One of the most-significant and earliest Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwings goes to auction this week in Pebble Beach as Gooding & Company offers the first road-going 300 SL provided to a customer. That customer was none other than renowned American gentleman racer and competition-car builder Briggs Cunningham.
Only when 4500003 was fully disassembled and cataloged … did the entire scope of the car’s importance fully come to light.”[/pullquote]
Ahead of the car’s launch, Mercedes-Benz made arrangements for Cunningham to present the production version for potential customers on the race track.
In its catalog description, Gooding says, “According to factory records, 4500003 was one of a pair of 300 SLs invoiced from Sindelfingen on August 23, 1954, making them the first production 300 SL Gullwings to leave the factory, weeks ahead of the next completed cars.”
Cunningham took delivery of the Gullwing shortly thereafter and three days later demonstrated it at Watkins Glenn before an impressed crowd of racing fans.
After subsequent ownership by three dedicated SL drivers, the car was purchased in 2013 by the current consigner, who immediately handed it to top 300 SL authority Hans Kleissls’ HK-Engineering for a thorough restoration, Gooding said.
“Only when 4500003 was fully disassembled and cataloged by the restorers at HK did the entire scope of the car’s importance fully come to light,” Gooding’s catalog adds.
“It appears that 4500003 may have been hand built as a late pre-production car that was not initially intended for sale but was renumbered by the factory and prepared for the earliest possible shipment in order to fulfill Mr. Cunningham’s commitment to run the car on popular American racetracks.
“There are numerous physical differences present on 4500003 that are not found on even the earliest production examples,” Gooding notes, listing some of the details. For instance, “The overall length of the body is shorter than a standard Gullwing by a significant amount, an astonishing 55 mm.”
The restoration process included quite a bit of specialized research into this unique car.
“Hundreds of hours have been spent by HK-Engineering and 300 SL authorities not only to return this irreplaceable Gullwing to its original glory, but also to document the myriad subtle differences between 4500003 and the Gullwings built on the assembly line,” Gooding says.
The Gullwing still has its original service book and an early typewritten copy of the operating manual, both of them bearing the signature of B.G. Cunningham.
The car has not been seen in public for nearly 40 years, Gooding added, and its auction will be the first time it has been offered for public sale.
This one-of-a-kind example of early 300 SL history comes at quite a premium, with Gooding placing its pre-auction estimate at $3.5 million. That’s nearly three times the value of less-illustrious production Gullwings.
The Gooding & Company auction takes place August 16-17 in Pebble Beach.