The Graphite 'Gullwing'
This car was supplied new in September 1955 to Mercedes-Benz Distributors USA of New York City and was delivered finished in red with a black leather interior. Factory-fitted options included high-gloss paintwork; instruments with English inscriptions; sealed-beam headlights; bumpers equipped with horns; right door with door-lock; and windscreen washing system. The car was sold to the first owner, who kept it until 1972. In March of that year the Gullwing was sold, exported back to Germany and subsequently sold again to Mr Berthold Rückwarth of Bielefeld.
When Mr Rückwarth acquired the car, it was still in its original red paintwork, but he made the decision to repaint it in the 'standard' 300 SL colour, metallic silver grey. In November 1973, the original engine was scrapped and replaced with a new factory aluminium engine manufactured in 1965, two years after the end of 300 SL production. These aluminium blocks were 44kg lighter than the cast-iron original type; Mercedes-Benz's race-team director Rudolf Uhlenhaut had introduced the alloy blocks for competition use in 1952, and the last 210 300 SL Roadsters received these lighter engines.
The new aluminium engine, manufactured in September 1965. The cylinder head was also replaced, as was the gearbox. This engine was one of the last available new from the factory. Not only is this engine newer and much lighter, it is also more powerful, producing 240bhp courtesy of the sports camshaft, as well as numerous other improvements that characterise the last engines built.
The works were carried out by the Daimler-Benz subsidiary in Bielefeld. After these replacements, the odometer was reset and Mr Rückwarth covered a mere 10,000 kilometres in his 300 SL over the course of the next 31 years.
In spring of 2004, Mr Axel Schutte of Oerlinghausen in Germany became the car's next owner. He decided to commission a full mechanical overhaul because the Gullwing was going to participate in that year's edition of the Mille Miglia. The car completed the 1,600-kilometre race without any problems.
In March 2007, the car was registered by Mr Jörg Pilawa from Hamburg, a well-known German TV star, and later, in February 2010, it was registered in the UK by a French collector, Mr Gerard Molins. The last owner, a Franco-Spanish collector, bought the Mercedes in May 2013 with 76,884 kilometres recorded on the odometer. He then drove the car for approximately 14,000 kilometres before commissioning a mechanical and electrical restoration in 2014 followed by a full frame-off restoration to concours condition in 2016. Completed in November 2018, this full frame-off refurbishment was entrusted to Cochera, the well-known Mercedes-Benz classics specialists in Madrid, Spain, a company used to working for specialist dealers and private owners in Germany.
The car was completely dismantled and catalogued with photographs (more than 1,600), while the body was placed on a rotisserie for manual body sanding and minor shaping corrections, which were followed by a deep repaint in Graphite Grey. The frame was taken down to bare metal and properly epoxy-coated, and the suspension, brakes, and electrical systems rebuilt as needed. The engine and transmission were removed, disassembled, and rebuilt with many parts sourced from Daimler AG, HK-Engineering, and Kienle in Germany. The interior was re-upholstered in contrasting tan leather, while a new Karl Baisch two-piece leather luggage set in yellow/tan was sourced.
Bonhams recently sold this 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL 'Gullwing' Coupé at their Les Grandes Marques du Monde au Grand Palais sale in Paris. For more information on this and other vehicles at the sale, click on the link below. Photos © Bonhams.