The early SLs like
Sam’s had a swing-
axel rear suspension
that required a deli-
cate touch, especially
in fast corners.
However, Mt. Equinox
was mostly hairpins
and Sam planned to
get through them in
2nd gear, turn, let the
SL’s rear end loose,
floor the accelerator
at the corner’s apex,
and exit in a smooth slide with a touch of opposite lock. By pure luck, the
SL’s gearing for the straights was as if the car had been designed for the
And the result of the race, Sam and Jim won the class, a trophy, four
glass goblets hand painted with pictures of geese whose outstretched
wings echoed the SL’s doors. SLs were mentioned in almost everyone’s
top 10 cars to own, and in the 1970s they began to rise in value. At first,
Sam paid little attention as he thought it a passing fad. For Sam, his SL
had sentimental value.
In 1982 when Sam’s first son was born, his child’s first ride home from
the hospital was in the SL. As a matter of fact, a sure way to have the
child sleep was when he rode in the back seat of the SL (the kid had
good taste too!). Needless to say, the Mercedes saw much use during
the baby’s first summer.
Although the SL was showing its age with the start of the windshield’s
rubber seals beginning to crack and the headliner beginning to sag, the
SL’s magic still remained. The Mercedes’ engineers had designed a
body shape that remained fresh and original through several generations.
The car’s history and how it had been built was a statement by Mercedes
as to how the company was rising from the ashes of WWII demanded
Sam then asked Bob Akin to do a modest restoration on the SL. The car
eventually went to Paul Russell, the best 300 SL restored in the business
at the time. The SL came back to Sam looking much the same but it dove
with an assurance that he had forgotten.
Then a short time later after the SL’s return, someone offered Sam the
type of money it took to buy a house. The senior Sam had promised
the car to his son, however, with the numbers floating around for SLs
at the auctions, Sam saw the car in a new light and the days of running
it through the farm fields were indeed over!
When Sam showed the car to visitors, it brought expressions of reverence.
A friend of John’s, Don Brewslauer, asked if he could do regular mainten-
ance on the car.
Sam had the opportunity to ride in his SL as a passenger. He realize
that the car drove with the same verve and confidence as when he and
his mom took the car out for a test drive so long ago. As it was an early
fall day, the low light turned the passing trees into lanterns of gold and
amber. Inside the car, the red leather glowed and the headliner was the
color of wheat. Shadows flickered across the car’s hood. And amidst
the sound and fury of the SL’s straight 6-cylinder engine and 4-speed
manual transmission, John realized that in its day, the SL was one of the
fastest production cars in the world. However, with its 0-60 time of 7.2
seconds, by modern standards, it is rather slow as many mid-priced
imports will provide such performance.
It has been over 50 years now for the original Mercedes-Benz 300 SL
Gullwing. We surely expect new sports cars to provide rawer perfor-
mance as we expect new records from today’s athletes. But there is
a subjective realm measured in emotion and significance, and here the
original SL stands out in as a great car – not only in its time, but now,
and also tomorrow.
A Masterpiece happened! Vitruvius would have said of the original
Mercedes 300 SL Gullwing – it had Firmness, Commodity, Delight …
and Gullwing doors. And today’s cars have?
And how would I have changed the look of the new Mercedes-Benz SLS
AMG Gullwing? The new Gullwing has squared front outer fenders with
rectangle headlights. Today it is relatively easy from auto manufacturers
to shape fenders to any form. On the new Gullwing, I would have had the
front fenders start out square (like they are now) from the windshield, but
half way to the front, I would have the fender start to go from being square
to becoming round. And when the fender ends at the grille, it would be
entirely round (similar to the original 300 SL Gullwing). I would have
given the new Gullwing round headlights like the original. The rest of the
car would remain the same.
To go to part one visit: Masterpieces happen: The Mercedes-Benz
300 SL and its boy ‘dreams’ owner.
To read my article on the new Gullwing visit: 2011 Mercedes-Benz
SLS AMG: Gullwing greatness soars again.
Have an auto question or comment? You can email it to me at
Kbusch3@verizon.net. Kyle Busch is the author of “Drive the Best
for the Price…” www.DriveTheBestBook.com.