The Mercedes-Benz Classic Center has generously let Jay drive the oldest Gullwing in existence!
The Oldest Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing | Jay Leno’s Garage
The Mercedes-Benz 300 SL is a true classic royalty from the golden age of racing. Leno remembers this car as a kid from 1950s magazines. Coincidentally, the car from the Classic Center is a 1952 version (car number 5).
This car was in a race series designed specifically for the track. It comes with an aluminum body, with a later released version in magnesium. For a 1952 car, this 300 SL Gullwing has a low weight of below 1.000 kg (2,000 lbs), like a Lotus Elise of the time, with a closed roof.
It came with the Rudge wheels, and while it might seem peculiar to have heavier wheels on a race car, but they were much quicker to change in a track event. Plus, it’s cool watching the spinners following it from behind.
Leno also got another car from Mercedes Benz Classic Center, a W194 (Car number 11). It’s also a 1952 version with a magnesium body, a prototype developed for 1953. It weighs 960 kg. According to Leno, this car looks futuristic and feels like a recent production. Comparing it to a Porsche Carrera, he feels this was a big powerful meaty American car for the American taste.
Mercedes did not intend to make the SL 300 Gullwing into a series car. It was a race-breed, but Max Hoffman convinced them to build 1,000 units for the American market. Little did they know, a legend was born.
The number 5 car has a 180 hp 3.2-liter carbureted race car compared to the general series 170 hp. The number 11 car, based on the success of the 1952 season, came with a W198 motor, the same one as on the production Gullwing – a fuel-injected 3.0-liter 6-cylinder making 225 hp.
First drive inside the Gullwing, and Leno feels it is powerful even by today’s standards. The 300 SL Gullwing runs like a 4.5-liter in his experience. It’s nicely balanced with a loveable gear whine and no handbrake.
“You feel like you are driving when you are driving this. It almost feels like power steering. No effort at all,” Leno said.
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