Presented by RM Sotheby's.
THE SPORTS CAR OF THE CENTURY
Since the dawn of automobile production, a truly outstanding model has appeared periodically to startle and capture the imagination of enthusiasts worldwide. There is perhaps no better example of this truth than the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing. What started as a streamlined design borrowing heavily from Porsche’s 1951 Le Mans Coupe quickly developed into one of the most distinctive and beautiful shapes ever rendered upon four wheels. The Gullwing’s stunning looks are matched only by its space-age engineering, incredible performance, and world-beating pedigree which earned its works-prepared variants convincing victories at many of the world’s premier sports car races between 1952 and 1956, including the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Carrera Panamericana, Mille Miglia, and Liège-Rome-Liège (as well as multiple SCCA and European Rally championships). The 300 SL Gullwing Coupe is, without doubt, the sports car of the century—an icon among all the post-war sports car designs which still captivate collectors today.
The rarified zenith of this model’s roadgoing development is the Leichtmetallausführung, or Light Metal Version—a brilliant example of which is offered here today. Commonly known as the “Alloy” Gullwing, it is unequivocally the ultimate production version of Mercedes-Benz’s most celebrated creation.
The Alloy Gullwing’s extremely limited availability and special, competition-bred configuration is equaled by its historical significance within the pantheon of post-war sports car designs. The chance to acquire such a storied car is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for most, and this important offering will surely engage all the world’s preeminent collectors who have yet to experience this exclusive model for themselves.
BRED FOR COMPETITION
All the most important race victories achieved by the 300 SL were, in fact, secured by one of these lightweight competition specimens of the model. Distinctive in many ways from their standard steel-bodied brethren, of which 1,400 examples were produced, these incredibly rare and historically significant Alloy coupes were purpose-built for competition.
The Alloy Gullwing was the brainchild of Mercedes-Benz Chief of Engineering Dr. Fritz Nallinger, who proposed a special 300 SL for retail to privateers at a board meeting in late February 1954. These coupes had their body panels and welded body shell rendered, uniquely, in aluminum. Except for the windshield, all cabin windows were optionally replicated in plexiglas. These changes resulted in an overall weight reduction of 209 pounds, thus making the Alloy Gullwing especially competitive against British and Italian sports cars such as the Aston Martin DB3S, Maserati A6GCS, as well as Ferrari’s 750 Monza and 250 GT.
These special cars were also outfitted with race-bred features including the high-performance NSL engine which utilizes a competition camshaft, higher compression, unique butterfly throttle valve, and recalibrated fuel distributor to deliver in excess of 215 horsepower. Rudge center-mount wheels came standard, as did special vented front brake drums. Finally, the suspension was revised with exclusive springs and shocks which provided better high-speed handling. With both a significant decrease in overall weight and increase in responsiveness, the improved performance of these Alloy cars is instantly discernable from behind the wheel. Mercedes-Benz greenlit production for February 1955 at the added cost of 5,000 DM per unit; factory records show just 29 examples were made available to privateers (24 in 1955, 5 in 1956).
Only very few of the world’s most significant collections currently contain an example of this important, competition-bred model—largely owing to its extreme scarcity and remarkable usability. Secondary-market availability is further diminished by owners who seem to never part with these prized chassis.
THE AFRICAN ALLOY
The 13th of just 24 Alloy Gullwings produced in 1955, chassis number 5500332 was ordered by official Mercedes-Benz agent Joseph F. Weckerlé of Casablanca, Morocco. As an accomplished racer in his own right, Weckerlé immediately appreciated the competitive intent of this exclusive model. A copy of its original data card shows that it was completed at Untertürkheim on 27 May 1955 and delivered new to Weckerlé two weeks later. It was fitted with all the requisite Leichtmetallausführung equipment and finished in Silver Gray Metallic (DB 180) over a blue vinyl/blue gabardine fabric interior (L1). Additional factory specifications include a full complement of desirable features such as the high-speed 3.42 rear axle with uprated metric 270-kph speedometer, Becker radio, and standard glass windows. It was the only Alloy example commissioned by Weckerlé, and as such, the sole specimen delivered new to Africa.
THE BEST GULLWING; LIFE WITH BRYAN
Early in its life, the “Weckerlé Alloy” was imported to the United States. By 1962, it had entered the ownership of Mercer D. Helms from Montgomery, Alabama. In 1975, Helms sold it to Jack F. Bryan Jr. of Dallas, Texas. Bryan immediately submitted the car to the world’s foremost 300 SL repair facility, Paul Russell and Company in Essex, Massachusetts (then operating under the name Gullwing Service Company in nearby Topsfield) for a complete restoration. An accompanying photo album illustrates the progress of Russell’s masterful team upon the body and mechanical components. This restoration work was completed in late 1979; handwritten work orders on file show a then-astronomical $45,000 ($172,000 in 2021 dollars) spent in returning this special Gullwing to roadgoing perfection.
Notably, damage to Alloy Gullwings is remarkably common as the aluminum is notoriously thin, and most examples were raced extensively in-period. Further, the bodies are known to deteriorate at the mounting points where aluminum meets steel. As a result, almost all lightweight examples have been reskinned or repaired at some point, though notes from this car’s 1975 restoration illustrate only minor aluminum stress repairs inside the engine bay. Per Russell’s exceedingly lofty appreciation for accuracy, Bryan’s prized 300 SL was faithfully clad in its factory-correct color combination and paired with a new trim-to-match luggage set. Incredibly, correspondence on file notes that upon completion, Jack Bryan picked up the car from Russell’s workshop and drove it all the way home to Dallas!
The quality of Russell’s work was immediately substantiated when the car was named the “Best Gullwing” at the Gullwing Group’s 1980 National Meeting. With such an exquisitely restored example of the rare Alloy Gullwing, it should come as no surprise that Bryan almost immediately began receiving inquiries on the car. By 1982, a sufficiently flush offer was secured from the then-president of the Gullwing Group, Hyatt Cheek. Cheek and Bryan were already well acquainted as fellow Dallasites, 300 SL collectors, and VIP clients of Paul Russell’s specialized workshop.
THIRTY YEARS OF HYATT
At the time that he acquired this car, Hyatt Cheek was also a director-at-large on the Mercedes-Benz Club of America’s National Board. Charming and uncommonly modest, Cheek was soon elected national president of the MBCA (1984-1986). An owner of many fine examples of Mercedes-Benz’s best models, Cheek did not let the rarified configuration of the Weckerlé Alloy prevent him from using the car. Event records show that he regularly drove it to MBCA and Gullwing Group events all over the country. He also completed several iterations of the famous Colorado Grand and Texas 1000 road rallies, in addition to those driving tours organized by the MBCA and Gullwing Group. Many of the car’s driving exploits with Cheek are covered by regular mentions in the member publications of each respective club.
In light of his consistent touring schedule, mechanical upkeep was the foremost concern during Cheek’s care; invoices on file show regular routine maintenance expenditures with Paul Russell and other marque specialists. After three decades of storied ownership by one of America’s foremost marque enthusiasts, this Alloy Gullwing was acquired by the consignor in 2014. Cheek’s longtime stewardship is indeed, par for the course for these special cars, and a much confirmed sentiment of this incredible model’s supreme usability and exhilarating performance.
THE MOST INCREDIBLE POST-WAR SPORTS CAR
While within the consignor’s care, chassis number 5500332 has been a closely guarded prize and the centerpiece of their outstanding collection.
Of course, the car’s original lightweight body and numbers-matching 3.0-liter NSL engine have been retained; they currently exhibit significant attention to factory-correct features throughout. One should expect such characteristics from this exemplar offering befitting its provenance and near-exclusive maintenance by Paul Russell’s famous workshop since 1975. Aside from this car’s rarity as an alloy-bodied Gullwing, its association with this restoration facility is a point of pride and desirability all its own.
For the discerning collector, it would be difficult to find a more desirable example than this numbers-matching car. After a recent drive, RM Specialists reported that the Alloy Gullwing is noticeably lighter on its feet, and the difference between it and a standard 300 SL is far more significant than one would expect. It stops quicker, the NSL engine gains and drops revs effortlessly, and all the other improvements give its driver an unparalleled experience.
This is one of the most sought-after and rarely seen Mercedes-Benzes in the world. There is perhaps no single post-war sports car more quintessential than the 300 SL Alloy Gullwing, and this storied example—which retains its numbers-matching NSL engine and original alloy body—is surely a trophy for any notable collection. Complemented by its fascinating provenance, this once-in-a-lifetime offering will surely engender high-stakes competition between the world’s foremost collectors of automobiles.View Listing