The 1956 International
Mercedes-Benz’s 300 SL claimed 2nd in the Mille Miglia; 1-2-3 in the Berne, Switzerland, Sports Car Race; 1st and 2nd at Le Mans; 1-2-3-4 at the Nürburgring; and 1st and 2nd at La Carrera Panamericana. The company’s U.S. distributor, Max Hoffman, decided, from his Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Park Avenue showroom, that there was a market in America for a fast, sensual Mercedes-Benz coupe, and a production version of the racing 300 SL, complete with the fascinating gullwing doors, which were necessitated by the unusual frame design, would be it.
Fuel injection replaced the race car’s carburetors, and the Bosch mechanical unit would be the first for a production car. After the 11 prototype W194s, including the so-called “Hobel,” were made in all-alloy, the new Karl Wilfert-designed body was largely made of steel; it also retained an aluminum hood, doors, and trunk lids, and it included bumpers (with over-riders for U.S.-spec cars, but optional for the rest of the world) and numerous creature comforts, including a tilt-wheel for ease of entry and a sumptuous interior, which is a requisite for road use.
The 300 SL also raced, and it was piloted by such legends as John Fitch, Olivier Gendebien, Paul O’Shea, Prince Metternich, and, of course, Sir Stirling Moss. It all added to the romance of a car that seemed destined to become a legend the moment production began. It had all the right ingredients: it was incredibly expensive, incredibly exclusive, and incredibly fast, and any red-blooded human who had ever pushed a clutch pedal would’ve sold his or her soul for the feeling of 161 mph behind the wheel. “A thoroughbred in every sense of the word,” advertising boasted, “and a car which will be recognized by all enthusiasts as the ‘last word’ in sporting automobiles; a car which puts indescribable pleasure into driving!”
The 300 SL was as much a status symbol in its time as it is today, as it has been favoured by everyone, from Hollywood stars—Clark Gable took one on location for his films—to racing legends and genuine royalty; the kings of Jordan, Belgium, and Greece all became owners within the first year of production. Argentinean dictator Juan Peron had been a racing driver before finding his true course in politics, and he, too, owned a 300 SL.
The original build records for this car, copies of which can be found in the history file, confirm that it left the factory with the most desirable option of Rudge knock-on wheels and was finished in iconic DB180 ‘silbergrau’ metallic paint with special leather trim.
Moreover, the car is described as a ‘Standwagen’ or ‘Showcar’ and was delivered by road to the International Automobile Salon in Turin, leaving the factory on the third of April 1956. This information is confirmed in various 300SL registers.
By the 1960’s the 300SL was in the hands of famous East Coast racing driver and sportscar dealer Bob Grossman, who in 1969 sold the car to Mercedes-Benz enthusiast Capt. Jan Fraser who became the first registered owner in the U.S. In telephone conversations Capt. Fraser was highly effusive about the car, recalling its exhilarating performance and superb handling.
Indeed, he had been told that the car had been raced during its time in Italy – “you didn’t have to take your hat off to anyone in that baby!” Such was the impact of the car on the Captain that in more recent years he has been enjoying owning the modern interpretation in the form of an SLS! There are some very nice photo’s on file of the car when he owned it.
Capt. Fraser eventually exchanged the Gullwing for a Jaguar at Jake Caplan’s dealership and it was purchased from there by Dr. Leon Levine who would retain the car for the next 40 years, using it sparingly.
Its last owner acquired the car from Dr. Levine’s widow and commissioned Californian specialist Tom Drummond to carry out a restoration taking in paintwork ( returning the car to its original DB180 Silver Grey ), together with trim and mechanical aspects of the car. Included in the history file are many photo’s of the car through its life and its more recent restoration. Naturally, the car still sits on its original Rudge wheels and also retains full length belly pans as well as fitted luggage, a complete toolkit and a set of driver’s handbooks.
Every significant collection has to contain a 300SL Gullwing and no serious collector can call their experiences complete until they have owned and enjoyed one, such is the scale of the model’s abilities.
This car affords the opportunity to acquire an example that has enjoyed enthusiastic ownership with the benefit of a desirable specification, featuring as it does the Rudge wheels, along with the further cachet of having been a factory motor-show car.
For further information or to arrange a viewing, please contact our sales department.
|Auction||Blenheim Palace July 2015|
|Day of Auction||N/A|
|Registration Number||EU Taxes Paid|
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