April: Blue wing.

Mercedes-Benz Classic Calendar 2015
  • Classic calendar 2015 – April

  • Blue wing.

    Restoration work at the Mercedes-Benz Classic Service Center uncovered a UNIQUE VEHICLE: a 300 SL with a Bavarian blue aluminum body.

    Bavarian blue is a special color. This is the blue of the lozenges in the coat of arms of the southern German free state. It’s the blue over the Allgäu Alps and Neuschwanstein Castle when the wind suddenly scatters the clouds to reveal the sky. Bavarian blue was a surprising color also for Adrian Gattiker, a 55-year-old businessman and owner of a 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL. Until he decided to have the car thoroughly restored at the Mercedes-Benz Classic Service Center in Fellbach, he was the owner of a red Mercedes-Benz 300 SL from 1955.

    The special paint color DB 374, used only for a few Mercedes-Benz cars in the 1950s, was not the only surprise awaiting the Swiss Adrian Gattiker, who had acquired the 300 SL with the chassis number 198 043-55 00441 in May 2008 from its previous owners, an architect and his wife from Gstaad. Gattiker was prepared for surprise number two though, because the chassis number of his car indicated that it was one of only 29 coupés from the W 198 series which had a body made of aluminum, and not sheet steel, fashioned to fi t its tubular spaceframe.

    The expert opinion requested from the Mercedes-Benz Classic Service Center in advance of full-scale restoration confi rmed what had been suspected: Gattiker’s 300 SL is an aluminum- bodied Gullwing. The special bodywork was released for production in a small series of ten units in June 1954 by Technical Director Fritz Nallinger “at the request of Export”. In January 1955 the head of Development and the motorsport section, Rudolf Uhlenhaut, asked that the number of units be increased to 25 to enhance the competitiveness in the production sports car class with the lighter aluminum 300 SL. In all, 29 Coupé models with a lightalloy body eventually were manufactured: 26 in 1955 and three more in 1956.

    However, until the restoration in Fellbach, which took ten months, Adrian Gattiker’s Gullwing was on the road with one of the heavier steel bodies: probably as the result of an accident, back in 1956 the original body was replaced by a standard body whose manufacturer’s number likewise is documented in the Mercedes-Benz Classic Archives. But the vita of this unique 300 SL no longer can be fully reconstructed. The vehicle, in the light-alloy version, with special highgloss paint fi nish, engine with special parts BA 10018, disc wheels with Rudge hubs, bumpers with overriders, plus a set of suitcases was earmarked for delivery to Georgetown, British Guiana.

    Body replaced in 1956.

    The car left the factory on June 23, 1955, according to the Archive records “on its own four wheels, driven by the customer”. However, it apparently was never taken overseas but brought directly to Switzerland, where duty was paid on it in Geneva. In Switzerland, in the following year the aluminum body was replaced by the steel body, which was painted red. And so it was not until after restoration work had begun in early summer 2013 that traces of the original paintwork were found on the exposed dashboard. The owner and the Mercedes-Benz Classic project manager Michael Plag quickly agreed to reconstruct the original paintwork. Not only does that make this Gullwing a unique specimen: above all else Adrian Gattiker fi nds it “incredibly beautiful”. Another important decision was jointly made by the owner and the Mercedes-Benz Classic Center experts: the Gullwing was to get an aluminum body as in 40 Mercedes-Benz Classic the condition in which it was delivered.

    Adrian Gattiker had in fact managed, after a long search, to fi nd the original aluminum body that his car once had, but it had been lying in a barn for 45 long years and was no longer fi t for use. It now graces the wall of Gattiker’s garage, while for the chassis a new body was made — identical with the original down to the sheet thickness, ribs and grooves, rivets and reinforcements.

    A remarkable feat was achieved with the dashboard: in many weeks of manual work, a shop specializing in art restoration removed the paint layers applied in 1956 and exposed the original DB 374 Bavarian blue paint. Finally, based on the samples taken from there, the bright blue paint was reconstructed which has now been adorning Gattiker’s 300 SL again since the restoration.

    In only ten months’ time

    While the body was taking shape, the Classic Service Center had to deal with an ambitious timetable: within ten months — precisely in time for its debut at the Mille Miglia in May 2014 — the car was to be completely restored. First, the Gullwing was completely dismantled and the chassis examined bit by bit. The engine and transmission were reworked; the cylinder block was specially honed and the injection system optimized for sporting use. For the reconditioning of the suspension, sports shock absorbers and springs adapted to the lower weight of the light-alloy body were used. Adrian Gattiker’s wish was that it should be noticeable that his car was almost 60 years old. In consultation with the experts from the Classic Service Center, visible traces of use were left as they were, as long as they did not impair the operational safety of the SL.

    In only ten months’ time

    While the body was taking shape, the Classic Service Center had to deal with an ambitious timetable: within ten months — precisely in time for its debut at the Mille Miglia in May 2014 — the car was to be completely restored. First, the Gullwing was completely dismantled and the chassis examined bit by bit. The engine and transmission were reworked; the cylinder block was specially honed and the injection system optimized for sporting use. For the reconditioning of the suspension, sports shock absorbers and springs adapted to the lower weight of the light-alloy body were used. Adrian Gattiker’s wish was that it should be noticeable that his car was almost 60 years old. In consultation with the experts from the Classic Service Center, visible traces of use were left as they were, as long as they did not impair the operational safety of the SL.

    A remarkable feat was achieved with the dashboard: in many weeks of manual work, a shop specializing in art restoration removed the paint layers applied in 1956 and exposed the original DB 374 Bavarian blue paint. Finally, based on the samples taken from there, the bright blue paint was reconstructed which has now been adorning Gattiker’s 300 SL again since the restoration.

    Debut at 2014 Mille Miglia.

    Adrian Gattiker was impressed by his first driving impressions and after the 1,700 kilometers of the 2014 Mille Miglia: “You sit in the car for many hours and still stay concentrated; you’re not exhausted when you get out.” That was exactly the intention when the 300 SL sports car was conceived: a perfect synthesis of engine power, long-distance comfort, aerodynamics and reliability.

    And this is how its owner wants to do it justice: “The car belongs on the road — with all due respect for this wonderfully restored one-of-a-kind.”

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