Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Roadster (W 198)
The 300 SL Roadster (W 198) made its debut at the Geneva Motor Show in March 1957. Being the successor to the 300 SL Gullwing was no easy task, as the super sports car with the characteristic, upward-opening doors had already become a legend. Technically, the Roadster was largely identical to the Coupé. The only aspect that was fundamentally different was the rear suspension, the 300 SL Roadster using a modified single-joint swing axle with a low pivot point. Compared to the original swing axle of the Gullwing Coupé, the handling was significantly improved – greatly to the benefit of the vehicle and its occupants. During the six-year production period, some technical modifications were made, two of which are particularly noteworthy: in March 1961, the 300 SL was fitted with disc brakes on the front and rear wheels, while, from March 1962, a modified engine with a light-alloy block was used. From October 1958, a removable coupé roof was optionally available for an extra DM 1500. It could also be retrofitted.
The main market for the Roadster was the USA. This 300 SL, too, was shipped to North America, where it was first registered in 1960. Our research shows that there were two previous owners up to 1980. From 1980, the vehicle was part of a collection in the US state of Georgia. The owner, having worked for Mercedes-Benz, Stuttgart, in the 1950s and 1960s, had opened a specialist workshop for Mercedes-Benz cars in 1967. He was a keen and regular motorist in his black SL. He also attended sporting events, such as the „The Great Race“ (www.greatrace.com), which gave the vehicle an opportunity to show off its long-distance capabilities. Of course, it was also of advantage that the owner’s own mechanics from his Mercedes-Benz workshop were on hand to suitably set up and look after the vehicle (no guarantee of the correctness and completeness of this information).
Mercedes-Benz Classic inspected the vehicle in 2017. At that time, the Roadster was in an attractive condition, i.e. very well maintained in the original condition, although with visible signs of wear and some minor defects. The numbers on chassis, engine, transmission and steering matched the original production data (matching numbers). All trim and body add-on parts were present and installed on the vehicle. Also mounted on the car was a hardtop in the vehicle colour black. The paint finish (black) was even, the paint having an above-average degree of gloss. The interior trim was in leather (red) with some more visible signs of wear and ageing. The soft top (black) was in average condition. The inspection revealed no signs of previous damage on the body or frame. The car was also in technically good condition and in full running order.
All the main components were in working order. To recap, the Roadster was in good technical condition, while there was no damage on the bodywork. However, the numerous and, in some cases, highly visible signs of wear required action. Mercedes-Benz Classic therefore decided to acquire this vehicle as the basis for a frame-off restoration. In 2017 the Roadster was brought back to Germany and is currently being restored under the direction of Mercedes-Benz Classic. The scheduled completion date is 2019/20.
The full restoration included every vehicle component. The first phase of work involved separating the chassis and frame, taking out the powertrain with engine and transmission and removing all the other vehicle parts. The second phase assessed the condition, completeness and authenticity of all the components. In the third and most complex phase, all parts of the vehicle frame, vehicle body and powertrain were cleaned, reconditioned and/or renewed and reassembled. The space frame of the W 198 is one of the key vehicle components. Although it is extremely resistant to compression and tension, its strength can be affected by structural damage. During the full restoration, therefore, this component received special attention from experienced experts. The frame of the 300 SL was exposed, cleaned and shot-blasted. This was followed by an inspection for damage and a material analysis of the steel. Next, it was accurately measured and machined so that the frame met all the manufacturer’s specifications. To complete the work, the vehicle was repainted in black – just like in 1960.
This full restoration involved the powertrain with engine and transmission being disassembled down to the smallest individual part, tested and reconditioned. The main focus of this work was to preserve the existing fabric of the vehicle. In the interests of maximum possible authenticity, mechanical components were replaced only where absolutely necessary. In such cases, genuine Mercedes-Benz parts were used wherever possible.
To optimally preserve the fabric, and thus the value, of this classic car, great Attention had to be paid to detail. For example, those vehicle parts that were hidden or covered with leather were painted light beige in the colour of the primer. The metal in the engine compartment, on the other hand, was painted matt black. That is how it was done back in those days, and that is how the experts at Mercedes-Benz Classic still do it today. All the work, from disassembly, condition assessment and rebuilding to archive searches and authenticity checks by Mercedes-Benz Classic, is documented. A manufacturer’s expert opinion on authenticity is available and will be handed over to the purchaser of the vehicle. This certificate confirms the authenticity of this exceptional vehicle and guarantees the buyer that this is a genuine 300 SL Roadster. The purchase price includes 19% VAT.
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The legendary gullwing coupé was the first true sports-car to be developed by Daimler-Benz after the war. This development was initiated by Max Hoffman, a US-American citizen of Austrian extraction, who had been the official importer of Mercedes-Benz cars since September 1952. For the board of directors of Daimler-Benz, Hoffman’s plan to sell sportscars with the Mercedes star on the bonnet, was a welcome opportunity to open the US-market for Daimler-Benz and so they were easily persuaded: In September 1953 the development of two sports-car models was launched.The serial version of the 300 SL, which was presented as the result of this development in February 1954 at the “International Motor Sports Show” in New York, was based on the racing-car of the 1952 season. Its salient feature was taken from this racing-car, the unusual doors, which earned the car the nickname “gullwing” in English-speaking countries. This unusual design solution was not intended as a publicity stunt, but, as had been the case with the racing car, from a construction point of view, this was an absolute necessity. The tubular space frame, derived from the SL racing-car, which weighed a mere 50 kg, had the drawback that because of its overall height conventional doors were simply not feasible.The streamlined body concealed several other novelties: for the first time fuel injection was used in a serial car by Mercedes-Benz; this resulted in an increase of horse power of 40 hp as compared to the carburettor racing car model. The motor was inclined towards the side, in order to ensure a flat and streamlined front design. The lightweight construction – the complete car with spare tire, tools and fuel weighed only 1295 kg – led to the sensational driving performance of the 300 SL: Depending on rear axle transmission a maximum speed of 235 kph to 260 kph could be achieved.From August 1954 until May 1957 1,400 units were built in Sindelfingen, 29 of them with a light-alloy body and one test vehicle with a plastic body. This individual car with a glassfibre reinforced body can easily be recognized by two features: there are additional indicators on the front mud guards, which had also been carried over from the 220 a, and there were bigger gaps between its door panels, so that there is no flush surface when the doors are closed.At the Geneva Motor Show in March 1957, a roadster was presented as the successor of the gullwing model. Like its predecessor this was an initiative by Max Hoffman – he had urged Daimler-Benz for some time to build an open version of the 300 SL model, as in his view the sales opportunities for this kind of car to be particularly good.
Technically the roadster corresponded more or less to the coupé. By modifying lateral portions of the space frame entry height was so much reduced that normal doors could now be incorporated. Rear axle suspension was completely revised and improved: the single joint cross shaft axle of the 220 a with lowered pivot was adjusted and incorporated into the 300 SL Roadster. For the first time it was fitted with a compensating spring. Compared to the original jointed cross shaft axle of the gullwing coupé, the roadster delivered a far better performance.
From October 1958, a removable hardtop was available as special equipment at an extra cost of 1,500 DM. Remarkable features were the rear window, which extended far around the corners and the attractively styled design of the hardtop. Of the technical changes, which were undertaken during the following six years, two should be mentioned: In March 1961, the 300 SL model was fitted with Dunlop disk brakes at the front and rear wheels and from March 1962 a modified engine with a light-alloy block was incorporated.
A special version of the 300 SL Roadster should be mentioned at this point: the two 300 SLS models which were built for the American Sports Car Championship competition. The reason, why these special versions were built was the fact that, once production of the roadster had been started, the car was to be used in publicity sportscar competitions in order to boost sales. However, The “Sports Car Club of America” refused to admit the standard serial version of the car to the “standard production”-category during the 1957 season. In order to have a chance in the only possible sports car Category D, the serial roadster was trimmed down as much as possible and made into an SLS model. The exterior of the 300 SLS is characterised by missing bumpers, a special cockpit cover with air admission ducts, a small racing-type wind-screen and a roll bar behind the drivers seat. In any case, the work carried out by the Daimler-Benz testing department was successful: Paul O’Shea won the American Sports Car Championship in the Category D with a clear lead.
Production of the 300 SL and the 190 SL in Sindelfingen ceased on 8 February 1963. This date marks the end of an epoch for Daimler Benz: as the production of the 300 saloon had ceased in March 1962, this meant that there were no longer any cars with a separate chassis being produced. Both versions of the 300 SL, roadster and gullwing coupé, were collectors’ cars right from the start and still have not lost any of their fascination; they have been amongst the most sought after and valuable classic cars for many years now.