One can make a strong case that no other make and model has been such a reliable indicator of the collector-car market’s state as the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL. It has maintained consistent demand and up-trending value for more than four decades, while other “flavor-of-the-month” cars come and go. Yet a collector with sights set on obtaining one of these iconic vehicles will quickly come to a fork in the road, having to decide between the Gullwing and Roadster versions. And with 1,400 and 1,858 units made of each, respectively, there are always a few examples available at any given time.
As with any collectible, the value comes down to condition, with provenance playing a role. Some collectors seek nothing less than 100-point cars, which is only achievable with a full restoration that returns the machine to its like-original-condition, resetting a ticking clock called entropy. Most any 300 SL can be restored, albeit at a substantial cost. Yet no matter how perfect the restoration, a car (or motorcycle or Fabergé egg) is only original once.
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Other would-be owners are content to have a really nice “driver,” usually a previously restored car that is beginning to show signs of use, thus freeing one to enjoy the vehicle as it was initially intended. Alternately, one might find an example that has been “sympathetically” restored along the years, with past owners tending to mechanical and cosmetic issues with an eye toward “fixing only what’s broke.” At the other extreme, barn finds—neglected and dusty—exert a special allure. Except that such cars inevitably require recommissioning or massive restorative efforts, and are rarely without cosmetic issues that can be so distracting as to bring into question the value of their originality altogether.
At the top of the collector-car pyramid are those rare examples that are original and surprisingly pristine, or nearly so. They show patina from loving use, but not wear or abuse. These are time capsules that command a premium among today’s collectors. The 1957 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Roadster coming to Gooding & Company’s 2024 Amelia Island Auctions, being held from February 29 through March 1, fits solidly in the latter category.
“One of the most significant ever offered due to its incredible level of preservation, it would command a very large premium for that reason alone,” says Gooding & Company specialist Angus Dykman, of the vehicle being presented. “But the fact that it is a Rudge-wheel Roadster makes it even more valuable and sought after. However, it also has an incredible history file, rare accompanying items, matching-numbers components, and has had exquisite work completed by HK Engineering. It is the combination of all these attributes together that make this Roadster an automobile of significant historical importance. It is a true artifact, and I will be surprised if I ever see another in anything close to this condition.”
Production of the 300 SL Roadster ran from 1957 through 1963 (technically, early 1964), and the vehicle crossing Gooding’s auction block is from that first year. Essentially a convertible version of the Gullwing, the Roadster is a much more drivable car, in large part due to the visibility afforded by its open top, and airflow that keeps it from mercilessly roasting its occupants on a hot summer day, as the coupé is known to do.
A copy of the factory data card shows that Chassis No. 198.042.7500348 was originally delivered via Mercedes-Benz Distributors Western Ltd. of Vancouver, British Columbia. Painted in Silbergrau Metallic with a Rot (red leather) interior and a Schwarz (black) top, it’s equipped with English-language instruments, sealed-beam headlights, a 3.89:1 rear-axle ratio, and a Becker Mexico radio. In addition, it features the aforementioned Rudge knock-off wheels that fewer than 30 of the 1,858 Roadsters were given; the remaining made do with steel wheels and hubcaps. Far more frequently seen on Gullwings, the Rudge wheels were available on the Roadster early in its production run.
This Roadster retains its original matching-numbers engine, body, and chassis, and the consignor believes that it also has the original paint, interior, soft-top roof, floor, and trunk mats. Incredibly, the period-correct Continental tires on the car’s date-stamped Rudge wheels may even be the ones fitted by the factory.
Only three owners comprise the car’s history from new, the second of whom enjoyed it for 54 years. Merle Solland, a world-record-holding hydroplane racer, bought the SL in 1964 from an apple farmer who had put on about 36,000 miles during his ownership. The third owner and consignor, a Swedish connoisseur of preservation-class sports cars, purchased the 300 SL in 2018. He commissioned the specialists at HK Engineering in Germany to perform a full mechanical restoration in 2019, which included the painstaking removal of the unusual off-yellow paint job apparently applied by the first owner. That laborious process finally revealed the car’s true silver finish. After more than 1,000 hours spent on this aspect of the project, HK Engineering simply stopped counting its time.
Present and accounted for is a set of Hepco fitted luggage, a jack, a tool kit, and assorted manuals and related literature. Also accompanying the car is a second set of date-stamped Rudge wheels (removed from Clark Gable’s 300 SL Roadster), a spare injection pump (a trophy in itself), and a rare onboard parts kit from the factory.
Notably, this vehicle will be on display in advance of the sale at Gooding & Company’s Rétromobile stand at the Paris Expo Porte de Versailles, from January 31 through February 4. Followers of the market recognize that this rare and historically significant Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Roadster could command as much as a million-dollar premium over a concours example, as indicated by its high-end estimate of $2.8 million.
Click here for more photos of this 1957 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Roadster.
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