Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 5
The 300-SL, was a pure-blooded 150-mph sports car with tubular chassis, aerodynamic body, and modified 172-horsepower engine. Today it is remembered as the model that appeared cold at Le Mans in 1952
and methodically proceeded to take first, second, and fourth places in the 24-hour race. An observer remarked at the time, "Mercedes never enters a race unless sure in advance of winning it."
He was referring to the superbly thorough preparation of team cars and drivers that has always distinguished this company. Later in 1952
, when drivers Kling and Lang produced another double victory in the gruelling Mexican road race, an American enthusiastically described Mercedes' team manager Alfred Neubauer
as a coaching and coordinating genius never before equalled in his field.
The Holy Grail
For the Mercedes enthusiast, the 300SL represents the "Holy Grail". It is beautiful, old and extremely rare, but probably the biggest appeal (apart from the blistering performance) comes from the unique "gullwing doors" and the spaceframe chassis. The 300SL was originally designed for the race track, and as such Mercedes engineers adopted a tubular spaceframe construction for the chassis.
Tubular spaceframes, though light and rigid, had one draw back - they engaged considerable space originally provided for door openings so much so that door sills had to be made considerably higher and wider. To overcome this limitation, the engineers installed a pair of gullwing doors which also opened the roof for easier access. Such innovative design immediately received admiration from all over the world.
The powerful straight-six was fed by a mechanical fuel injection, one of the earliest fuel injection
systems used on a car. Displacing just 3 litres, the 300SL's output was an outstanding 215 hp. Since this engine was tall, and in order to keep the bonnet (thus drag co-efficient) and centre of gravity low, engineers had to tilt the engine 40 degrees, and then offset it to one side to maintain the cars balance.
The 300SL was a fast machine, but it was almost as difficult to control as a racing car. The swing axle rear suspension
gave the sort of high speed oversteer that only a really gifted driver could cope with. It was first tested in international competition at sports car races held in Switzerland, at Le Mans, the Nurburgring
, and in the Panamericana held in Mexico.
The lessons learnt by Mercedes during its time at the race track had all been incorporated into the 300SL, things such as the direrct fuel injection
system which gave the 2996cc engine a whopping 215 horsepower (240 SAE) output, and a maximum speed of 260 km/h (162 mph).
Using the servo-assisted self cooling turbo brake drums from the 300S, the Gullwing could reach 47 mph (75 km/h) in first, 80 mph (128 km/h) in second, 116 mph (186 km/h) in third and 149 mph (240 km/h) in fourth. In the end, Mercedes dealers convinced the design team that the door system was not favoured by many of its customers, particularly women (who found it difficult to maintain modesty while entering and exiting the vehicle), and Mercedes discontinued construction of the gullwing and concentreated on 300SL Roadster.
The 300SL Roadster
first went on display at the Geneva Motor Show in 1957
. Immediately evident was the use of conventional doors, and in turn the lower waist and door line, thus providing the "percieved" need to allow easier entry and egress. But the roadster, while a true and worthy successor, would never reach the much lauded heights of collectability and desirabilty as that of the Coupe.