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  • The Mercedes-Benz 30 SL “Gullwing“ (W 198) on a road in Arizona.
    1

    1,000 miles through Arizona with the 300 SL Roadster.

    Text: Ben Abrams

Gloriously winding canyon road.

On a mild November day without a cloud in the sky, I’m driving a 1957 300 SL Roadster on a gloriously winding Arizona canyon road. There’s a stillness to the Grand Canyon state, much of it feels either untouched or left behind by the passing of time. At night, the skies reveal more stars than I’m used to seeing and more sounds than I’m used to hearing. Normally, when I’m driving here, I’m in an air-conditioned rental car and I slow down to enjoy the smooth pavement, taking in the vistas and vastness of the desert. On this visit however, the other-worldly landscape and very smooth roads cause me to pedal down and become one “at speed” with the open top vintage sports car.

The Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Roadster (W 198) with a view of a 300 SL "Gullwing".
The Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Roadster (W 198) in red on a country road in Arizona.

Matching the speed.

I’ve been behind the wheel for 4 hours now and, if I must find something to complain about, my lips are starting to chap from the dry air. My scalp tingles from the wind blasting over the windshield as another 1957 300 SL Roadster drives up from behind matching my speed in the next lane. Mike Kunz, the man at the helm of the Mercedes-Benz Classic Center, and Michael Bock, the director of Mercedes-Benz Sport & Lifestyle Marketing and its representative for the Circle of Excellence, are in the cockpit. They’re driving a very original car recently acquired from single family ownership, “shaking it down” before they bring it back to the Classic Center in Irvine, CA to prep for restoration and re-sale.

  • The Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Roadster (W 198) and the 300 SL "Gullwing" in a parking lot in Arizona.

The “300 SL Classic” road rally.

I’m co-driving with Constantin von Kageneck from the Classic Center, and our car belongs to the Mercedes-Benz Classic Collection in Stuttgart. I have been invited to participate in the inaugural “300 SL Classic”, a Mercedes-Benz sponsored road rally that brought together these very special cars and their passionate owners to do one thing – drive gorgeous roads all around the world. For 5 days and 1,000 miles driving alongside 47 300 SL “Gullwing” Coupés and Roadsters, I couldn’t stop pinching myself.

The Coupé is a halo car for any discerning car enthusiast, an icon of motorsport and design that broke the mold on a new kind of sports car, changing the face of Mercedes-Benz in America, and leaving a permanent mark on generations of car enthusiasts to come. The Roadster is no slouch. It has not only caught up to the Coupé in value, but also shares much of the design language and driving dynamism of its winged-door big brother. At dinner, a sun-drenched, wind-blown Mike smiles as he says: “You can’t place this car in a time period. It’s just as beautiful and sporting today as it was 60 years ago.”

The Mercedes-Benz 300 SL "Gullwing" (W 198) with open doors on a parking lot.

Designed by an individual engineer.

The 300 SL Classic is the brainchild of Gullwing owner Tom Thornhill. Tom is fascinated with what he calls the “slide rule and drafting table era of racing”. Tom’s dad, who used to race Jaguars and Porsches in the Fifties, was the one who turned him onto the 300 SL, calling the car “complex, but not delicate.” Tom is one of those guys who is very smart about many different things; you can very clearly see Tom’s eyes light up a little bit brighter when he talks about maintaining his car. “They were designed by an individual engineer, not a committee, and I can’t help but want to connect to that.”

Crafting an experience.

A veteran of other vintage road rallies, he wanted to craft an experience specifically for fellow 300 SL owners. When I asked him what goes into making a great rally he replied: “It’s simple, really. Good friends, great cars, and incredible roads.” Tom wanted to develop a format giving people a window into these cars as a product of a different time, and it seems to have already stuck. Tom was delighted when a driver reported that the 300 SL Classic enabled him for the first time to drive his car at “a proper clip”. And so, the next two years of the rally have already been planned, exploring different but equally magical American roads.

The Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Roadster (W 198) in various versions in the evening.
Several Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Roadster (W 198) at sunset in a parking lot.

Badges of honour.

One may see a driving event like this and think the participants must only do this on rare occasions. Surely, they must be more comfortable in penny loafers nestled atop freshly cut concours lawns. Right? I realize that couldn’t be further from the truth. Every single driver understands what’s entailed in caretaking for these unique machines. Most cars wear stickers from other high mileage rallies like badges of honour. Participants ship their cars all over the world for the opportunity to drive them. And they bring their families, passing on the spirit to future generations. Many drove to the start of this event and, after the SL Classic adds another 1,000 to their odometer, they will drive home and start planning for the next driving event.

Classic Center support.

Everyone I spoke to at the event, from organizers to participants, remarked how crucial it was to have the support from the Classic Center. Support cars were omnipresent, skilled technicians were on call for inspections or late night repairs, and a mechanic’s liaison made sure that drivers had immediate access to the techs and, if necessary, to one of the three Mercedes-AMG E 63 S loaner cars. Car support came with driver and co-driver support and with comfy hotels, luggage porters, lunch on the road, and buffet dinners each night, all participants were well looked after.

Mercedes-AMG E 63 S 4MATIC+:
Kraftstoffverbrauch kombiniert: 8,7–8,6 l/100 km;
CO₂-Emissionen kombiniert: 200-197 g/km.1

Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Roadster (W 198) and 300 SL "Gullwing" in the evening in a parking lot.
  • The Mercedes-Benz 300SL "Gullwing" (w 198) on a country road in Arizona.

The Circle of Excellence.

The Circle of Excellence’s involvement in this event was an obvious fit. It is comprised of 7,500 members around the world, and growing. If you’re an eligible member, there is no cost and you’re granted access to once-in-a-lifetime, handcrafted experiences such as private collection tours, VIP race experiences, and G-Class safaris.

If you want deeper connection to the three-pointed star, the COE provides connection with corporate brass or board members in Stuttgart. These 300 SL owners, as Michael Bock says, are “the best brand ambassadors we have” and thus, the 300 SL Classic can now claim the title of first vintage driving event supported by the COE, as all participants are now inducted into the Circle.

Several Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Roadster (W 198) in a parking lot in the Arizona desert at sunset.

Laureus Sport for Good Foundation.

On the final night, an auction is held with all proceeds benefiting the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation. Laureus is a global movement that celebrates the power of sport to bring people together as a force for good. The Laureus Sport for Good Foundation supports more than 100 sports-based community programmes in 35 countries to combat social challenges facing children and young people, such as violence and crime, discrimination, lack of education, unemployment and preventable diseases.

Passionate about giving.

Tom insists that this venture is “not all about self” and these participants are just as passionate about giving as they are about driving, raising $60K for the Foundation which has already touched the lives of one million under-served youth around the world. Nadia Comaneci, five-time Olympic gold medalist, was an unexpected guest of honour, talking about the impactful work she does with Laureus.

A Mercedes-Benz 300 SL "gullwing door" (W 198) on a country road.
The Mercedes-Benz 300 SL "Gullwing"(W 198) while driving on a road in the Arizona desert.

Automotive icons.

As my lips finally begin to heal and my scalp has stopped tingling, I get ready to head back to the airport. But I can’t help wandering back into the parking lot to absorb the magnificent cars one last time. Trying to process the last 5 days will take some time. Bucket list stuff, folks. And the cars – automotive icons sitting dirty after a week well driven, yet glistening in the Arizona sunshine, ready to be fired back up and keep going. They seem to be smiling after a week of driving. I know I definitely am.

Text: Ben Abrams, eGarage

Kraftstoffverbrauch kombiniert CO₂-Emissionen kombiniert Stromverbrauch im kombinierten Testzyklus

Product may vary after press date on 21.12.2018.

1 Die angegebenen Werte wurden nach dem vorgeschriebenen Messverfahren ermittelt. Es handelt sich um die „NEFZ-CO₂-Werte“ i. S. v. Art. 2 Nr. 1 Durchführungsverordnung (EU) 2017/1153. Die Kraftstoffverbrauchswerte wurden auf Basis dieser Werte errechnet. Der Stromverbrauch wurde auf der Grundlage der VO 692/2008/EG ermittelt. Weitere Informationen zum offiziellen Kraftstoffverbrauch und den offiziellen spezifischen CO₂-Emissionen neuer Personenkraftwagen können dem „Leitfaden über den Kraftstoffverbrauch, die CO₂-Emissionen und den Stromverbrauch aller neuen Personenkraftwagenmodelle“ entnommen werden, der an allen Verkaufsstellen und bei der Deutschen Automobil Treuhand GmbH unter www.dat.de unentgeltlich erhältlich ist.

2 Die angegebenen Werte sind die „gemessenen NEFZ-CO₂-Werte“ i. S. v. Art. 2 Nr. 2 Durchführungsverordnung (EU) 2017/1153, die im Einklang mit Anhang XII der Verordnung (EG) Nr. 692/2008 ermittelt wurden. Die Kraftstoffverbrauchswerte wurden auf Basis dieser Werte errechnet. Der Stromverbrauch wurde auf der Grundlage der VO 692/2008/EG ermittelt. Aufgrund gesetzlicher Änderungen der maßgeblichen Prüfverfahren können in der für die Fahrzeugzulassung und ggf. Kfz-Steuer maßgeblichen Übereinstimmungsbescheinigung des Fahrzeugs höhere Werte eingetragen sein. Weitere Informationen zum offiziellen Kraftstoffverbrauch und den offiziellen spezifischen CO₂-Emissionen neuer Personenkraftwagen können dem „Leitfaden über den Kraftstoffverbrauch und die CO₂-Emissionen neuer Personenkraftwagen“ entnommen werden, der an allen Verkaufsstellen und bei der Deutschen Automobil Treuhand GmbH unter www.dat.de unentgeltlich erhältlich ist.

4 Angaben zu Kraftstoffverbrauch, Stromverbrauch und CO₂-Emissionen sind vorläufig und wurden vom Technischen Dienst für das Zertifizierungsverfahren nach Maßgabe des WLTP-Prüfverfahrens ermittelt und in NEFZ-Werte korreliert. Eine EG-Typgenehmigung und Konformitätsbescheinigung mit amtlichen Werten liegen noch nicht vor. Abweichungen zwischen den Angaben und den amtlichen Werten sind möglich.

6 Stromverbrauch und Reichweite wurden auf der Grundlage der VO 692/2008/EG ermittelt. Stromverbrauch und Reichweite sind abhängig von der Fahrzeugkonfiguration.