The Mercedes-Benz 300-SL series came out in 1954 and was sold as a two seat sports car. The car was most noted for it's gullwing doors. The Gullwing Mercedes were quite unique in the 1950's. Gullwing doors have the hinges on the roof and when the doors open they resemble a sea gulls wings. The 300 SL also was the very first fuel injected car sold to regular consumers outside of the racing world.
The car shown in this article is a 1955 300-SL Gullwing Coupe. The selling point for the powerful auto was "A race car for the streets". In many ways it certainly was. The fuel injected 3.0 litre straight six cylinder engine was advertised as being capable of reaching 161 MPH. The car came straight from a racing heritage. The 300-SL was originally designed as a race car and at first there was really no idea of making it a production vehicle. In 1952, the car won many awards at the Bern Grand Prix and the 24 hours Le Mans and finished first at the Carrera Panamericana in Mexico. With these successes and after determining there was a market for series production the board of Daimler-Benz approved production. As it turned out, the 300-SL Gullwing Mercedes were built from 1954 to 1957.
The gullwing doors of the 1955 Mercedes 350 SL might remind some of the DeLorean DMC-12 that was built in 1980. Prior to forming an auto company, John DeLorean had been an executive with General Motors. The DeLorean car was the vehicle used in the movie "Back Into the Future". The car had a fiberglass underbody and stainless steel panels. Gullwing doors were also designed into the Bricklin SV-1 built in the 1970's.
The 300SL Mercedes Gullwing was built directly off of the 300SL Racer. The car features an aluminum alloy body with stiffer and shorter springs that lowered the car and provided peak performance. Many refer to this car as the Sean Connery "James Bond" car although I haven't found an old James Bond movie where the actor actually drove the vehicle. Some however point to the movie "Goldfinger". Nevertheless, the car with it's gullwing doors certainly seems to fit the early Bond movies. Designed around a tubular frame and covered with steel and aluminum plus it's fuel-injected four stroke straight-6 engine providing 215 HP, it's thought to be the greatest Mercedes ever built and the greatest sports car of the 1950s.
Specifications for the 1954 to 1957 Gullwing 300 SL's include a length of 178 inches, a width of 70.5 inches, a height of 51.2 inches and a dry weight of 2,900 lbs. Front suspension was a double wishbone with coil springs and a stabilizing bar. The rear suspension included a high pivot swing axle, coil springs and radius arms. Mileage for the 300 SL Gullwing was calculated to be 16.6 MPG.
In contrast to many other automakers, Mercedes-Benz vehicles retained the same body shape for a longer periods. During this time however, Mercedes made continuous minor technical improvements.
The Mercedes Benz Roadster 350 SL replaced the Gullwing in 1957. At the same time, Mercedes-Benz was also selling the smaller 190 SL and had been since 1955. The 190 SL prototype had first been displayed in 1954 at the New York Auto Show and the production model came out about a year later. Total Mercedes-Benz production for the year 1955 total 63,683 units. The 300 SL's while being assembled in production series also had a lot of handwork performed on them before they were ready to go out. Prices initially for the 300 SL were about $7,500 and for the 190 SL about $4,000. As of this writing, the 300 SL's that were originally purchased at around $7,500 are now getting at auction prices between $400,000 and $600,000. The 300 SL Gullwing Mercedes are obviously highly collectable cars if you're fortunate enough to obtain one.
(Photos are from author's private collection)