At least one major poll declared the Mercedes 300 SL ‘Gullwing’ to be ‘Sports Car of the Twentieth Century’. And it’s true: more than fifty years after its introduction, its aerodynamic finesse has the undimmed, futuristic beauty of a timeless thoroughbred; and its original ergonomic brilliance still makes it one of the most pleasing cars you will ever drive.
New York City saw the Gullwing first, at the 1954 Auto Show. The two-seater closed sports car was the road model of Daimler-Benz’s hugely successful 300 SL racing car. It was the company’s response to urgent prompting by their official US importer, who accurately foresaw an eager market for a top quality Mercedes sports car. It was a sensation. The importer immediately ordered a thousand. The aerodynamic streamlining spoke of muscular sophistication, and the visual drama of the unfolding gullwing doors released the full potential of the car’s inherent panache.
Performance depended not just on the light weight of its aluminium skin, but on the rigidity of the tubular frame, which necessarily reached much higher than usual up the side. Normal doors were impossible — and so was any proposal for an open-top version.
Instead, customers could choose from five rear-axle ratios for their preferred balance between straight line speed and acceleration, all of which benefited from the Gullwing’s revolutionary new direct fuel injection system, another first for a petrol-powered production car and not even installed in the Gullwing’s race-only predecessor.
Climbing in was an adventure. Once there, the ergonomic lay-out, like everything else, was years ahead. The road-holding and handling were precise but effortless Steering was direct, power instantaneous. This dazzling automobile cloaked you in its own charisma, and it still does.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
1955 (until 1957)
2,996 cc Straight Six
Top speed of 146-162 mph (235-260 km/h) according to axle ratio; 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 10 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
- To squeeze beneath the Gullwing’s remarkably flat bonnet profile, the engine had to be tilted more than 45 degrees to the left. 2.
- Gullwing owners could make the most of their car’s space by ordering a set of luggage made to measure.