Icons of Excellence & Haute Luxury | Lot 65

1960 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Roadster

$1,000,000 - $1,200,000 USD

€850,000 - €1,050,000 EUR

£750,000 - £850,000 GBP

United States | Las Vegas, Nevada

24 October 2021

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  • 12% of the hammer price up to and including $250,000
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Chassis No.
Engine No.
Body No.
Rear Axle No.
US Title
  • One of 249 examples built in 1960, and one of 1,858 built in total
  • A well-maintained car featuring one repaint and reupholstered seats
  • Believed to have been owned by only three caretakers through its life
  • 48-year ownership by a member of the Gullwing Group
  • Documented with copy of factory data card and a selection of original factory books and literature
Please note that this lot is titled as a 1961.

When Mercedes-Benz introduced the 300 SL Roadster in 1957, the new model addressed many of the perceived shortcomings of the outgoing 300 SL Gullwing, which was more closely tied to the 300 SL race car of the early 1950s. Primarily, a redesign of the Gullwing’s tube frame allowed for the use of conventional doors, which improved the ease of ingress and egress. This refinement also allowed for the implementation of standard wind-up windows, which significantly improved cabin air flow and the commensurate comfort of the occupants.

The unforgiving high-pivot swing-axle geometry of the Gullwing coupe, which was adapted from the W186 chassis of the larger 300 sedans, was discarded in favor of a low-pivot swing-axle rear suspension borrowed from the later 220a sedans. This configuration utilized a coil spring mounted transversely above the differential that was linked to the axles by vertical struts, which served to minimize oversteer. The frame and suspension redesign also allowed for the installation of softer coil springs, which provided the Roadsters with a more comfortable ride quality without affecting the sporty handling. Furthermore, a smaller gas tank and longer rear overhang facilitated enlargement of the trunk space, a dividend for owners interested in extended touring.

The highly developed inline-six-cylinder engine was now standard-equipped with the sport camshaft that had been so effective in the racing alloy-bodied Gullwings, increasing output by 25 horsepower. While a 3.64:1 rear axle ratio was a standard feature of cars specified for the United States, a lower 3.89:1 ratio was available, improving acceleration. Easier to drive and more comfortable to use, the Roadster is largely regarded as an improvement over the Gullwing in every practical sense, and it is still highly regarded by collectors today. When production concluded in 1963, just 1,858 cars had been built, and surviving examples now serve as the centerpiece of numerous marque collections.

According to a copy of its factory data card, this handsome 300 SL was specified for the United States with sealed beam headlamps. Finished in DB 50 white paint over a red interior, the roadster was equipped with instruments in miles, a Becker Mexico radio, and a rear axle ratio of 3.89:1, giving it slightly better acceleration than most of the US-specified cars.

After being dispatched in early April 1960, the Mercedes-Benz was shipped to the United States and purchased new by Betty Anne Burrows Kelley of Alexandria, Virginia, who took delivery in November 1960 (as clarified by handwritten entries in the service booklet). By the late 1960s the 300 SL was acquired by an enthusiast in New Mexico who was a member of the Gullwing Group, and it would continue to benefit from the dry southwestern environment for over 50 years. Around 1973 the roadster was sold to Foster Cooper of Albuquerque, New Mexico, who was also a Gullwing Group member. He retained possession for 48 years, occasionally enjoying the car for its brisk performance and exhilarating open-air characteristics, but generally keeping it carefully garaged while dutifully maintaining it.

In preparation for its current offering the car recently benefitted from an exterior repaint in white by Mark Passarelli, a respected 300 SL specialist who has serviced the car in the past. When he removed the factory paint, Mr. Passarelli was amazed at the integrity of the original metalwork, which he asserts displayed no blemishes or imperfections, and required no corrective work prior to the refinish.

About 10 years ago the soft top was replaced, and the seat backs and cushions have been reupholstered, but the remainder of the leather interior is believed to be original. A correct factory-original 300 SL steering wheel has been installed (the car is accompanied by a period-correct three-spoke Nardi steering wheel), which beautifully complements the original interior elements, including the Becker Mexico radio. In need of some attention, the mechanical components have undergone inspection and were addressed as required over the last few months, resulting in basic operational order.

This 300 SL is accompanied by spare parts and a reproduction toolkit, and it is documented with a copy of its factory data card, an older title, and a selection of original factory books and literature (including a parts catalog, spare parts list, service booklets, and dealer/service directories). The engine, body, and rear axle stamps are all consistent with the numbers listed on the Mercedes-Benz data card. The front axles however appear to be unstamped, and the gearbox is believed to be a later replacement.

Combining the very best of both worlds—comparable styling and performance to the Gullwing, but with welcome additional practicalities such as easier cabin access, a superior rear suspension arrangement, and greater luggage capacity—the 300 SL Roadster remains perhaps the ultimate grand tourer of the late 1950s and early 1960s, one equally at home in the Alps or on the Autobahn.

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