Star on their bonnet.

Many of the most spectacular sports cars of all time featured gullwing doors – and some of these proudly bear the star on their bonnet. The history of unique Mercedes-Benz gullwing vehicles launched with the 300 SL and included both the C 111 experimental vehicle as well as the SLS AMG – and further models are definitely on the cards.

There are many sports cars. Elements such as its powerful engine, performance, design and the brand itself are crucial criteria in determining whether or not a sports car is successful. 

Finding your favourite amongst these three gullwing-design vehicles is not easy – each one is desirable in its very own way.

It is and remains a legend: the W 198 model series 300 SL. What not many know is that roadster sales exceeded gullwing sales figures.

The world’s racing circuits.

One of the most spectacular sports cars of all time is the W 198 model series 300 SL. Developed in 1952 as a racing car, the 300 SL (W 194) dominated the world’s racing circuits and claimed victories at Le Mans, Bern, the Nürburgring or the gruelling Carrera Panamera. At its world premiere in as early as February 1954, the 300 SL already enthralled visitors to the International Motorsports Show in New York as a series production vehicle – now bearing the internal model designation W 198. Its proportions, the powerful six-cylinder in-line engine generating 158 kW / 215 PS and its unconventional design with upward-swinging doors attracted the attention of onlookers. The world had never seen a sports car like this before – not in the US nor anywhere else. 

Open the doors wide: the spectacular Mercedes-Benz gullwing trio. Genuine dream cars.

Countless records.

The 300 SL stood out from the crowd not only because of its design, but also because of technical innovations, such as the powerful three-litre six-cylinder engine, the intricate tubular space frame design or particularly the gullwing doors granting unconventional access to the vehicle interior. After an open-top variant, the 300 SL Roadster, succeeded the 300 SL Gullwing in 1957, it took many years until a vehicle bearing the star would once again catch the attention of the public with its gullwing doors. 

With the C 111 it was once again a supersports car, but not a series production vehicle. The C 111 may have claimed countless records on racing and test circuits, but it never competed in actual races. At the 1969 International Motor Show in Frankfurt the world premiere of the C 111 in a weissherbst livery – a colour that was fashionable at the time – proved to be a real jaw-dropper for visitors.

The C 111 was planned as a fully fledged experimental vehicle, marking the start to various automotive trade fairs. It celebrated its premiere in autumn 1969 at the International Motor Show in Frankfurt/Main.

Purely an experimental vehicle.

A low-profile orange sports car, the sight of which was enough to make one dream of racing to success like the one-of-a-kind Ford GT 40. Hardly surprising that, immediately after this automotive trade fair on the river Main in autumn, a series of blank cheques arrived at Mercedes-Benz Group’s head office, because so many people wanted to order the dream car – no matter what it would cost them. However, the 4.40 metre long and 1.10 metre high gullwing design was not intended at all to follow the 1950s sports car legend that was the 300 SL. The C 111 was purely an experimental vehicle intended to test new technologies. It was not just focussed on testing different drive concepts like Wankel rotary, diesel or petrol engines, but also centred around other elements, such as retractable headlamps, new (composite) materials and, last, but not least, gullwing doors. Its designer: a young Bruno Sacco.

Unique Sacco styling.

There were different generations of the C 111, whereby the best known one is variant II, which celebrated its premiere at the Geneva Motor Show in the spring of 1970. Compared with the 1969 IAA debut, it had a completely different front end and different detailed improvements. However, the C 111 made a name for itself not only thanks to its unique Sacco styling, but more importantly with the Wankel rotary drive which ultimately powered eleven of a total of fifteen of the hand-built C 111. Whilst the 1969 IAA car had a triple-rotor Wankel engine with an output of 206 kW / 280 PS, the two-seater was upgraded in the winter of 69/70 by a further rotor to produce 257 kW / 350 PS, which gave the C 111-II a top speed of up to 300 km/h.

The three gullwing vehicles’ lines are a pleasure to look at – however, their driving performance is just as impressive.

The SLS was the first vehicle AMG developed independently. It is not just the Black Series top-of-the-range model that has already become a sought-after classic today.

Getting in and out was considerably easier.

Many could not believe their eyes when Mercedes-Benz presented the SLS AMG at the 2009 edition of the Frankfurt-based International Motor Show, as it had been the first vehicle with a gullwing design in a long time. The SLS AMG was the first Mercedes-Benz series production car to once again feature gullwing doors since the 1950s. Getting in and out of the vehicle was considerably easier than in the 300 SL (W 198) back in the day and, if the worst came to the worst, the hinges would have been blasted off to make it possible to climb out of the vehicle in the event of a potential rollover. 

Superb drive.

In 2009, high tech met spectacular sports car design and a superb drive. On a side note: the gullwing vehicle of the modern era was the first car Mercedes-AMG developed completely independently. Compared with its two “predecessors”, the SLS AMG – which would later also be available as a roadster, just like the 300 SL – was driven by a 6.2-litre V8 naturally aspirated engine that initially generated 420 kW / 571 PS and propelled the gullwing-design vehicle to a top speed of up to 317 km/h with its dual clutch transmission, a technology that had been integrated for the very first time. 

Bygone days and modern era – the models could not be more different and yet they share more similarities than ever before.

Around the banked curve of the circuit in a triad – making the three gullwing vehicles seem even more spectacular.

The spectacular gullwing doors.

While the makers of the first gullwing-design vehicle relied on a tubular space frame made of steel, the SLS AMG’s backbone is a high-strength, but simultaneously lightweight aluminium space frame. The outer panelling is also made of aluminium, something that had been reserved for only very few of the original models back in the day. Nowadays these particular models are very valuable. Black Series models, unveiled in 2013, with genuine racing genes and an M 159 type 6.2-litre naturally aspirated engine in the E 63 evolution stage, generating 464 kW / 631 PS, were even more spectacular than the conventional SLS AMG or the GT Coupé and Roadster versions with an output of 435 kW / 591 PS. Even more unconventional, but considerably more silent, yet hardly any less emotional is the SLS AMG E-Cell experimental vehicle, which was later even launched in small-scale series production as the SLS Electric Drive featuring four electric motors that generated 552 kW / 751 PS and 1,000 newton metres of torque. The element that all SLS versions shared were the spectacular gullwing doors. We look forward to more!