1954 MERCEDES-BENZ 300SL GULLWING COUPE
Chassis no. 198.040.4500105
Engine no. 198.980.4500112
2,996cc SOHC Inline 6-Cylinder Engine
Bosch Mechanical Fuel Injection
240bhp at 6,100rpm
4-Speed Manual Transmission
4-Wheel Independent Suspension
4-Wheel Drum Brakes
*Low-mileage, matching numbers example
*Long-term highlight of the Kemp Auto Museum
*Largely original and well-kept example of the legendary Gullwing
*Desirable early production Gullwing
*Offered with Mercedes-Benz factory build sheets and tools
THE MERCEDES-BENZ 300SL GULLWING
Instantly recognizable not only by automobile buffs, but virtually anyone on the planet, the immortal 300SL (for Sports Leicht) Gullwing coupe arguably competes for the title of "Greatest Sports Car of the 1950s", and surely qualifies for anyone's Top 10 list of the greatest automobiles of all time. A period favorite of wealthy celebrities, it ranks today among the most valued and collectable sports cars ever produced.
The 300SL coupe was the direct descendant of Mercedes Benz' Le Mans W194 competition coupe, conceived in 1952 and aimed at wresting the World Sportscar Championship from Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, and Lancia, which were dominating post-war endurance racing. Mercedes Benz historian W. Robert Nitzke writes that company management wanted to jump back into Grand Prix racing, where it had been so successful before the war, but lacked the time necessary to design, build, and develop a new single-seater for the 1954 season. Instead, Chief Engineer Fritz Nallinger suggested that the company build a new two-seat sports car utilizing the strong in-line SOHC six-cylinder engine from its luxurious 300 series. Because the engine and drivetrain were relatively heavy, the chassis would have to be very light. Test Department manager Rudolf Uhlenhaut, having some experience with tubular chassis design, sat down with construction engineer Joseph Müller and laid out an extremely light (154 pounds) and rigid lattice-work chassis capable of accommodating the big in-line six. One major problem soon presented itself: There was no way to mount conventional doors without compromising the rigidity of the chassis. The solution was to raise the entry so that the doors cut into the roof, but that meant hinging them from the top, thus giving birth to this car's timeless signature design feature.
The 300SL's first racing trial was the 1952 Mille Miglia, where Kling finished second to Giovanni Bracco's open Ferrari, while Rudolf Caracciola was fourth, the two Gullwings being split by a Lancia. The third coupe had gone off the road early in the grueling contest. Next came the Grand Prix of Berne, where a quartet of 300SLs took the start and swept the top three positions, Caracciola having crashed in what would prove to be his last race.
Then came Le Mans, where Uhlenhaut struck fear into the competition by bringing an SL coupe fitted with a hand-operated air brake mounted on the roof. While that particular car was not raced, Mercedes would tuck the idea in its pocket for future use. After the grueling 24 hour epic, a pair of 300SLs had finished in the top two positions...and were then driven back to the factory!
Mercedes Benz sat out the 1953 and 1954 sports car seasons, concentrating instead on developing its new Grand Prix car, but the SLs weren't done; they reappeared in 1955 as the airbrake-equipped 300SLR, utilizing that feature and a great many more of the advancements successfully tested on the company's Formula One racing cars. The year would bring triumph and tragedy; 300SLRs winning at Buenos Aires, the incredibly difficult Mille Miglia where Stirling Moss and Denis Jenkinson won at a record average speed of just under a hundred miles an hour - the Nurburgring, Spa, Zandvoort, Aintree, Kristianstad, Monza, Dundrod, and Sicily's Targa Florio. The only setback, and one that would have devastating consequences, occurred at Le Mans, where team driver Pierre Levegh and more than 80 spectators died in one of racing's worst accidents, prompting Mercedes Benz to withdraw from racing for many years.
New York imported auto entrepreneur Max Hoffman is credited with urging Mercedes Benz to build a production sports car based on the 300SL racing car. The 300SL Gullwing in final form was unveiled at the New York International Motor Sports Show in early February, 1954, and actual production began that fall. The new coupe was slightly changed in appearance from the racing coupes and featured Bosch direct fuel injection. It was, claimed the factory, "the fastest German production sports car". Between 1954 and 1957, a total of 1,400 Gullwings were delivered to eager purchasers, and in 1957, the elegant and improved 300SL Roadster appeared, proving even more successful from a sales standpoint, with 1,858 units produced.
THE MOTORCAR OFFERED
Completed on December 3rd, 1954, this early US-specification 300SL is the 105th Gullwing produced, and one of just 167 cars completed in 1954. As such, it has unique attributes only found on early cars, including the welted 'eyebrows' over the wheel arches. Originally delivered to Jim Powell in Little Rock, Arkansas, this iconic sports car was finished as it appears today in Silver Grey Metallic (DB180) over a Red Leather interior from the factory. The car is listed in the Gullwing Group Registry and in Eric Le Moine's 300SL book as a 'Special Order' car. The copy of the Mercedes-Benz factory build sheet on file lists the early Gullwing with a 'special interior, as well as the usual US delivery options.
From Mr. Powell, the Mercedes-Benz passed to its second owner, a doctor in Cincinnati, before being purchased by a Mr. Robert Pass. The handsome Gullwing was repainted in its original silver color while in Mr. Pass' ownership, before he sold it on in the mid-1980's to Ballwin, Missouri based collector, Fred Kemp. Mr. Kemp enjoyed the car throughout his nearly two decades of ownership, regularly exercising the race-bred Mercedes-Benz and keeping it fastidiously maintained. Upon his passing in 2004, Mr. Kemp donated this 300SL, along with over 40 other classic cars from his private collection, to the Kemp Auto Museum near St. Louis, Missouri. There, this Gullwing was prominently displayed for over a decade, all the while being cared for by the in-house team of technicians and being exercised occasionally and shown locally.
This desirable, early production Gullwing has been the recipient of attentive care since new, and appears to never have been taken apart for restoration. Benefitting from few long-term owners, this 300SL remains in very original condition and is believed to have covered less than 34,000 miles since new. The rich red leather interior appears to be the original installed from new, and features a lovely, inimitable patina. The paintwork is in lovely condition as well, and compliments the red leather interior beautifully. Offered with a tool kit and a copy of the cars factory build sheet, this wonderful 1954 300SL presents a rare opportunity to acquire an early, well-preserved example of arguably Mercedes-Benz' most iconic post-war model.
- Please note that the title for this vehicle is in transit.