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Glorious Gullwing

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In spite of a distance of 60 years, the Mercedes-Benz 300SL is still a stunning vision. This particular example, finished in Fire Engine Red, stood out at this year's C&SC London Show, even surrounded by hordes of other mouth-watering machines.

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The Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing could legitimately claim to be the first post-war supercar, visible evidence that the German industrial giant had recovered from the devastation of World War ll. This statement was endorsed by Mercedes’ domination on the race tracks in 1954 and 1955, in Grand Prix and Endurance racing, with the W196 and 300SLR sweeping away all opposition.

2015csclondon sh 0072 The Gullwing was based on the racing 300SL of 1952 that had triumphed at Le Mans.

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Aside from the stunning good looks, there was also cutting-edge technology applied. The 3-liter inline six cylinder engine was canted at 50 degrees for aerodynamic efficiency and the 300SL was the first production car to use fuel injection, Mercedes’ engineers having worked on petrol injection systems since since 1934. Power was quoted at 240bhp and was delivered through a four-speed transmission.

At first glance it would appear that the 300SL had more than ample luggage space, in fact the fuel tank and spare tire took up virtually all the room available.

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The project almost did not happen. Without the intervention of Max Hoffman, importer of Mercedes-Benz for the East Coast of the United States, it is unlikely that the 300SL would have been put into production. Hoffman ordered 500 cars, convinced that the American market would suit this advanced and expensive car, as we now know he was right.

The Mercedes-Benz 300SL and its baby brother, the 190SL, made their début at New York’s International Motor Sports Show in February 1954, creating a sensation in the media. The 300SL remained in production for three years and 1,400 were built, including 29 all-aluminium bodied examples at a premium of DM 5,000...all to save 176 pounds.

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This particular car was initially ordered by Adam Opel AG, the German subsidiary of General Motors, for a special client, one Mr. Zdunek. However the 300SL was shipped to Detroit for Harley Earl, the legendary car designer and stylist, the first head of design at General Motors.

Subsequently the car changed color from the customary Silver/Grey to the dashing Fire Engine Red and is now offered at auction in the next month or so. It's expected to raise $1.5 million. 

(Photos: Copyright and courtesy of Simon Hildrew)

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