Buyers Guide: 1954-1963 300SL Gullwing Coupe and Roadster

Pat Matthews & Richard Simonds

_buyers_guide_1.jpgThe Art and Engineering of an Automotive Icon
1954-1963 W198 300SL Gullwing Coupe & Roadster

by Patrick Matthews and Richard Simonds
Images Daimler Archives

At the end of World War II, Mercedes-Benz workers, engineers and managers were committed to rebuilding the company. They cleared away rubble, acquired functioning machinery, and began production in late 1946. By 1951, the company had introduced the elegant 300-series sedans, cabriolets, coupes and roadsters. To rebuild the company’s reputation, in 1952 Mercedes-Benz built the first 300SLs for racing from the engine and drivetrain components of the 300s. Their success led U.S. distributor Max Hoffman to agree to order 1,000 production 300SL Coupes (popularly named “Gullwing” because of their doors) and the first customer cars were sold in 1954.

By 1957, with 1,400 of the Gullwings sold, Mercedes-Benz replaced the Coupe with the improved Roadster, later available with a removable hardtop. Nearly 1,900 Roadsters were sold before production ended in 1963. Oh, to have had $6,000 to $8,000 at that time to buy one of those cars, and then to have kept it for the intervening 61 years. But, that is another story; this article is to help you understand where the market is now and how 300SLs have moved from sporty enthusiasts’ cars to rolling works of art for collectors.

Reasons to buy a 300SL

• You get to look at it any time you want to!
• You get to enjoy owning one of the world’s most iconic cars.
• You get to drive it almost any time you want (snow is not the 300SL’s friend).
• The 300SL is a very reliable and comfortable car to drive on long-distance drives or rallies.
• Many routine maintenance jobs are within the reach of an enthusiast with reasonable skills.
• The Gull Wing Group International is an incredible support of camaraderie and information resource.
• Multiple repair and restoration experts are available around the United States and in Canada for major maintenance, parts or restoration.
• And did I already mention that you get to look at it any time you want to?

Reasons not to buy a 300SL

• Both Coupe and Roadster are very expensive to buy and expensive to properly maintain.
• At today’s current market price of $1 million plus, some owners are uncomfortable driving their 300SLs for fun, and that’s a shame: These cars were designed and built to be driven and enjoyed.
• The Gullwing Coupe swing-axle rear suspension can cause inexperienced drivers to lose control when driving aggressively and beyond their capability.
• One of the few weak points of the design is that the passenger compartments of both models don’t provide adequate ventilation. Even with the door windows removed in the Coupe or the top down on the Roadster, passengers can quickly become uncomfortably warm in hot weather.


• Look carefully for evidence of body and frame damage. Repairing the space frame of a 300SL that has been in an accident can be done, but only by an experienced specialist; it won’t be cheap. Most body parts have not been available for years; except for the doors, hood, trunk lid and rocker panels, the body is welded as one piece. Again, repair work can be done to very high standards, but at a cost.

• Most replacement mechanical parts are available, but very expensive. Mechanical fuel injection can damage the cylinders with raw fuel flow; have the engine checked. Rust and corrosion can be very damaging to the fuel-injection system, including the injection pump and fuel injectors.

• Knowledge of the car’s history – including ownership, repairs and restoration(s) if any – is critical to a successful purchase.

Buying tips

• Join the Gull Wing Group International. Many of the world’s top experts on the 300SL participate in the Gull Wing Group Talk forum and have a wealth of knowledge that they are willing to share at
• Get an expert’s help if you are serious about buying one of these cars. Making a mistake can be very costly.
In the past few years, examples of apparently original cars have sold for nearly the same price as fully restored and well-maintained cars. Caveat Emptor! Be absolutely certain why you would purchase a car that “needs everything” compared with a car that is in good to excellent condition.


While we all may admire these iconic vehicles, if you are in the fortunate position of being able to purchase one and have the advice of an experienced owner or specialist, one of the most rewarding experiences available to a classic-car owner awaits you.

One Owner's Impressions

I started playing with classic Mercedes back in the 1970s with the purchase of a 1963 190c. As a mechanic, I was impressed with Mercedes-Benz design and build quality and it quickly became a passion. In the late ’90’s I was fortunate to purchase a 1958 300SL Roadster. The price was around $140,000 and it seemed a king’s ransom at the time, but I knew that this was a special car. The next year, my wife mentioned that the Gullwing was “cute,” so I used that as an excuse to buy her a 1956 Gullwing (she does allow me to drive it and work on it). We both became active members in Gull Wing Group International and have attended every convention in one of our cars since joining in 1998. This has allowed us to drive to places: like Niagara Falls; Vail, Colorado; Victoria, British Columbia; Sedona, Arizona; and many other wonderful locations. Moreover, several of these trips were made with fellow Gullwing owners; often, the drive is the best part of the trip. To be on a scenic winding road with three or four 300SLs in front of you and as many behind is very special.

We are often asked whether we prefer the Coupe or the Roadster. The answer is not simple as both cars are wonderful, but different. Both can be uncomfortable in hot weather but modern insulation makes a big difference. Mechanically, the cars are very similar with the major difference being the low-pivot rear axle in the roadster. Regarding the oft-cited fact that the Gullwing rear axle is subject to oversteer: In my experience of mostly “normal” driving and a few bouts of spirited driving, this is not really a problem. On beautiful days, the ability to lower the top is a plus on the roadster. So, choosing which car is “better” really gets down to the weather, the destination and length of the trip. That being said, we have made some major modifications to our Gullwing for improved reliability and comfort, including an overdrive transmission to reduce cabin noise so that for long trips, we often – not always – pick the Gullwing.

We have driven our cars at the Adelaide Hills Tarmac Ralley and on to Tasmania, from Auckland to Christ Church, New Zealand, and across this country multiple times. The cars are fun to drive, beautiful to see and extremely reliable. Our son summed it up best after his first extended drive in the Gullwing when he said, “I have driven faster cars, but you know you are driving something special when you are driving a Gullwing.”     
      Pat Matthews

Cutaway drawing of 1954-1957 W198 300SL Coupe shows layout of the tubular space frame, which made it possible to build a sports car that was lightweight – the car’s tube frame weighed only 110 pounds – yet resisted both torsional vibration and torsional loads.

A cutaway of the 1957-1963 300SL Roadster clearly shows changes made to the frame to allow normal doors to be fitted.

Isolated views of the Coupe and Roadster frames.

Detail drawing of the Roadster’s unique low-pivot rear axle, designed to cure oversteer.

Pop tops: A W198 300SL Roadster with removable hardtop and an F86 Sabre Jet with open canopy.
Value Guide: Hagerty Price Guide, December 2014
                          Model Years             Low             Medium              High
300SL Coupe     1954-1957       $1,250,000      $1,750,000      $2,100,000
300SL Coupe
 Aluminum Body 1954-1955       $4,200,000      $6,000,000      $6,900,000
300SL Roadster 1957-1963       $1,500,000      $2,000,000      $2,200,000

On Coupes, add $50,000 for Rudge wheels; $20,000 for fitted luggage; $2,500 for Becker radio
On roadsters, add $100,000 for Rudge wheels; $20,000 for fitted luggage; $2,500 for Becker radio; $60,000 for hardtop

Technical Specifications: 1954-1963 U.S. 300SL Coupe & Roadstern
                           Model Years         Engine         HP [SAE]    Torque [lb-ft]  Transmission 
300SL Coupe      1954-1957       3.0 L I-6 OHC       215            217               4-M    
300SL Roadster  1957-1963       3.0 L I-6 OHC       240            228               4-M   

                           Rear Axle        0-62 mph        Top Speed          MPG [US]
300SL Coupe        3.64:1            8-9 sec            146-161                15-20
300SL Roadster    3.89:1            8-9 sec            137-155                15-20
240 HP output for Coupe achieved with optional cam and injection pump
Available rear axle ratios for Coupe and Roadster: 3.25, 3.42, 3.64, 3.89 & 4.11

Year     Model                       Units     Total              
1954    300SL Coupe            146
1955    300SL Coupe            867     
1956    300SL Coupe            311    
1957    300SL Coupe              76     1,400  
1957    300SL Roadster        554     
1958    300SL Roadster        324     
1959    300SL Roadster        211                 
1960    300SL Roadster        249     
1961    300SL Roadster        250                 
1962    300SL Roadster        244
1963    300SL Roadster          26     1,858  

1951 Alfred Neubauer attends Swiss Grand Prix and decides prewar W165 would not be competitive with postwar racecars. Rather than build a Grand Prix car, Neubauer, Fritz Nallinger and Rudolf Uhlenhaut decide to build a sports car from 300 series engine, drivetrain, brakes, and parts on hand.

1952 The “short door” (window-size roof exit) 300SL Coupe introduced in March with “Gullwing” doors as the tubular space frame does not allow for normal doors. For Le Mans race in August, the doors are lengthened to ease entry and exit. The Mexican Carrera Panamericana is the final race of 1952.

1953 Max Hoffman, due to successes of the 300SLs, makes an impassioned appeal for Daimler-Benz to create a production 300SL, backing up his plea with a commitment to buy 1,000 of the cars.

1954 300SL Coupe (Gullwing) introduced in February at the New York International Auto Show.
           62 Production changes are made on 300SL Coupe in just over three years.

1957 300SL Coupe (Gullwing) production ends.

1957 300SL Roadster introduced in March at the Geneva Motor Show.
           17 Production changes are made on 300SL Roadster in just over six years.

1963 300SL Roadster production ends, replaced by 1963 W113 230SL Coupe/Roadster.