1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL
Year of manufacture1955
Chassis number198.040-55 00810
Engine number198.980-55 00831
Number of seats2
1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL 'Gullwing' Coupé
Registration no. RYN 9
Chassis no. 198.040-55 00810
Engine no. 198.980-55 00831
'When it was first announced by Mercedes-Benz, the production 300 SL Coupé was a startling car built to the German concern's customarily startling standards, but above all what left the general public most open-mouthed about the new car was its upward-opening Gullwing doors...!' - Motors, 1963.
Mercedes-Benz returned to post-war competition in 1952, fielding two of its new 300 SL (W194) sports cars in the Mille Miglia. The pair finishing a creditable 2nd and 4th overall in this most difficult of events and this promising start was followed up by a win in the challenging Carrera Panamericana. The works first raced the 300 SL (Sport Leicht) in open form, but for the Le Mans 24-Hour Race in June a trio of 'Gullwing'-doored coupés was entered. High sills were a feature of the multi-tubular spaceframe chassis, and while access was not a problem of the open car, the coupé bodywork required innovative thinking - hence the Gullwing doors. Karl Kling and Hans Klenk duly brought their 'Silver Arrow' home in first place and the 300 SL was on its way to becoming part of motor sporting legend.
Launched in 1954, the production 300 SL retained the spaceframe chassis and lightweight aluminium-alloy bodywork of the W194 racer while its mechanical underpinnings, like the latter's, owed much to the contemporary Mercedes-Benz 300 luxury saloon. A 2,996cc overhead-camshaft inline six, the 300 SL's engine was canted at 45 degrees to achieve a low bonnet line and produced 215bhp (DIN) at 5,800rpm using Bosch mechanical fuel injection. A four-speed, all-synchromesh manual gearbox transmitted power to the hypoid bevel rear axle. Suspension was independent all round: by wishbones and coil springs at the front, with swing axles and coil springs at the rear.
A production 300 SL (W198) was tested by Road & Track magazine in 1955, accelerating from 0-60mph in 7.4 seconds on its way to a top speed of 140mph. Half expecting the long-awaited 300 SL to provide an anti-climax, R&T were delighted to find the new car, 'far beyond our wildest expectations. In fact, we can state unequivocally that in our opinion the 300SL coupé is the ultimate in an all-round sportscar. It combines more desirable features in one streamlined package than we ever imagined or hoped would be possible. Performance? It accelerates from a dead start to 100mph in just over 17 seconds. Dual purpose? A production model 300 SL can make a very acceptable showing in any type of sportscar competition. Yet the car is extremely tractable and easy to drive in traffic. Comfort? The fully enclosed 300 SL is the most comfortable (and safe) high-speed 'cross-country' car built today.'
A 300 SL roadster featuring conventional doors was first exhibited at the Geneva Salon in May 1957 and, although built in greater numbers, has never matched the immortal Gullwing for desirability. Its racing parentage notwithstanding, the 300 SL remains a thoroughly practical car, as civilised in city traffic as it is exhilarating on the autostrada. By the time 300 SL Coupé production ceased in 1957, some 1,400 examples had found customers. Today the model is both rare and most sought after by connoisseurs of fine automobiles.
The bulk of 300 SL production was delivered new to the USA, and European or UK specification cars, such as that offered here, are relatively rare. This magnificent Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing was first owned by Dennis Ziani de Ferranti, son of engineer and inventor Dr Sebastian Ziani de Ferranti, who had founded the eponymous electrical engineering and (later) electronics company in 1882. It was in its post-WW2 role as a major defence contractor that Ferranti rose to public prominence, supplying radar and targeting systems for Royal Air Force jets such as the Harrier and Tornado. In the 1970s, Ferranti was taken over by GEC, only to be bankrupted and broken up in 1993 following the acquisition of a US company that was subsequently revealed to be fraudulent. The Ferrantis were noted connoisseurs of fine automobiles and at one time owned the only right-hand drive Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spyder ever built.
Chassis number '00810' was completed in October 1955 and shipped to Mercedes-Benz (Great Britain) Ltd that same month. The car was delivered finished in silver-grey metallic (DB180) with blue leather interior, and was equipped with the optional Rudge-Whitworth centre-lock steel wheels, a Becker Mexico radio and fitted luggage to match the upholstery. A copy of the factory build sheet (in German) comes with the car.
'RYN 9' was first registered to Ferranti Farms and it was not until 1967 that it was registered in Dennis de Ferranti's name. The car was subsequently owned in the UK in short order by A & B Cars, G. Dunn, J H Sarginson and Hugh K Edgley in August/September 1968. Its next owner was the current vendor, John Young, former racing driver and managing director of Mercedes-Benz dealers Rose & Young Ltd. Based in Caterham, Surrey, Rose & Young was one of the biggest Mercedes-Benz dealerships in the South of England and as such handled dozens of 300 SLs over the years. John bought the Gullwing from Hugh Edgely as part of a package deal together with a 300 SL Roadster. The Gullwing has been registered to John personally since 1973 and has been kept purely because it is the most original and unspoilt example he has ever come across.
Interviewed for a forthcoming article in Motor Sport magazine, John said: 'I can't remember exactly how many I've owned but there have been umpteen. Our business was one of the very first Mercedes agents and for a while I drove Gullwings almost every day. I really liked them.' Of this car he says: 'It's very original and has done fewer than 50,000 miles from new. I remember at one time that we had about five Gullwings lined up for sale at the dealership. They cost a few thousand quid each, which was a lot of money at the time...'
Dark grey when purchased (John thinks de Ferranti had it repainted) the 300 SL has been returned to Mercedes-Benz dull silver in colour but apart from that has never been restored and has needed little doing to it. Used sparingly by John for the occasional continental tour and local classic car shows, it has covered only some 44,000 miles from new (see MOT certificates on file) and was last serviced by model specialists O'Keefe Restorations in 2011, since when it has covered negligible mileage.
The Young Gullwing is wonderfully original and unmolested; the only 'fly in the ointment' is that John loaned the original fitted luggage to a friend who never gave it back, and he cannot remember who it was so the current luggage set is a replica. 'RYN 9' is featured in Anthony Pritchard's definitive book on the marque, Gullwing - the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Coupé (Palawan Press), which contains numerous photographs of this original and correct car as an example of how a 300 SL should look. As a further mark of this car's quality, Mercedes-Benz has frequently borrowed 'RYN 9' to display on its stand at various prestigious classic car shows, and it was chosen as the centrepiece for the famed 'Festival of Speed' sculpture in 2001, mounted high on a spur in front of Goodwood House. 'I lent it to them and quite a few people asked whether I was at all worried,' John told Motor Sport, 'but I was quite happy and thought the whole thing looked very effective. They did attach a lightning conductor, though, just in case...'
Offered with various magazine articles concerning the car, sundry invoices an old-style logbook, current MoT certificate and V5C document, this outstandingly original example of, arguably, the most charismatic of all post-war sports cars is presented in quite delightful condition and is worthy of the closest inspection. Please note the BRDC badge affixed to this car will be retained by the vendor.