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Homepage. This page: Scan taken from a colour slide of an almost-new 'Gullwing' Mercedes W198 sportscar.

1956 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL.

Alphabetically, this page (300sl.htm) sits right alongside that for the Ford 300E van in this site's file directory, yet the two vehicles couldn't be more different, other than the fact that they both date to the mid-1950s. Whereas the 300E makes do with an all-iron 1172 sidevalve engine for propulsion, the well-heeled buyer of a Mercedes-Benz 300SL could revel in the joys of having a Bosch fuel-injected, 3.0 litre six-cylinder unit under his or her car's bonnet. The photograph shown below, taken from a colour 35mm slide and sent to me by Dave a while ago, shows a then-new 300SL "Gullwing" Mercedes, quite possibly at a motor race in 1956. Although the location of this photograph could be almost anywhere in the USA, perhaps the car's license plate - bearing the location California on it - may offer a clue?
The lady shown in this photo appears to be ready for a chilly day, judging by the thick army jacket she's wearing, so perhaps the day was drawing to a close (the lengthening shadows point to a time either early or late in the day). Does 300SL Gullwing registration NFF 169 survive? It's shown here with its distinctive "gull wing" doors in the raised position. Compared to the Detroit iron parked all around, the sleek German import certainly cuts quite a dash. The car to the right of shot is fitted with a roof rack, to which a wooden board has been fitted. Sat on it is a small chair, again suggesting that perhaps this was a spectators' parking area at a sporting event, such as a motor race. Further back, a chap can be seen sat on a gantry located in the bed of his Jeep pickup.

The car parked further back from the Mercedes is, I think, a Plymouth - the 1957 model year has been suggested.
(Please click the thumbnail.)
Gullwing Mercedes in 1956
Although the 300SL was made in relatively small numbers, 1,400 Coupes and 1,858 Roadsters, it's production life ran from 1955 through to 1963, the Coupes being available 1955 to 1957, and the Roadsters thereafter. The majority of cars were sold in the United States, which goes some way in explaining why more Roadsters than Coupe versions of the 300SL were produced. The majority of cars were steel-bodied, with just the bonnet, doors and bootlid being fashioned from aluminium. Buyers looking for added performance could also opt for a version featuring all-aluminium exterior panels, saving a useful amount of weight, but at a price. Promotional material of the day summed up the car as follows:

Type 300SL - The "Silver Arrow" of the sports car driver.

Triumphant - in its appearance already - the new Mercedes-Benz standard sportscar "300 SL" represents with superb elegance the technical progress of the oldest automobile factory of the world. The grand total of all experiences gained on the basis of a unique tradition by the construction of racing- and sports-cars, give it the qualifications of an absolutely reliable car. It embodies the achievements of the famous Mercedes-Benz "Silver Arrow" racing cars and is the worthy successor of the 3-liter sports cars of 1952, known for their series of outstanding victories from Bern to Mexico. It is the culmination of years of research and progressive development. The enormously speed-proof 240hp engine with fuel injection is capable of attaining a maximum speed of 162 miles/hour.
Brochure illustration
Certainly getting to ride in one of these fine cars a few years ago, is something I'll not forget in a hurry. There may be better and more practical cars around, but for me, the "gullwing" 300SL is one of the best-looking cars of all time.
The advertisement shown below appears elsewhere on the site. It was found inside an American motoring magazine of the 1950s, and merits inclusion here also.
Mercedes-Benz 300SL gullwing advertisement
Visit page 17 in the vintage gallery, or return to the gallery's main index page.
Other classic Mercedes cars on the site include a period photo of a very smart 190 SL Roadster, and several examples of "Fintail" saloons.

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