Exquisite cars such as these deserve a grand stage: On this day in October 2015 only automotive classics from Mercedes-Benz are parked in front of the Union Station Hotel in Nashville. A hundred years ago this major transportation hub was one of the most important train stations in the southern states, but now it is a hotel. This is where the Mercedes-Benz club named Gull Wing Group International comes together for its annual convention. The collectors show off their automotive gems: 300 SL Coupés and 300 SL Roadsters have come here from all over America.
Around 60 years after its presentation in 1954, the 300 SL Gullwing has long been regarded as an automotive legend. Its successor, the 300 SL Roadster, is also among the most coveted classics worldwide. In the Gull Wing Group, owners and enthusiasts have been safeguarding the heritage of these exquisite models since 1961. The club has 625 members in the USA, Canada and other countries of the world.
“Formerly the main purpose of our meetings was to discuss technical matters: nowadays we have an online forum for this,” says club president Rich Rose. Nonetheless, the annual convention of the Gull Wing Group continues to be a first-class address for enthusiasts wanting to get into conversation with owners and experts. Owners are happy to open the hood so that visitors can admire the technology beneath. Just for club members the program includes a workshop in the Lane Motor Museum and a tour to the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville.
Many enthusiasts polish their cars to a high sheen for the convention. Frank and Beverly Spellman do things differently: they have all the original documentation and accessories for their Roadster. The trunk contains the very same luggage items that the car’s first owners took with them on a six-month tour of Europe before the “White Dove” was shipped to the USA. The nickname originates from that time: the 300 SL was named “La Paloma Blanca” because of its paint finish in DB 50.
Tom Hanson has made his way here from California. He is the replacement parts specialist at the Mercedes-Benz Classic Center in Irvine, and a popular source of advice for collectors. Some ask this expert for hints on overhauling the in-line six-cylinder engine, or the injection pump. Others need parts for the braking system. “We are able to meet 95 percent of requests. And when a car comes to us for restoration, we replicate even very complex parts according to the original drawings,” Hanson explains.
The 300 SL Coupé and 300 SL Roadster are extraordinarily valuable automobiles. Collectors now pay several million euros at auctions for the particularly rare Gullwings with aluminum bodywork, of which only 29 examples were built. Those tempted to lock their early examples of the SL series away in a garage in view of their value are not doing themselves any favours, however. “Movement is the best medicine for classic cars,” says Tom Hanson. “The car should be used and brought to its normal operating temperature at least once per week.”
One of the Gullwing owners enjoys his automotive gem on precisely this principle. For Siegfried Linke it goes without saying that his 300 SL will make the journey to the Gull Wing Group convention under its own power. Linke lives in the US state of Washington: the journey to Nashville and back in his 300 SL dating from 1957 is no less than 5500 miles. “I have had no problems so far. It’s only the speed restrictions that are irritating: the car only starts to feel really happy at 80 to 90 miles per hour.”
Joel Morris is the holder of another record: he has owned his black 300 SL Coupé since as long as 1957. He purchased the car from the importer, Max Hoffman in New York: it was a demonstration car with 6000 miles on the clock. “I had to scrape together all the money I had. In the end my grandmother lent me another 400 dollars, that’s the only way I managed it.” Morris is a co-founder of the Nashville section of Mercedes-Benz Club of America, and still drives his classic car through the hills of Tennessee.
The members’ tour for the Gull Wing Group Convention goes through Nashville and out into the countryside. From Broadway in “Music City” with its clubs and honky-tonk bars it heads for the imposing Parthenon, a replica of the original in Greece. The sports cars sweep past the fine residences in the suburb of Belle Meade. Then things become rural: the 300 SLs are able to make the most of their attributes on winding country roads. Their destination is Lynchburg, where the famous Jack Daniel’s whiskey is distilled.
Rene Schaer already took part in the first annual convention of the Gull Wing Group in 1969, and has hardly missed one since: “We were enthusiasts, and we still are. Many of the cars are still washed using a hosepipe – but many collectors use a toothbrush to clean their pride and joy.” Many exquisite 300 SLs will once again sparkle in the sun in 2016. The name of the venue makes this practically obligatory: the next Gull Wing Group Convention will take place in September 2016, in Sun Valley, Idaho.