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Mercedes-Benz 300SL Coupe review (1954-1963)
Mercedes Enthusiast Magazine
Model: Mercedes-Benz 300SL Coupe
Bodystyle: Two-door coupe
Engine: 3.0-litre six-cylinder, petrol
Transmission: Four-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Gallery: Mercedes-Benz 300SL
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What is it?
Nothing less than one of the most famous and celebrated cars of the post-war period, the 300SL was one of the original supercars. And, of course, inspiration for one the latest - the Mercedes SLS.
Still spectacular now, what the 300SL must have seemed like back in 1954 beggars belief, from its UFO looks, famous vertically hinged doors, 160mph top speed and ground-breaking tech like direct fuel injection - a first in a production car.
Where does it fit?
These days Gullwings are sought after classics swapping hands for at least a quarter of a million pounds a time. In relative terms they're not that rare though - 1,400 coupes and 1,858 roadsters were built.
And while many live cosseted lives under dustsheets in collections a good number see regular use too. Like the one you see here, which belongs to the Mercedes-Benz Classic fleet.
In its day the Gullwing was a classic parts bin special, albeit a very classy one. The high tech spaceframe chassis was unique but the engine and suspension were all taken from regular Mercedes saloons.
Fuel injection boosts the power of the 3.0-litre straight-six by around 40hp to around 215hp and, just as in the SLS, the engineers opted for a dry-sump oil system to lower the centre of gravity.
Is it for you?
If you like your driving to be an event the Gullwing is like no other. Firing it up requires a flick of a switch to get the fuel pump whirring, after which you hit the starter and the engine splutters into life.
It's all the world like starting an aeroplane, the bassy, spluttering exhaust note sounding more like a WWII fighter. Which, incidentally, is exactly where the Gullwing got its fuel injection technology, Mercedes-powered wartime Messerschmitts using a similar system.
You'll have to get used to being the centre of attention too, because even 55 years on the 300SL has lost none of its ability to shock. You'll need deep pockets to run it too.
Once you get used to the heavy steering the Gullwing is, at normal speeds, relatively easy to drive too but to really exploit its abilities takes skill, experience and healthy respect for 1950s tyre and braking technology.
What does it do well?
Well it's still fast. Not compared with modern cars - it takes 10 seconds to hit 62mph - but, for its day, in a different league and still more than happy to settle into a 120mph cruise. It sounds magnificent too.
And with a shelf behind the seats for your tailored luggage (natch) and a vast 100-litre fuel tank it's as suited to long distance touring as it is classic rallies and general posing.
What doesn't it do well?
The simple swing-axle rear suspension Gullwing wasn't really up to the job. And its reputation for lethal snappiness is well-founded and demands respect. The later roadster is much safer.
The brakes can also be a little weak, the final batch of roadsters gaining disc brakes but Gullwings all running drums as standard. It's hot and claustrophobic inside too, the only ventilation coming from small, removable side windows.
What's it like to live with?
Far more than a mere poseur mobile, the Gullwing is a serious driver's tool and a much more focused steer than the softer, more luxury oriented roadster. And as a result will always be more valued.
It's a car suited to fast, open roads rather than tight and twisty lanes but, once mastered and in the right environment, offers a sense of occasion no other car can match. Even opening the doors is an event!
Would we buy it?
In a flash! If you can afford to tie up a few hundred grand in a classic car there are few safer investments than a Gullwing and you'll likely turn a profit when you come to sell it.
But a car like this shouldn't be treated as a commodity. It's a uniquely characterful piece of motoring history that will thrill with every mile you drive in it. Icons rarely live up to the hype but the Gullwing does, and then some.
More images of the Mercedes-Benz 300SL from Bing
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