The 1957 Mercedes 300SL Gullwing marked the beginning of this particular configuration, which would remain in production until the 1962 model year. The 300SL Gullwing is similar to the other 300SL models offered by Mercedes that year, including the fact that it was inspired by a racecar. It was based on the idea of turning a Grand Prix car into a road-use one.
Max Hoffman was responsible for pitching the idea to Mercedes. Hoffman had an excellent reputation for suggestion autos, having made several successful suggestions to Porsche. The fact that Hoffman was based out of New York meant that this city was the site of the 300SL Gullwing’s debut, where it was an instant hit.
Under the Hood
When Mercedes created the original 300SL racecar, it borrowed the engine from a large 300 series sedan and placed it in a smaller, lightweight auto to go fast. Engineers wanted to make improvements for the road version, however. They had to cant the inline-6 powertrain 50 degrees to fit it under the low hood. Engineers also swapped out the carburetors from the racecar with a sophisticated Bosch system featuring mechanical direct injection. That meant that the road version got 215 horsepower, compared to the 175 horsepower from the racecar. The engine had a handful of downsides, including the large 10-liter oil capacity and the spacious racing oil cooler. This meant that the oil took a while to reach the proper temperature. However, drivers considered this a minor hassle worth putting up with to take advantage of the extra power. In fact, the 300SL was the quickest production car worldwide at the time.
Styling to Make an Impression
Based on the name Mercedes 300SL Gullwing, it is clear that this model had gullwing doors, a feature that has always been associated with sporty or futuristic autos. Despite this being a key component of the Gullwing version, the 300SL Roadster could not have gullwing doors since there wasn’t a roof to mount them to. As such, over half of all 300SLs did not have gullwing doors, as that is how many 300SL models were Roadsters. The overall design of the 1957 300SL is timeless and classic. In fact, the SLS AMG’s modernized version of the 300SL styling was successful a full 55 years later.
The interior of the 1957 300SL Gullwing is exactly what you would expect from an auto of this time. The dashboard was frequently the same color as the body, and the overall appearance focused on chrome and polished model. However, there was a range of interior color choices for the interior, including both leather and color-matched plaid fabrics. There were also handles on each end of the dashboard. These were actually a necessity since the gullwing doors required high sills. That made it challenging to get in and out of the auto without these strategic handles.
Overall, between 1957 and 1962, Mercedes made 1,400 300SL Gullwing coupes plus 1,858 300SL Roadsters. Even so, they tend to go for well over a million dollars, prices you expect from much rarer autos.