Few cars in history have achieved such iconic status as Mercedes-Benz’s postwar masterpiece, the 300SL. Highly advanced engineering and unique style set the 300SL coupe and roadster apart from their peers, and they remain among the most collectible and important automobiles of the 20th century. The 300SL was first conceived by the great driver and engineer Rudolph Uhlenhaut who, among his various achievements created the astonishingly powerful W125 Grand Prix car that ended Auto Union’s stranglehold on Grand Prix racing and dominated the 1937 season. During World War II, Uhlenhaut maintained a low profile, designing aero engines for Daimler Benz. He left the firm briefly after hostilities ended, only to return in 1948 where he began work on a new racing car for Mercedes. Faced with limited resources, he based his car around the relatively underpowered single overhead cam W186 engine used in the “Adenauer” limousines. But the resourceful Uhlenhaut made the best of it, designing an incredibly light tubular space frame which was clothed in a slippery alloy body. To accommodate the low bonnet line, the engine was canted over 50 degrees, fitted with a new head with twin Solex carburetors. The high sides of the space frame meant there was no place for traditional door hinges, so the doors were cleverly hinged from the top of the roof – and the iconic “Gullwing” was born.
The racing W194 proved to be surprisingly successful despite its relative power deficit, winning the grueling La Carrera Panamericana and the LeMans 24 Hour race in 1952 and scoring a 2nd overall at the Mille Miglia the same year. Meanwhile, Max Hoffman, the influential American importer for Mercedes-Benz, was watching the success of the W194 and felt he could sell a road going example to his customers. Hoffman had tremendous influence in Germany, and he saw an opportunity to improve Mercedes-Benz’s image in the critical American market. Mercedes bosses trusted Hoffman’s instinct, and the W194 was developed into the road-going 300SL.
The 300SL was among most technically advanced automobiles of its day. Working alongside Bosch, Uhlenhaut combined his aviation and diesel experience to develop a new direct mechanical fuel injection system for the SL’s 3.0 liter inline six. With revised camshaft and dry-sump lubrication, the engine produced upwards of 240 horsepower. The same spaceframe chassis featured independent front and swing-axle rear suspension, with powerful finned drum brakes on all four corners. Even discounting the distinct doors, the 300SL was quite unlike anything enthusiasts had ever seen, and in the prosperous post-war period, buyers responded. Ultimately, 1,400 coupes and 1,850 roadsters were built, with the majority of them delivered to America. Max Hoffman, as was typically the case, was spot-on.
We are delighted to offer this 1960 300SL Roadster; a lovely car understood to have just over 35,000 miles from new. The roadster is the more refined and usable sibling to the Gullwing, with numerous improvements to the chassis that make it arguably more enjoyable to drive. Engineers were able to reinforce the tubular spaceframe to allow lower sills and conventional doors. They also reworked the rear axle and relocated the spare wheel which improved luggage space and lowered the center of gravity, transforming the 300SL into a proper long-distance Grand Tourer.
This example, serial number 002552, was purchased new by Robert C. Borwell of Chicago, Illinois on April 20, 1960. Its original color of Fire Brigade Red (DB 534) surely made a bold statement for Mr. Borwell, who was celebrating his promotion to senior vice president of insurance brokers Marsh & McLennan. This SL would stay with Borwell for the next 34 years, accruing just 30,000 miles along the way. In 1994, he sold the SL to Eric Applebaum of Spring Green, Wisconsin. The car was in fine order, and Applebaum decided to treat the SL to a comprehensive restoration by a marque specialist, taking a full two years to complete. Once back in his hands, he used the car sparingly, mostly keeping it in a custom-built climate controlled facility to preserve the quality of the restoration and keep the mileage low.
In 2002, Mr. Applebaum sold the 300SL to a friend, Paul J. Roller of Elmsgrove, Wisconsin who would keep the car a further nine years, selling to the fourth owner in 2011. The current owner has continued to maintain it in beautiful condition, and the odometer shows just 5,000 additional miles since the original owner sold it. It remains in superb condition throughout with the high-quality restoration holding up very well. The paintwork was restored to its factory original color and is finely presented today, with attractive finish quality, excellent bodywork and consistent panel fit. Chrome and body fittings are in similarly excellent condition, appearing well-maintained and very straight with correct details such as the North American market headlamps and additional reflectors at the rear. It rides on its original wheels with color-keyed wheel covers as original, fitted with correct Dunlop tires made especially for the 300SL.
The interior is trimmed in tan leather which has taken just a bit of character since the restoration, remaining supple and attractive with only some light creasing. Tan Square-weave carpet is correct for this car, and the door panels and sills present well. This car retains the original Becker Mexico radio, as well as a full set of Bausch fitted luggage which matches the car’s lovely tan upholstery. Beneath the boot floor is the original spare wheel (with the correct matte-green finish inside the rim) and an original factory tool kit complete with the original tire pressure gauge in the Mercedes box.
The beautiful cosmetics are matched with excellent performance. According to the consignor, it retains its original, matching numbers engine which is very well presented in tidy order. This lovely 300SL would be a fabulous companion on the Colorado Grand or New England 1000 yet would not be out of place on the field of a mid-level concours. This 300SL Roadster is a very usable and highly attractive example of Mercedes-Benz’s sporting icon, with very well-documented provenance from new.
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