1957 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Roadster
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 300 SL was on its way to becoming part of motor sporting legend. The first racers were open-topped but before the '52 season's end the distinctive gull-wing doored Coupé had appeared. Unusually high sills were a feature of the multi-tubular spaceframe chassis, and while access was not a problem of the open car, the adoption of coupé bodywork required innovative thinking - hence the gull-wing doors.
Launched in 1954, the production 300 SL 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. It was, arguably, the world's first supercar.
Tested by Road & Track magazine in 1955, the 300 SL accelerated from 0-60mph in 7.4 seconds, going on to achieve a top speed of 140mph - outstanding figures for its day. Clearly the 300 SL Coupé 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. Conventionally doored, the 300 SL Roadster was first exhibited at the Geneva Salon in May 1957 and would outlive the Coupé by several years. The production of an open 300 SL 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 Roadster's neutral steering characteristics received fulsome praise from Road & Track in its 1958 road test. 'With the low-pivot rear suspension and more adhesive tyres, the car handles beautifully under all conditions. This is a tremendous improvement over the hardtop models, which had a tendency to oversteer rather violently if pressed too hard.' A 0-60mph time of 7.0 seconds and a top speed of 130mph were recorded, making the 300 SL Roadster one of the fastest convertibles of its time. R&T concluded: 'There is no doubt that the 300 SL roadster is a truly great dual-purpose sportscar, equally at home in traffic and the open road, or on the track,' words that remain equally true today.
According to the factory record information provided with the car, this particular 300 SL roadster was sold new in the USA via Studebaker Packard, who were Mercedes-Benz agents, and was delivered fitted with sealed-beam headlights, Becker Mexico radio, and the optional lower-than-standard rear axle ratio. The original colour scheme was silver-grey metallic with blue leather interior. Its delivery date was 9th October 1957, but as is common with U.S. Studebaker-supplied cars, the original owner's details are not recorded with Mercedes-Benz today.
By April 1970, the Mercedes was the property of G. Stephen Muethe of Dallas, Texas, according to a letter from him stating he has just purchased the car from one Leland J. Dysart, of Dallas. It would seem that Mr. Dysart was also of Eau Gallie, Florida, as he had advertised a 300 SL there in the well-known magazine Road and Track late in 1969. At some point between 1957 and 1969, it is thought that the car received accident damage to its left-hand side, which necessitated the replacement of the protruding front left chassis member, which on early 300 SL roadsters is stamped with the chassis number. Instead, the number 300 SL7500328 was stamped on the main front cross member of the chassis, which was where 1958 and later 300 SLs were commonly stamped. It was stamped in this way when Mr. Muethe applied to join the 300 SL specific Gullwing Group in 1970 as it is mentioned by him in writing to its first President, Ernest Spitzer.
In the present ownership, the car was sent to Stuttgart to be reviewed by Mercedes-Classic for a technical report. They have confirmed that the 300 SL retains original bulkhead chassis plate 198042-7500328, matching numbers engine, original front and rear axles, gearbox and bodywork, noting that the left front does show evidence of accident repair and that the steering box while also an original Mercedes unit appears to have been re-stamped with the number that the car would originally have had. All of which tallies with the anomaly of its lacking a number on the front chassis leg.
From Muethe's acquisition, through to the mid-1980s there is much correspondence on file. Initially, these letters detail a very precise restoration of the car, assessing each aspect of the work required, which he completed in 1972. It appears that Muethe sold the 300 SL by 1974, as there is a letter to a Mr. Romans, from the New Jersey chapter of the Gullwing Group inviting him to be a member, and at some point after that it moved north and for a time was owned by Donald A. Luster, based on Chicago's prestigious N. Michigan Avenue in 1976.
The last but one owner's late father bought the car in the USA in California, where he is listed on the DMV records in 1987. The Mercedes was shipped to Norway, where it remained in long term ownership for the next 16 years, during that time the car was subject to some restoration work at London Mercedes dealership Rose & Young Ltd. It remained there until 2014 changing hands then to join an important Danish collection and once again at Bonhams, when it was acquired by the current owners last year.
In terms of condition, the restoration is now a little aged, its interior probably dating from the Muethe restoration, and the paintwork likely from the 1980s. Despite this, the car presents well and has been reported by former owners to be driving well. It also comes with fitted luggage, albeit it is not known if these are period items.
Offered in the iconic original scheme of Silver Grey Metallic, in which it was delivered new, it is accompanied by the large file of history including the recent Mercedes report, several instruction manuals and other factory publications. Alongside their Gullwing predecessor, 300 SL Roadsters are renowned long-distance tour cars, early '57 examples being accepted for many Mille-style retrospectives.