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1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing Coupe Chassis no. 198.040.5500801 Engine no. 198980.5500828

Sold for US$1,710,000 inc. premium
Lot 69
1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing Coupe

1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing Coupe
Chassis no. 198.040.5500801
Engine no. 198980.5500828

2,996cc SOHC Inline 6-Cylinder Engine
Bosch Mechanical Fuel Injection
240bhp at 6,100rpm
4-Speed Manual Transmission
4-Wheel Independent Suspension
4-Wheel Drum Brakes

*Delivered new and in single-family California ownership over 40 years
*Restoration and maintenance work performed by Steve Marx and Hjeltness
*Matching numbers example retaining original engine and coachwork
*Thoroughly documented example, eligible for the finest events Globally


Instantly recognizable not only by automobile buffs, but virtually anyone on the planet, the immortal 300SL (for Sports Leicht) Gullwing coupe arguably competes for the title of "Greatest Sports Car of the 1950s," and surely qualifies for anyone's Top 10 list of the greatest automobiles of all time. A period favorite of wealthy celebrities, it ranks today among the most valued and collectable sports cars ever produced.

The 300SL coupe was the direct descendant of Mercedes Benz' Le Mans W194 competition coupe, conceived in 1952 and aimed at wresting the World Sportscar Championship from Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, and Lancia, which were dominating post-war endurance racing. Mercedes-Benz historian W. Robert Nitzke writes that company management wanted to jump back into Grand Prix racing, where it had been so successful before the war, but lacked the time necessary to design, build, and develop a new single-seater for the 1954 season. Instead, Chief Engineer Fritz Nallinger suggested that the company build a new two-seat sports car utilizing the strong in-line SOHC six-cylinder engine from its luxurious 300 series. Because the engine and drivetrain were relatively heavy, the chassis would have to be extremely light. Test Department manager Rudolf Uhlenhaut, having some experience with tubular chassis design, sat down with construction engineer Joseph Müller and laid out an extremely light (154 pounds) and rigid lattice-work chassis capable of accommodating the big in-line six. One major problem soon presented itself: there was no way to mount conventional doors without compromising the rigidity of the chassis. The solution was to raise the entry so that the doors cut into the roof, but that meant hinging them from the top, thus giving birth to this car's timeless signature design feature.

The 300SL's first racing trial was the 1952 Mille Miglia, where Kling finished second to Giovanni Bracco's open Ferrari, while Rudolf Caracciola was fourth, the two Gullwings being split by a Lancia. The third Coupe had gone off the road early in the grueling contest. Next came the Grand Prix of Berne, where a quartet of 300SLs took the start and swept the top three positions, Caracciola having crashed in what would prove to be his last race.

Then came Le Mans, where Uhlenhaut struck fear into the competition by bringing an SL coupe fitted with a hand-operated air brake mounted on the roof. While that particular car was not raced, Mercedes would tuck the idea in its pocket for future use. After the grueling 24-hour epic, a pair of 300SLs had finished in the top two positions...and were then driven back to the factory!

New York imported auto entrepreneur Max Hoffman, credited with urging Mercedes Benz to build a production sports car based on the 300SL racing car. The 300SL Gullwing, in final form, was unveiled at the New York International Motor Sports Show in early February 1954, and actual production began that fall. The new coupe was slightly changed in appearance from the racing coupes and featured Bosch direct fuel injection. This prompted the factory to claim it was, "the fastest German production sports car." Between 1954 and 1957, a total of 1,400 Gullwings were delivered to eager purchasers.


Completed on October 11th and shipped on October 29th, 1955, to Mercedes-Benz Distributors of Manhattan, New York - the legendary Max Hoffmann agency - 300SL Gullwing chassis number 5500801 was a special-order example painted in DB 190 Graphite Gray with 1079 Red Leather. Robert Rau of Pacific Palisades, California bought this Gullwing new in 1955, and would go on to own and maintain the desirable sports car until 1979, when Stanley Kaufman of Long Beach, California bought the car. Mr. Kaufman would retain the Mercedes for over 30 years; a 30-year tenure characterized by an exceptional level of care and meticulous record keeping. According to the extensive history file that accompanies the Gullwing, the car was repainted in the gorgeous black that it is presented in today. While taking impeccable care and record keeping of Gullwing 550080, Stanley Kaufman also entered the car in Gullwing Group club events, and surely appreciated the hugely collectible aspect of the 300SL early on.

Stanley Kaufman would own Gullwing 5500801 until his passing in 2009, at which time his daughter, Joan Kaufman Nielsen, was entrusted with taking the car into the future carrying on this Gullwing's legacy. Given the plethora of records found in the impressive history file, it is evident that this Gullwing was routinely serviced and well maintained by Mercedes-Benz specialist Steve Marx of Costa Mesa, California. According to the service records Mr. Kaufman had started going to Marx back in 2004 and had the car go in every year for routine service and upkeep. Upon his passing in 2009, Jim Nielsen, Mr. Kaufman's son in law, kept the relationship with Marx for further refurbishments when needed. The Gullwing stayed in Mr. and Mrs. Nielsen's loving care until being passed on in 2019 to the consigners prominent collection of exceptional automobiles. The Gullwing was in 2019 entrusted with well-known 300SL expert Hjeltness Restoration of Escondido, California for further refurbishments.

Today 300SL 5500801 makes an excellent cosmetic impression, with a high-quality paint job over straight body with very good fit and finish. The as-delivered red leather interior is equally impressive, as is the balance of the cockpit, featuring the original VDO gauges and switchgear. A period-correct wood-rimmed steering wheel is fitted (yet and original white-ivory wheel accompanies the sale of the car) and color-coded luggage is fitted on the rear luggage shelf. As a testament to a lifetime of true enthusiast's care, the chassis, engine and body numbers all match the factory build sheet on file, and the original chassis and ID plates remain intact. One of the most exotic cars available when new, and brimming with innovative features, Gullwings were fast, beautiful, and exclusive. Their appeal continues to be timeless and consistently in demand, in part due to their inherent beauty but also their exceptional build quality. As with all iconic vehicles 5500801 has the pedigree long-term ownership and documentation that further validates its position as one of the most sought-after performance sports cars ever built.


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