1957 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Roadster
This exceedingly rare Mercedes-Benz is 1 of only 27 300SL Roadsters delivered new with Rudge ‘knock-off’ wheels and is the beneficiary of a multiple concours winning restoration in its original color combination of DB 40 black paint over 1068 natural leather. Retaining all five of its original, date-coded 300SL Roadster-specific Rudge wheels along with its original Karl Baisch suitcases, this magnificent open W198 is nothing less than a benchmark example of the legendary 300SL. Never before offered for sale publicly, this famous German export is worthy of consideration for inclusion in any collection as a Mercedes-Benz centerpiece.
Apex Spec 300SL Roadster
The ability to have Rudge “knock-off” wheels fitted to a 300SL Roadster when it was delivered new was a special order option continued over from the 300SL “Gullwing” Coupe production run. Of the 1400 Gullwings produced between 1954 and 1957, estimates suggest that around 350 of them, or 25%, were delivered new with the racing inspired, center-locking Rudge wheels installed. 300SL Roadsters delivered new with these special wheels, however, were far more rare. Of the 1858 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Roadsters produced between 1957 and 1963, a mere 27 of them, less than 1.5% of the total Roadster production, were delivered new with the now ultra-desirable option of Rudges. So rare are 300SL Roadsters delivered new with Rudge wheels, that the known number of these specially optioned cars produced by Mercedes-Benz is less than that of aluminum bodied 300SL Gullwings, of which 29 are currently known. From a collectibility standpoint, the “Factory Rudge” designation is indeed the rarest and most coveted original option for the W198 Roadster model, and by a significant margin.
In addition to factory Rudge wheel Roadster examples being significantly rarer than factory Rudge Gullwings, the wheels themselves are also different in size. Whereas the Gullwing Rudge wheels are 5 inches in width, the Roadster Rudge wheels are larger at 5.5 inches, giving them a wider footprint, and thus, better grip to the road. The wheel faces of original Roadster Rudges are also distinctively stamped with “300SLRO”, further differentiating them from the Gullwing wheels that came before them. As it would turn out, 1957 would be the final full production year for the fitting of Rudge or other knock-off wheels to new cars in Germany. In 1958, new German transportation laws prohibited the use of these “knock-off” wheels, affecting not only Mercedes-Benz but also other famous German manufacturers such as BMW and Porsche. The manner in which these special “knock-off” wheels transform the presence of a 300SL is of such desirability today that aftermarket reproduction versions of the original Rudge wheels have been manufactured at great expense and have been fitted to hundreds of 300SL Roadsters that otherwise originally came fitted with standard bolt-on hubcap wheels. The precious few examples special ordered new with Rudge wheels are standard bearers within the Mercedes-Benz 300SL Roadster production run, most now residing as permanent fixtures in the some of world’s finest collections. Very rarely do they come about as for sale.
According to the factory data card, chassis 7500364 shipped from Mercedes-Benz at Stuttgart on November 5th, 1957, exporting from Germany via the port at Hamburg. The car was directly imported to the United States by way of American distributor Studebaker Packard of South Bend, Indiana as a US market example with sealed-beam headlights as well as instruments in English. Of particular with respect to this special 300SL’s significance and rarity, it is confirmed by the data card that this special order German export was delivered new with Rudge wheels, making it, as noted above, 1 of just 27 examples produced by Mercedes-Benz with this specification. All 5 of the original Rudge wheels, still retained by the car today including the spare, are a fully matching set date-stamped with “9/57”, denoting their creation in September of 1957.
This special order 300SL Roadster was originally dressed as it is today in DB 040 schwarz (black) paint with 1068 leder naturfarben (natural leather, tan) interior. In addition to the striking color combination, the car came equipped when new with luxurious, matching luggage in the form of Karl Baisch suitcases fitted for the trunk-space, a rare accessory also still retained by the car today. As if being delivered new with Rudges and Baisch luggage were not enough, this Roadster has also been blessed since early in its life with a factory hard top, making it not only one of the most well equipped 300SL’s in the world as it pertains to original specification, but also rare amongst 1957 model 300SL Roadsters given that hardtops were not available until 1958. It is believed that only 2 of the 27 factory Rudge wheel 300SL Roadsters produced are equipped with a factory hard top today, our example offered here being one of the two.
The first owner of record for this exemplary 300SL is Alexander Jeffries of the Georgetown section of Washington, DC. On June 14th, 1976, Jefferies sold chassis 7500364 for a sum of $4,750 to the founder of Sun Motors, a gentleman named Irwin Blass of Arlington, Virginia. According to Blass, at the time he purchased the car from Jeffries it was still mostly original and it had already been fitted with the hard top. The hard top was noted as being painted silver at the time and the Rudge wheels were fitted to the car. In December of 1976, after only a few short months of ownership, Irwin Blass would sell this special 300SL to famous Mercedes-Benz collector and all around renaissance man Don Ricardo of Pasadena, CA. According to Blass, Don Ricardo, the famed NBC orchestral conductor and 300SL Gullwing Bonneville Salt Flats record holder, paid him $11,000 for the car. It is hardly a surprise to those who knew and know of Don Ricardo that he would take interest in this particular 300SL. Over the years, Ricardo amassed an enviable Mercedes-Benz collection including a completely original 500 K, a beautifully proportioned 1928 SSK and an aluminum bodied 300SL Gullwing among others.
According to Mercedes-Benz historian and 300SL expert restorer Bob Platz of Precision Autoworks in Camden, NJ, by the 1980’s this sleek black roadster had found its way to Silver Springs, Maryland. In correspondence that accompanies the car, Platz notes that he had seen chassis 7500364 in the 1980’s with its silver hard top mounted and the Rudge wheels present. Further, Platz confirms that the car was bought by a customer of his named Warren Weiner of Villanova, PA in the mid 1990’s from a collector of Porsche and Mercedes-Benz in Westchester County, NY (just north of NYC). Platz also verifies that his Camden based Precision Autoworks restoration team performed maintenance on the car during the ownership tenure of Warren Weiner sufficient to keep it driving while also noting that the body and chassis were in a good condition, having never been in an accident. In the fall of 2011, Warren Weiner made inquiries with Platz to undertake serious restorative work on the car, however, in 2012, prior to the commencement of the restoration endeavor, Warren passed away, leaving the car to his wife.
With Warren’s passing, his wife made the decision to sell chassis 7500364 to Edward Karam of Westchester, Pennsylvania. Because of the car’s rare status as a factory delivered Rudge wheel example, and also because of the stunning original original color combination, Mr. Karam elected to have Bob Platz’ award winning Precision Autoworks team embark on a full and authentic restoration of the car. This comprehensive restoration commenced in April of 2012 and was completed in June of 2014. The wheels were painted black to match the bare metal repaint of the body, as was the accompanying hard top. The uncompromising paint, chrome, interior and engine bay surfaces are well complimented by door, hood and trunk fits that have been optically perfected with 3.5mm gaps and flat profiles. The exterior cosmetic condition of the car is simply put, stunning. Most strikingly, the exceptional body and surface preparation of the exterior is fully exposed via the mirror-precise application of the deep black DB 40 paint. The interior color of the car, a tan variant defined by Mercedes-Benz as “natural”, offers a conservative offset to the aggressive stance set forth by the black exterior, all of which is further refined by the black painted Rudge wheels and exceptional chrome trim.
Beyond the car’s enviable visual presence, a noteworthy and admirable attention to detail has been shown during restoration towards correctness specific to the 1957 model year of production for 300SL Roadsters. Numerous and subtle 1957 specific features, oftentimes afterthoughts in other 300SL restorations, have been purposely maintained through the painstaking restoration process performed by Precision Autoworks as noted by Bob Platz in the literature accompanying the car. Such subtleties include the inclusion of NLA “no nut” wiper arms, an early Roadster production radiator shell, hex cap nuts to tighten top cables instead of acorns, early Roadster red dash indicators instead of two-tone indicators, rocker end flares that otherwise changed in 1958, a Gullwing style “300SL” emblem on the trunk lid and a 1957 correct Gullwing trunk lock. As added panache, the original Karl Baisch suitcases delivered new and still fitted in the trunk, remain in superb condition both inside and out. All original factory tags are present including body, engine, chassis, firewall and color. All factory stampings remain original with all numbers “matching” as per the factory data card and all five of the original 5.5″ Roadster Rudge wheels are date-code, stamped with “9/57”, September of 1957.
Every detail attended to during the restoration by Precision Autoworks with respect to the stunning visuals of the car have been equally well mirrored through measures taken to ensure that chassis 7500364 is as road capable as it is ready for the concours show field. All mechanical systems function as originally intended with the expected consistency and performance that has made the 300SL Roadster a long distance touring favorite. Though the car has been driven sparingly since restoration, it has been well maintained and has always been stored in a climate controlled setting. In recent years, chassis 7500364 has been handled by Scott Grundfor Company in Arroyo Grande, California with regular servicing and general maintenance performed.
Since 2014, as testament to the impressive restoration performed by Platz’ Precision Autoworks, this rare factory Rudge wheel 300SL Roadster has garnered multiple major concours awards for its quality and significance. In addition to these numerous concours accolades, the car was featured on the cover of the March-April 2015 Mercedes-Benz Club of America “The Star” Magazine, an issue dedicated to Mercedes-Benz’s most famous sports car design, designated “The 300SL Issue”. Today, this superb 1957 300SL Roadster is presented in its sensational original colors of black over natural leather, retains its original “matching numbers” engine, comes fitted as delivered with all five original Rudge wheels, retains the original Karl Baisch suitcases it was delivered with and has a hard top. It comes with books, tools, jack and KO hammer. Chassis 7500364 is a second-to-none 300SL Roadster of incredible rarity, ready for show or touring events.
Photos (click images to enlarge)