Mercedes-Benz 300 SL 'Gullwing', 1956
Mercedes-Benz 300 SL (W198) 'Gullwing', year 1956. Colour silver metallic with a red leather interior. This fabulous 'matching numbers' 300 SL was sold new in California USA. The beautifully restored automobile participated in the 2001 Mille Miglia storica. This 300 SL 'Gullwing' features the sought after Rudge disc wheels with eared spinners ('knock offs') and Pirelli P4000 tires.
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The history of the famous Mercedes-Benz 300 SL (W198) started with the successful Mercedes-Benz 1952 (W194) 300 SL race car and it's successor, the tremendous 1955 (W196S) 300 SLR. The W194 300 SL race car was engineered by a team under supervision of racing engineer Rudolf Uhlenhaut. They based the W194 upon mechanical components of the Mercedes-Benz W186 (300 S) limousine. To compensate the lack of engine power they faced in a field of stronger competitors the W194 300 SL race car was built ultra light. The engineers designed a very light and stiff space frame on which aluminium body panels were fitted. The W194 300 SL proved very competitive, the car achieved many successes on the circuit and during other demanding races. In the year 1952 the car won the 24 Hours endurance race of Le Mans, the Eifelrennen on the Nürburgring and the very harsh Carrera Panamericana. During the first outing in the 1952 Mille Miglia W194 racing cars finished second and fourth. The W194 race car evolved to the W196 race car in 1954. In the year 1955 it was up rated again resulting in the tremendous and world famous 300 SLR (W196S) of which eight cars were built. The 300 SLR became the most famous and most bespoke Mercedes-Benz racing car ever. In the year 1955 driver Stirling Moss and navigator Alan Jenkinson won the Mille Miglia! They drove the 1600 km road race with an incredible average speed of 157.56 kilometer per hour! A record that still stands and will never be broken! All successes of the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL race cars were followed with interest by the American Mercedes-Benz importer Max Hoffmann. Hoffmann convinced the factory board that a 300 SL road car would be a great commercial success on the American market. The factory took this challenge and in the year 1955 the 300 SL (W198) 'Gullwing' saw the light of day. The technical layout was almost identical to the race car. Because of the space frame construction the sills would be too high and wide to fit regular doors to the car. The engineers decided to opt for vertically opening doors, the 'Gullwing' was born. Still it was not easy to step into the cockpit. A swiveling steering wheel was incorporated for easier access to the drivers seat. Not only the 'Gullwing' doors were unique to the 300 SL, also the introduction of petrol injection was new to a road car. In the year 1957 the 'Gullwing' coupe was discontinued and succeeded by the 300 SL roadster. The steel space frame was modified and strengthened and small but functional normal doors could be incorporated. The roadster also was a breath taking beautiful car and a very handsome hard top was optionally available. Between the years 1954 and 1957 'only' 1400 300 SL 'Gullwings' (W198 I) were built and between 1957 and 1963 'only' 1858 300 SL (W198 II) roadsters. We say 'only' but we have to remember that the 300 SL was a very pricy sports car (just above 25.000 DM) in those days. The Mercedes-Benz 300 SL is nowadays the most sought after Mercedes-Benz and it is one of the greatest icons in the history of the automobile.
six cylinder in-line engine
cylinder capacity: 2996 cc.
Bosch direct petrol injection
capacity: 215 DIN bhp. at 5800 rpm.
torque: 274 Nm. at 4600 rpm.
top-speed: 235, 250 of 260 km/h depending on the
chosen final drive.
gearbox: 4-speed, manual
brakes: servo assisted disc brakes at front and
servo assisted drum brakes at the rear
weight: 1310 kg.
The early years
Mercedes-Benz was formed in 1926 by the merger of car manufacturers Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz. Both men, who never knew each other, were motoring pioneers who in 1886 presented their first vehicles powered by internal combustion 4-stroke engines.
Daimler first introduced a motorcycle and Benz a three wheeler. Shortly after they introduced proper motorcars with four wheels but still resembling horse coaches. The compact and light Daimler engine became very popular and it was incorporated in many of the early French motor cars. Panhard et Levassor acquired a licence to produce the Daimler engine. It can be said that with Daimler and Benz the successful industrial production of the automobile started. For the fast developments within the car industry however the French are responsible. For the French pioneers racing was a means to improve the breed. The early town to town races were many times won by Daimler or Benz cars or French cars using a Daimler engine. Mr. Emil Jellinek of Nice was to play an important role in the sales and development of Daimler cars. Jellinek appreciated the quality of the Daimler products and so he set up dealerships in Nice an Paris. His ideas were incorporated in the Daimler cars by Daimler and his genius assistant Karl Maybach. Perfectionist Jellinek was a real nuisance to the Daimler firm but he was their largest customer by far. Maybach and Jellinek understood each other perfectly and their synergy lead to that would be the inspiration of all manufacturers and all automobiles to follow, the Mercedes car named after Jellineks daughter. The Mercedes of 1901 featured a proper steel chassis, a front mounted four cylinder engine, a raked steering column and a proper steering wheel. The Mercedes was the car to have for the European rich and famous who assembled in Nice during the ‘Speed Week’, of course Emil Jellinek was one the moving spirits behind this yearly event and he cleverly sold a lot af cars in the process. The Mercedes cars were also very succesful in the French Grand Prix races. Lautenschlager won the 1908 edition in Dieppe with Hemery and Hanriot second and third on 150 HP Benz cars. In 1909 Hemery was the first to break the 200 km/h mark with the Lightning Benz (Blitzen Benz) at the Brooklands race course in England. In 1911 a Blitzen Benz driven by Bob Burman at Daytona Beach broke the absolute land speed record with 228,1 km/h. In 1914 Mercedes again won the French Grand prix with Lautenschlager again being the victor.
Between the wars
In 1924 Werner won the Targa Forio in Sicily, the most demanding road race before the Mille Miglia was introduced in 1927. As the firms of Daimler and Benz merged in 1926 the greatest cars they ever conceived saw the light of day: the SS, the SSK and the SSKL (the SSK is known as the 38/250 in the UK). More epic cars followed like the 500K and the 540K. These imagination-appealing motorcars are at present extremely expensive collector’s items.
From 1934 Mercedes-Benz was almost invincible Grand Prix races, only Auto Union was able to compete on the same level. These years just before World War two saw the most advanced and powerful race cars with engine capacities up to 650 bhp and top speeds in excess of 300 km/h. It was in the 1980ies that Formula one cars again could match those figures.
Before 1940 Mercedes-Benz was the first European concern to focus on industrial production just like Ford and others in the USA. The firm had built medium-sized cars, big luxury saloons, sports and racing cars, commercial cars and lorries.
Quality and excellence continued
After World War II Mercedes-Benz first took the medium sized cars into production again, such as the MB 170, as there was great need for means of transport. In the 1950s, Mercedes-Benz got into their stride: many new models came onto the market and all of them were characterized by a strong Mercedes-Benz family charisma. Mercedes-Benz was characterized by an ingenious, solid and reliable technology, a strong brand-name appeal, and restrained class with a sober but yet luxurious German air.
However, their racing past had not been forgotten, and the threat was resumed with the illustrious ‘Silberpfeilen’. From their racing experience they developed the legendary Mercedes 300 SL ‘Gull Wing’ production sports cars which, three years later, also became available as a roadster.
In 1963 Mercedes-Benz introduced a limousine to please the rich and famous: the Mercedes-Benz 600. This limousine was no less than six meters long and equipped with all imaginable luxury.
During the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, Mercedes-Benz unwaveringly continued to build quality cars and sports cars, and even until this day the company has built cars with the same brand quality as they did in the 1950s.
Mercedes-Benz is a brand with an unruffled history, only slightly thrown off balance by World War II. The make and the brand inspire great confidence and Mercedes-Benz as part of the Daimler Benz conglomerate is one of the most highly regarded makes of our time.
© Marc Vorgers