Kriesler (New York), Trent Lowney (San Francisco, California), Chris Borden (Palm Springs, California) and Michael Rogerson (Encino, California). According to Borden, the original engine was replaced by a factory spare unit. In fact, it was also reported that Dr. Werner Vogler raced the car in Hamburg, Germany, who it is believed was the prominent German Mercedes dealer who first opened his doors in 1927 and whose dealership network is now celebrating over 80 years of business.

In the intervening years, the car has been finished in metallic silver-grey, which is offset beautifully by the striking red leather upholstery and of course the very desirable and valuable Rudge wheels. The car remains very presentable and has recently been treated to an extensive service. Any cosmetic imperfections are only visible upon closer examination; the leather is devoid of rips or tears but shows natural signs of use, while the paint and brightwork are equally presentable with only small imperfections and, again, exhibit limited patina attributed to an older restoration and normal driving use.

The race inspired, fuel-injected three-liter puts out 215 horsepower. Coupled with the four-speed manual transmission, the performance potential is formidable. In 1955, no other vehicle came close to those speeds, and the 300SL was easily the fastest production automobile on Earth. Not only is the Mercedes a feat of engineering genius, its styling and design is revolutionary even to this day. This is a wonderful example in attractive colors and with factory Rudge wheels.

Please note that this car is titled by its engine number.

Please contact our exclusive automotive transportation partner, Reliable Carriers, for a shipping quote or any other information on the transport of this vehicle.

Alexander Weaver

+1 864 313 6844
California, United States

Alexander Weaver joined RM Sotheby’s in 2011 as a Car Specialist after graduating from Furman University in South Carolina. Born... read more

Augustin Sabatié-Garat

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United Kingdom

Augustin Sabatié-Garat joined RM Europe in 2012 as a Car Specialist after more than a decade in the collector car hobby. Gradua... read more

Barney Ruprecht

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Ontario, Canada

Barney’s interest in classic cars began at an early age after being introduced to his father’s all-original 1965 Porsche 911. Barney l... read more

David Swig

+1 415 302 2247
California, United States

David Swig joined RM Sotheby’s West Coast division as a Car Specialist in May 2015. David is a life-long automobile enthusi... read more

Don Rose

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United States

Don joined RM in 2006 after several years of professionally trading sports and classic cars, and after earning a reputation as a noted... read more

Donnie Gould

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Florida, United States

Donnie Gould joined the RM team in 2002 as a partner and Car Specialist after more than two decades in the vintage automobile auction ... read more

Gord Duff

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Ontario, Canada

Gord Duff began his journey with RM Sotheby’s in 1998. Since then, he has gained an intimate knowledge of a variety of marques a... read more

Jake Auerbach

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California, United States

Jake Auerbach got his start in the automotive industry at an early age, spending his summers during high school working at a classic c... read more

Kurt Forry

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California, United States

Having worked for Bonhams’ Automobilia department for over 10 years, Kurt Forry joined RM Sotheby’s with more than a decad... read more

Matt Malamut

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California, United States

A long-time car enthusiast and Southern California native, Matt studied Automotive Technology at San Diego Miramar College and complet... read more

Michael Squire

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United Kingdom

Michael Squire joined RM Sotheby’s European Division in the summer of 2016. He comes to RM with a prestigious racing background ... read more

Mike Fairbairn

+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

As one of the three founding partners of RM Sotheby’s, Mike has a long-standing interest in the classic car industry. Graduating... read more

Oliver Camelin

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United Kingdom

With an extensive background in exotic sports car history and sales, a particular passion for American curves, and fluency in three la... read more

Paul Darvill

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United Kingdom

Paul Darvill joined the RM Sotheby’s European team at the beginning of 2015. Paul holds a degree in French and Politics from the... read more

Pete Fisher

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Ontario, Canada

Pete Fisher was first introduced to antique cars in high school, working for Classic Coachworks in his hometown of Blenheim, Ontario. ... read more

Shelby Myers

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California, United States

Shelby Myers grew up with the classic car industry infused into every aspect of his life. He had the unique opportunity to watch the R... read more

Tonnie Van der Velden

+31 653 84 19 60
United Kingdom

Tonnie Van der Velden joined RM Sotheby’s European division in September 2015 as a Car Specialist. A lifelong enthusiast, Tonnie... read more