Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing is one of the world’s most beautiful cars ever made, teleported into our days straight from the golden era of racing. But there is one less in the world right now. A spectacular green one burned to the ground. Not much is left of what used to be a spectacular coupe. The aftermath of the fire shows millions of dollars gone up in smoke.
It was a recently restored Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gulling, with no expense spared during the rebuild. You don’t get all greedy when you buy such an automobile. The body had been stripped to bare metal and subsequently finished in DB 218 Lindgrun Green. The Gullwings came in silver as standard. Customers who wanted a different body paint had to pay $65 more.
The car sports a Crema leather interior, from what we can see in the photos. The same photos reveal that the Mercedes that burned was equipped with the optional luggage case, mounted behind the seats.
As the photos show, the fire reportedly started in the engine bay and soon engulfed the whole front end of the car. Flames broke out from under the hood, and black smoke rose through the air. The owner escaped the vehicle and did not sustain any injuries.
Something in the restoration process of the 1950s coupe must have gone wrong, or there must have been an older fault, and the car is left with nothing but a burned body, despite the firemen who arrived at the scene desperately trying to put out the fire.
The Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing was dubbed The Greatest Sports Car Ever Built
The Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing is one of the rarest and most expensive collectors’ cars. No wonder some dubbed it The Greatest Sports Car Ever Built. In 1999, it was voted the Sports Car of the Century.
Coming as a post-war automobile, it was a game changer. It was pretty much the creation of Rudolf Uhlenhaut, the one who arrived at Mercedes-Benz in 1931.
World War II broke in 1939, and he had to resort to developing airplane engines, while the Gestapo kept an eye on him because of his dual citizenship. He was born in London from an English mother and a German father.
The war ended, and Rudolf Uhlenhaut went straight back to Mercedes. He had the racing bug. He just had to get back in the game. So he took it upon him to develop a car like no other. It was the W194 with a tubular chassis that came out of his hands. At first, they threw a random body on it and kicked off testing. They did not want to lose any time. The gullwing doors where not something they came up with just to awe the crowds. They were actually the only solution to fit upon the tubular chassis that forced them to use massive sills. Rudolf Uhlenhaut had a word in this aviation-inspired decision as well.
To make ingress easier, they fitted a steering wheel that would flip down and out of the way. Out of the way is the hand brake as well, tucked down low, right next to the driver’s door.
Another compromise was the impossibility of opening up the windows. None rolls down because of the curvy doors. But you could pop them out. Not something you could do in a heartbeat on the move, though.
The dashboard gives the feeling that this car is in takeoff position, ready to lift off the ground.
The naturally-aspirated M198 3.0-liter inline-six powers the 300 SL Gullwing with 222 hp (225 PS) and 202 lb-ft (274 Nm). It may not sound much by today’s standards. But in the 1950s, this was a land rocket that could hit 163 mph (263 kph), which made it the fastest production car of its time.
The street-legal Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing was Max Hoffman’s idea
But let’s return to motorsport, if we can take our eyes off that Lindgrun Green, to see how the sports car came to be. The W194 went racing in 1952 at the 1,000-kilometer Mille Miglia and finished second, four minutes and 32 seconds behind Giovanni Braco’s 3.0-liter V12 Ferrari. It had a 1-2 finish at Le Mans, and a 1-2-3-4 finish at the Nurburgring.
An Austrian-born New York-based importer of luxury European automobiles in the United States, Max Hoffman, came up with the idea of turning the W194 racer into a street-legal sports car. He knew the Americans would love it. Two years later, the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing was on display at the New York Auto Show, without even having been show in Germany. And it was a major hit! 80% of the cars until 1978 set wheels on American soil. One year later, the Roadster version came. A total of 3,258 Coupes and Roadsters were built.
Only 2,658 examples are known to exist right now. We don’t know yet if we should still count the one that has recently been the victim of flames. A thorough inspection will decide.
Meanwhile, supervised by Uhlenhaut, the Mercedes racing division won the 1954 and the 1955 Formula One championships with the W194.
In 1955, Uhlenhaut tweaked the W196 and turned it into the 300 SLR. That is exactly what Stirling Moss needed to start an impressive winning series. If you remember right, a Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupe turned out to be the world’s most expensive car. In 2022, it sold for 135 million euros (around $148,425,000).