Showpiece of the Week: Mercedes 300 SL

The production and ensuing success of the Mercedes-Benz 300SL must go down as one of the great automotive hunches. It's safe to assume that product planning was a little less formal in the early 50s, but even allowing for the kind of seat-of-the-pants decision that low volume manufacturing indulges, the idea of turning the W194 300SL race car into a grand tourer ranks as an inspired one. Best of all, it was not conceived of in Stuttgart, but 4,000 miles away in the post-war hustle of New York City.

This is where Maxi Hoffman plied a highly profitable trade in imported European exotica, riding a near vertical wave of American prosperity. The potential scale of the trade across the Atlantic endowed Mr Hoffman with unlikely influence, so when he pointed out that a mildly toned down version of the W194 (a Le Mans winner in 1952) might be a home run among his affluent clientele, Mercedes took him at his word.

The car that resulted, spirited into road-legal production format in less than six months, launched at the New York auto show in 1954 and by virtue of its gull-wing doors and extraordinary performance (it was capable of 160mph if you opted for the longest of five final gear ratios), it proved an immediate hit despite the vast price tag.

That money bought you innovation across the board, though. Underneath, the streamlined body the 300 SL was based on a welded aluminium space frame (its shape meant that traditional doors were out of the question) that weighed just 82kg. It was fantastically strong, of course, and its pifling mass resulted in a kerb weight of - fuel and all - of just 1,295kg. And while the car got the same 3.0-litre 'big six' as the 300 saloon, Mercedes went to the trouble of fitting Bosch mechanical fuel injection, which helped deliver 215hp - more than the carburetted W194 produced.

This all proved rather too much for well-heeled Americans ("There is only one thing left to say: the sports car of the future has become a reality," said Road & Track at the time) and they accounted for 1,100 or so of all 1,400 examples built. A fact which helps make this week's Showpiece even more special; not only is it a European model, Cheshire Classic Cars also claims it as a "Standwagen", built specifically for the Turin show in 1956.

The unique provenance provides it with an enviable optional kit list: the car receiving the original and much-coveted Rudge wheels as well as a handmade Nardi steering wheel and short 'Sports' gear lever inside. It's also finished in the DB180 silver paint and comes with the fitted leather luggage. Restoration work done in the States has not negated the requirement for 'minor chassis' attention, but this undertaking is included in the purchase price. Which is substantial.

This is of no surprise - the 300SL has long been among the most expensive automotive purchases, a facet of its rarity, popularity since launch and utterly timeless design. One of the 29 cars optioned with an entirely aluminium alloy body went for $4.6m a few years ago. Our Showpiece, with a likeable life-well-lived 89k mileage, is valued at £1,150,000. For the few then. Exactly as Maxi imagined it.

See the original advert here.

P.H. O'meter

Join the PH rating wars with your marks out of 10 for the article (Your ratings will be shown in your profile if you have one!)

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Rate this article

Comments (7) Join the discussion on the forum

  • suffolk009 05 Feb 2018

    Could you please do your readers the courtesy of proof reading your work before you post it.

    Amazingly there appears to be a word missing in your second sentence, which is already fifty words long.

  • Matt Bird 05 Feb 2018

    suffolk009 said:
    Could you please do your readers the courtesy of proof reading your work before you post it.

    Amazingly there appears to be a word missing in your second sentence, which is already fifty words long.
    Apologies, it's in there now!

  • wtdoom 06 Feb 2018

    Advert has been withdrawn by ph

  • dinkel 06 Feb 2018

    Two owners that rack up miles in their 300 SL roadsters: 300k kms since 1990!

    At the Spa Six Hours meeting:

  • BVB 07 Feb 2018

    Stunning machine.

View all comments in the forums Make a comment