The London Motor Show 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Coupé ‘Gullwing’
The striking 300 SL Coupé ‘Gullwing’ is unarguably a true design icon and one of the most famous designs ever to carry the legendary silver arrows. Overtly ahead of its time and clearly born of racing heritage, the 300 SL ‘Gullwing’ has continued to hold its standing in motoring history. It is not every day we have the privilege to offer an example boasting the history and pedigree of this car.
Mercedes-Benz returned to post-war competition in 1952, in style, fielding two of its new stunning W194 coupé in the Mille Miglia. The pair finishing a creditable 2nd and 4th overall in this most difficult of events, only to be followed up by victory in the challenging Carrera Panamericana. The W194 would go on to be known as the ‘300 SL’ (Sport Leicht) and just like that, a legend was born.
Featuring a complex spaceframe chassis and driven by the powerful 3.0 litre S6 engine, tilted over to 50 degrees to get the centre of gravity down as much as possible. Due to the high sills brought on by the multi-tubular spaceframe design, access to the car was overcome by what was to become one of the most distinctive design features of an era, the ‘Gullwing’ doors.
On the back of their initial success, Mercedes went on to field a team of three ‘300 SL’ for the Le Mans 24-Hour Race in June 1952. Returning to Le Mans for the first time in 22 years and under the ever watchful eye of the Mercedes pre-War team manager Alfred Neubauer, the ‘300 SL’s went on to take first and second place, cementing their place in motorsport history.
The idea of a toned-down race car tailored to the affluent sporting enthusiast, in the booming post war American market, was suggested by Austrian born, New York based importer of luxury European automobiles, Max Hoffman. As with nearly all great sports cars, Mercedes-Benz drew on their rich motorsport heritage to produce the 300 SL (W198).
Launched in 1954, the production 300 SL retained the spaceframe chassis and streamlined bodywork of the W194 racer, while its mechanical underpinnings, like the latter’s, owed much to the contemporary Mercedes-Benz 300 luxury saloon. A 2,996cc overhead-camshaft inline six cylinder, the 300 SL’s engine was canted at 45 degrees to achieve a low bonnet line and produced 215bhp at 5,800rpm using Bosch mechanical fuel injection. A four-speed, all-synchromesh manual 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.
From its launch at the 1954 New York Auto Show, the 300 SL was an immediate success. Road tested by Road & Track magazine in 1955, they were clearly impressed and were delighted to find the new car, ‘far beyond our wildest expectations. In fact, we can state unequivocally that in our opinion the 300 SL coupé is the ultimate in an all-round sports car. 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 300 SL can make a very acceptable showing in any type of sports car competition. Yet the car is extremely tractable and easy to drive in traffic. Comfort? The fully enclosed 300 SL is the most comfortable (and safe) high-speed ‘cross-country’ car built today.’
By the time 300 SL Coupé production ceased in 1957, some 1,400 examples had found customers; strong testament to its credentials indeed. The bulk of 300 SL production was delivered new to the USA, with European and UK specification cars, such as that offered here, relatively scarce. Of this more select group, it is even rarer to come across a car with such a strong and distinctive history as this car.
The original Factory build sheet and delivery docket, along with correspondence from the Mercedes-Benz Archives, confirm this car, Chassis No. 198.040.5500714, Engine No. 198.980.5500723 was finished on the 27th of September 1955. Finished in Feuerwehrrot (Fire Engine Red) with Leder Schwartz (leather black). Special features included the desirable Rudge wheels, special upholstery, the Sonderlackierung Hochglanz (high gloss coating) paint finish, the instruments were also designated in MPH for the UK market.
The car was completed on the 30th of September 1955 and was delivered new as a Standwagen (Show Car) for the official Mercedes-Benz stand at the Earls Court London Motor Show on the 19th of October 1955. Unique details like the positioning a Mercedes-Benz badge on the sills on both sides of the car, rather than just one, were believed to be designated for the London Motor Show. It featured in both Motorsport and Autocar’s 1955 London Show reviews where it is confirmed to have been red. Renowned New Zealand photographer, Brian Brake, captured the car on the stand and his images are on display in the Museum of New Zealand.
The first owner was Roger Hans Everett of the one of the oldest and most prestigious land owning estates in Chelsea, London, the Paulton Sloane Stanley Estate. Registered RXW 24, a number very close to RXW 14 which was on another 300SL used by Mercedes-Benz in October 1955. Mr. Everett had the car painted blue very early on in its life. It was certainly blue by the time it was noted on the original Buff Log book dated October 1959. It is highly likely that it was painted under order request directly from the Mercedes-Benz stand at the show.
The second owner is the Essex Refrigeration Co. Ltd. Still registered RXW 24, they kept the 5500714 until it was purchased by John William Andrew Jopp of London in June 1961. He registered the car GS 101 and kept until July of the following year where ownership passed on to fellow London resident Maurice George Sowman. He registered the car 156 CXD before ownership passed on to well known Norfolk based collector and enthusiast George Milligen in February 1963.
George Milligen was a highly regarded collector and enthusiast with fabulous taste in cars, trains and all things mechanical. With a keen eye for the originality in cars, he built a collection of rare and highly original cars, starting before the War and continuing throughout his life. Registered 444 BPW which it still retains to this day 5500714 remained in Milligen’s collection for the next 24 years and can be seen in the photograph above sitting alongside his 300SL Roadster, Pegaso and other beloved vehicles.
5500714 was purchased from George Milligen by the father of the current owners in 1988. The extensive history file that accompanies the car features correspondence between the two. Painted blue with brown leather interior and showing 10,000 miles on the odometer, the current owners father set about painstakingly restoring the car back to its 1955 London Motor Show glory. As such, 5500714 has been treated to a complete nut and bolt restoration with the utmost attention to detail and the strictest retention of originality.
The engine was rebuilt by well-known competition engine builder, Lester Owen, in the 1990’s. The history file contains a huge number of invoices spanning from 1990 to the present. At the same time the body was stripped and treated to a bare metal restoration and according to the owners, required minimal repairs as it was largely corrosion free and had never been crashed or damaged. Repainted in its original colour the seats and interior were re-trimmed using the original seat internals and foam, but trimmed back to black using Connelly hide (the seat backs are still the original trim).
A great deal of time, care and attention has gone into the restoration of 5500714 and it is fair to say it has very much been a labour of love. The history file contains an extensive photographic record throughout the restoration. Wonderfully original, right down to the door latches and rare under trays. The speedometer has been restored and still shows the mileage of 10,000 that is noted in a 1988 MOT and can be seen in a photograph of the instrument before restoration.
5500714 has not been on the road since 1984 and is being offered for sale for the first time in 29 years giving you the chance to be the first to re-introduce this stunning example to the open road. In a market that places increasing importance on originality and history, this is a unique opportunity to acquire the actual car chosen by Mercedes-Benz to showcase the 300 SL Coupé ‘Gullwing’ at the prestigious London Motor Show.