Between 1954 and 1957, Mercedes produced a coupe with very distinctive top-hinged, upswinging doors, known as the "gullwing". Its unique design and sheer power was a real head-turner for sports car lovers, and back in 1999, it was voted as Sports Car of the Century by a jury of trade journalists.
It was originally aimed at the American market where, in February 1954, it made its debut at the International Motor Sports Show in New York – and the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL (W198) was born, with production starting in August of the same year.
This sports car had grace, elegance, and innovation, being the world's first four-stroke production passenger car to feature direct fuel injection. It was lightweight too, in fact, it was later revealed that the SL stood for "super light" in German.
This two-seater sports car was produced for just 3 years, after which a roadster was produced for the next 6 years. The Gullwing was capable of a top speed of 161 mph, 0-60 mph in 8.5 seconds, and was a sports car champion and the fastest production car of its time. This 300 SL coupe with its 3.0-litre engine dominated the D production class and won titles in both 1955 and 1956 on the American national sports car circuits.
There was European racing success too, including the 1955 Rally Championship, the overall title at the 1955 Mille Miglia (actually won by Stirling Moss in a 300 SLR racing car), and the marathon Liege-Rome-Liege rally in both 1955 and 1956, to name just a few.
With a tubular frame of just 50 kilograms on a steel chassis and body, and many parts such as the bonnet, doors, dashboard and boot lid made from aluminium, the car was very light, with storage space for luggage behind the seats and not in the boot, which housed a spare wheel and fuel tank. Silver-grey was the standard colour on initial production models but other colours were available as options, with the most recognisable feature being, of course, the specially designed doors.
Today, there are not too many of these iconic cars about. Only 1400 were produced back in the mid-50s, so if they come onto the market the price is usually at least $1 million US dollars – regardless of condition.
At the recent Scottsdale auction organised by RM Sotheby’s (January 2022), a 1955 Mercedes-Benz “alloy” Gullwing went for the stunning price of $6.825 million US dollars. The car was, naturally, in top condition, and said to have retained the original body, chassis, engine, and was complete with a detailed history. This special alloy version was one of only 29 made, where the car’s standard steel bodywork was replaced with aluminium, making it even lighter.
As one of the most iconic and recognisable cars ever built, the Gullwing remains high on the list of most desired collector cars out there.