By Jeff Peek / Hagerty.com
It’s been more than six years since an alloy-bodied 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL has been offered at public auction and nearly 10 years since one sold. In other words, an aluminum Gullwing finds a new owner less often than a major comet is visible from earth.
That’s about to change, perhaps in dramatic fashion.
Grab your wallet, leave your telescope, and make your way to Scottsdale because the 13th of only 24 aluminum Gullwings built in ’55 will cross the block at RM Sotheby’s Arizona Auction on January 27. It won’t come cheap.
Described by RM as “a unique and peerless specimen with fascinating provenance,” chassis #5500332 carries a presale estimate of $7M to $9M. If it sells for anything close to that range, it will become the most expensive alloy-bodied 300SL ever sold at auction.
“Due to their rarity and competition pedigree, the value of an aluminum Gullwing is nearly five times that of a steel-bodied one,” says Hagerty auction editor Andrew Newton. “Whereas a standard 300SL is actually quite common among seven-figure classic cars, the aluminum Gullwing is one of the rarest production cars of all. It may look the same as a steel-bodied 300SL, but it’s in a different class when it comes to value.”
The Alloy Gullwing is the second most-valuable Mercedes-Benz in the Hagerty Price Guide behind the prewar 540K. While a steel-bodied 1955 300SL carries a #2 (Excellent) value of $1.4 million, an alloy-bodied version in equivalent condition has an average value of $6.7 million.
The record price paid for an aluminum 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL is $4.62M at Gooding & Company’s 2012 Scottsdale Auction. That was also the last example sold. Two others have been offered since—one was bid to £2.4M ($3,256,980) at RM’s 2012 London sale and the other to $4.5M at RM Monterey in 2015—but each fell short of its reserve price.
The alloy Gullwing was the brainchild of Mercedes-Benz engineering chief Dr. Fritz Nallinger, who proposed a special 300SL for retail to privateer racers. By outfitting the Gullwing with aluminum body panels and plexiglass cabin windows, the car’s overall weight was reduced by 209 pounds, making it competitive against the Aston-Martin DB3S, Maserati A6GCS, and Ferrari 750 Monza and 250 GT.
The one on offer in Arizona was delivered new to Casablanca (yes, Morocco) Mercedes-Benz agent Joseph Weckerlé, an accomplished racer in his own right. It is one of only a few to retain its numbers-matching, race-bred 3.0-liter NSL engine and original alloy body.
The Weckerlé alloy was imported to the United States in the early 1960s and has remained here ever since. Due to the lightweight Gullwings’ notoriously thin bodies, which dent easily, almost all examples have been reskinned or repaired at some point. This one has been most fortunate, however, as a 1975 restoration by Paul Russell & Company noted only aluminum stress repairs inside the engine bay.
Wearing factory-correct livery of Silver Gray Metallic (DB 180) over blue gabardine fabric with blue vinyl (L1), the car has desirable factory features like sports suspension, a high-speed 3.42 rear axle, uprated metric speedometer, belly pans, and Rudge wheels. It was owned for 32 years by Hyatt Cheek, national president of the Gullwing Group and MBCA.
As one of the most sought-after and rarely seen Mercedes-Benzes in the world, “this one will definitely get the attention of Mercedes collectors,” Newton says. Considering how often—or how rarely—alloy Gullwings make their way to auction, this could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to own this rare star.
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