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The Quail Auction / 1958 Mercedes-Benz 300SL RoadsterChassis no. 198.042.7500570Engine no. 198.980.7500603

Lot 81
1958 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Roadster
19 August 2022, 11:00 PDT
Carmel, Quail Lodge & Golf Club

US$1,000,000 - US$1,300,000

Ask about this lot

1958 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Roadster
Chassis no. 198.042.7500570
Engine no. 198.980.7500603

2,996cc SOHC Inline 6-Cylinder Engine
Bosch Mechanical Fuel Injection
250bhp at 6,200rpm
4-Speed Manual Gearbox
4-Wheet Independent Suspension
4-Wheel Hydraulic Drum Brakes

*Offered directly from 36 years of single-family ownership
*Previously owned by legendary Champion racing driver Bob Akin
*Matching numbers example retaining original bodywork documented by factory records
*Among the most iconic and best-engineered collector cars to date



THE MERCEDES-BENZ 300SL

Created to spearhead Mercedes-Benz's return to competition in the post-war era, the 300 SL debuted in the 1952 Mille Miglia, finishing 2nd and 4th overall. Wins in the Carrera Pan-Americana and at Le Mans followed, and the 300SL was on its way to becoming part of motor sporting legend. The Mercedes-Benz importer for North America, Max Hoffman, believed there would be a market for a road-going version, and managed to convince the factory that such a car would be a success.

Launched in 1954, the production 300SL retained the spaceframe chassis of the racer and was powered by a 2,996cc, overhead-camshaft, inline six canted at 45 degrees to achieve a lower, more aerodynamic bonnet line. Using innovative direct fuel injection, this state-of-the-art power unit produced 215bhp at 5,800rpm. A four-speed gearbox transmitted power to the hypoid bevel rear axle. Suspension was independent all round by wishbones and coil springs at the front, with swing axles and coil springs at the rear.

Tested by the highly respected American magazine Road & Track in 1955, the 300SL accelerated from 0-60mph in 7.4 seconds, going on to achieve a top speed of 140mph - outstanding figures for its day. Half expecting the long-awaited 300SL to provide an anti-climax, R&T were delighted to find the new car, 'far beyond our wildest expectations. In fact, we can state unequivocally that in our opinion the 300SL coupé is the ultimate in an all-round sportscar. It combines more desirable features in one streamlined package than we ever imagined or hoped would be possible. Performance? It accelerates from a dead start to 100mph in just over 17 seconds. Dual purpose? A production model 300SL can make a very acceptable showing in any type of sportscar competition. Yet the car is extremely tractable and easy to drive in traffic. Comfort? The fully enclosed 300SL is the most comfortable (and safe) high-speed 'cross-country' car built today.' Its racing parentage notwithstanding, the 300SL was and remains a thoroughly practical automobile, as civilized in city driving as it is exhilarating on the highway.

Clearly the 300SL Coupe would be a hard act to follow yet the Roadster version, introduced just three years later, succeeded in bettering its closed cousin's already exemplary road manners. Built with conventional doors, the 300SL Roadster was first exhibited at the Geneva Salon in May 1957 and was an immediate hit with the 1950s 'jet set' including royalty, actors and socialites. The production of an open 300SL involved altering the cockpit area, where the spaceframe was redesigned to permit lower sills for improved access. At the same time the rear suspension was changed to incorporate low-pivot swing axles. The 300SL Roadster sold well for a car that cost more than a Ferrari 250 GT California Spider, and would out-live the 300SL Coupe by several years.


THE MOTORCAR OFFERED

According to a copy of the original Mercedes-Benz Data Card (build sheet) kindly supplied by the Mercedes-Benz Classic Center, this beautiful 300SL Roadster was manufactured at the Stuttgart-based Mercedes-Benz Works during the latter part of 1957, as a 1958 model-year car, and completed on December 27th, 1957. Finished in DB534 'Fire engine red' with black interior and Roadster top, the 300SL was equipped for the North American market and dispatched to the United States soon after completion, destination Los Angeles, California. Factory options included backup light, lockable doors and a Becker Mexico radio. By the early 1970s, the car is recorded both in the 300SL Registry and by old California vehicle registration cards as having been owned by a Mr. Charles B. Kendall, Jr, residing in the mild, Southern California climate of Pasadena. Mr. Kendall is believed to have sold the desirable, well-engineered Mercedes-Benz 300SL Roadster to business executive, journalist, television commentator and legendary champion sports car racing driver Robert Macomber 'Bob' Akin of New York during the mid-1980s. Akin understood the importance of the red 300SL Roadster, and surely admired the car for its sporting feel and high built quality.

Akin had begun his racing career in 1957, competing in outboard boat racing and in drag racing in 1957 and 1958. He switched to road racing in 1959 and hired legendary sports car racer John Fitch as his driving coach. Proving a quick study, he piloted an Alfa Romeo Veloce Spider to his first win in only his third race at Bridgehampton, then switched to a 1957 Ferrari 500 TRC for several races during the early part of the 1961 season, before retiring in July of that year, to concentrate on the family business. Almost by accident, Akin returned to racing in 1973, after accepting an invitation from his friend Sam Posey, to drive a few laps in his Mercedes-Benz 300SL at the July 4th, 1973, Vintage Sports Car Club of America event at Lime Rock. Within a month, he was back at it in earnest, driving a Lotus Eleven in vintage racing events until switching to the 1959 Cooper-Monaco that would prove to be his favorite racer, in 1975. In 1978, he purchased a Porsche RSR Carrera thinking it would be fun to run in the 1978 12 Hours of Sebring. They ran what was considered to be a test run at Daytona, before the Sebring event, then continued on racing a full season that would include racing at Le Mans with a Porsche 935 Turbo. Now solidly back in the driver's seat, Akin compiled an impressive list of achievements, highlighted by a win at Watkins Glen 6 Hours in 1979, and 1986 12 Hours of Sebring, along with two second-place finishes in the 1981 and 1982 24 Hours of Daytona, and six appearances - including a fourth overall in 1984 - at the Le Mans 24 Hours. Akin retired from professional racing in 1991 but stayed quite active in the sport. He returned to racing his beloved vintage and historic cars, and wrote articles for Road & Track magazine, while doing on-air commentary for Speedvision, TBS and ESPN. Tragically, Mr. Akin was gravely injured in a violent crash at Road Atlanta in 2002, while testing a 900-horsepower Nissan GTP car, and passed away 4 days later due to complications from his injuries.

Lifetime classic car enthusiast and noted collector, the late Mr. Arnold E. Petsche of Arlington, Texas would purchase the 300SL Roadster directly from Bob Akin in March of 1986, and today we honored to offer the car directly from the Petsche/Davidson family. Always very diligent with entrusting his cars with the right specialists, Mr. Petsche would send his new Mercedes-Benz to Paul Russell and his Gull Wing Service in 1986, to provide a variety of cosmetic and mechanical refurbishments on the car. Records of this work can be found in the history file accompanying the sale of the car.

Today, this desirable 300SL Roadster presents in beautiful condition, still sporting it's as-delivered DB534 red exterior color, with color coded hubcaps in place. An older respray appears to have been carried out, while chrome and brightwork looks to be original and still in great condition. A tan canvas Roadster top is fitted, possibly the original one, and the light tan leather interior has a nice patina to it. Original chassis and ID plates remain intact, as do the factory ID stampings, and the copy of the original factory build sheet is on file and offered with the car. A classic Nardi wood-rimmed steering wheel is fitted, and the original VDO instruments remain in situ. The car has been continuously maintained and performed well on a recent test drive. The 300SL is offered with jack, owner's manual, copies of Mercedes-Benz factory records and maintenance records.

This classic 300SL Roadster offers exquisite styling and advanced engineering for the time and would be a great car to enjoy on one of the 300SL club tours or the Colorado Grand rally. Undeniably one of the most iconic collector cars to date, now offered from 36 years of treasured single-family ownership, this is an opportunity not to be missed.

Footnotes

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