The Gullwing Mercedes-Benz

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Ben: Hello, everybody, this is Car Stuff. My name is Ben Bowlin, and who are you, sir?

Scott: My name is Scott Benjamin. I'm the auto editor here at, and, Ben, what's your title this week?

Ben: Today, I've actually been thinking about a change in careers midweek, which is unusual for me.

Scott: Midweek? Okay.

Ben: Yeah, I had been sticking to my consultancy gigs for a while, but time wears on. I've had a great couple days as a soda consultant and I'm thinking of moving into - if you can go with me on this, Scott, thinking of moving into something I call creative entryway engineering.

Scott: Creative entryway engineering.

Ben: I want to make doors, dude.

Scott: Very nice, very nice. Are you particularly skilled in woodworking or metalworking, anything like that?

Ben: No, but I have a heck of a learning curve.

Scott: Okay, all right, so this is all brand new to you?

Ben: Yeah, this is relatively new. Well, my whole life I've been in and out of doors.

Scott: A lot of doors closed in your face, that kinda thing?

Ben: This is the worst segue ever.

Scott: Yeah, it has been, yeah.

Ben: You guys, this is a great idea for a podcast and we can say that without being arrogant because this was not our idea.

Scott: No, not at all. This is a very good idea. It comes from actually a couple of listeners. We've got two pieces of listener mail here. One is from Kurt, and Kurt is from Montana. Kurt says, "I've listened to all your podcasts and enjoyed the all. I thought I'd send along an email with some future ideas, diesel technology, history behind it." Another one that he wanted to know about was the Mercedes Benz 300SL that had gull wing doors. I says, "This car always seems to be an iconic car for Mercedes, so I'd like to hear more about it," and Kurt, that's a very good idea. Another one came from Mark, same idea, but Mark had a different twist on it. He was writing in, in response to our Top Ten Cars. I think we - was it sports cars? Something like that.

Ben: Yeah, yeah, it was just ten cars that we like. I think Sports Cars We Like I think.

Scott: Yeah, I think that was it. It was a pretty simple one for us to do, right.

Ben: Uh-huh.

Scott: It says, "I was hard at work and your podcast on the Top Ten Cars stopped me in my tracks, and I had to make my own list." So he didn't think he was much of a classic car guy, but a lot more turned up as dream cars as went on. So No. 1 on the list, a 1955 Mercedes 300SL gull wing. It says, "How can that be left off of any list." So we've got listeners that are thinking about the gull wing, and what a better time than now to talk about it.

Ben: Well, let's go ahead and jump right into it, shall we?

Scott: Uh-huh, I'm ready.

Ben: All right. So we do know some basics. We know the Mercedes Benz 300SL, first off, it's introduced or it comes out in 1954, right.

Scott: No, a little earlier. Well, '54 is the official, "Here's the car available for to buy."

Ben: It was available for you to buy.

Scott: There was a 1952 competition only sports car that was fielded by Mercedes. That's the only confusion that you get, but you're right, Ben, 1954 was the first time you could buy one of these things.

Ben: And I think that was the - there was a little bit of a difference between that 1952 and 1954 model, wasn't there?

Scott: A little bit, yeah. It was based on - the '54 was based on the '52 model. Like I said, it was a competition only car, so it was just an all out racecar. The funny thing is, I believe - you know what? I don't have the number in front of me right now, but I believe that the car that they released in '54 was more of a high performance car than the' 52 was.

Ben: Yeah, there was a W194 is that they called it Daimler-Benz, and I think it was carbureted. [Inaudible] as a result.

Scott: Yeah, that's right; it was a carbureted vehicle, in race vehicle, in 1952.

Ben: Yeah, the race vehicle.

Scott: Later, now this is kind of an interesting fact about the 1954 version. I'm going to skip down my notes here, bare with me while I do this because it's later in my notes when I describe the car. It apparently was the first ever - now this is one of those first ever things, so you've got to - there's all these qualifiers that always come with these.

Ben: There is so many grains of salt.

Scott: That's right. So the first ever four-stroke equipped car with a direct injection engine, which is a gasoline engine. It wasn't a direct injection diesel; it was a direct injection gas engine. Now, that was the first four-stroke car that was ever equipped with that. So basically what that means, direction injection means that its fuel is injected directly into the cylinder, rather than premixed in the intake and then injected, or not injected, but rather just open, the valves open and it's sent through. But I don't know. So it's not the first - and it's also not the first fuel injected engine, it was just -

Ben: Right.

Scott: It just meets that one little criteria to make its mark in history, really.

Ben: It's got sweet spot.

Scott: Yeah, and you know what, more than that thought, this thing, it has the look of a - it's a purebred sports car really.

Ben: Oh, it's beautiful.

Scott: I mean, look back, think about the cars you were seeing in 1954 and then look at a picture of the 1954 Mercedes Benz 300SL gull wing.

Ben: It's a different animal.

Scott: It's completely different. Of course, it had the two gull wing doors that are now infamous, that's very iconic, I guess, for that vehicle. You always see it with the windows or rather, the doors up.

Ben: Right.

Scott: Just because that's the way to show it off.

Ben: Well, that's also, for anyone who possibly doesn't know what a gull wing door is -

Scott: Oh, yeah.

Ben: It's a little bit different. It's called a gull wing door because the hinge for these doors is at the top of the vehicle.

Scott: Yeah, it's on the room.

Ben: Uh-huh, it's on the roof, so when you open it, it opens up, which gives the appearance of a gull midflight.

Scott: That's right.

Ben: Roughly. I'm not an ornithologist.

Scott: One cool thing about that, we've seen other cars with this. The DeLorean has this.

Ben: Sure, DeLorean's the biggest example.

Scott: I'm sure that there - oh, Bricklin, we talked about the Bricklin also.

Ben: Bricklin, yeah.

Scott: And I'm sure that there are others out there. People do this kind of modification to their car, they also do the different types of doors, scissor doors -Ben: Suicide doors.

Scott: - suicide doors, but the cool thing about gull wing doors is they require aero clearance on the side for getting in and out of the car. Well, I don't know if it's zero, it may be just a slight, slight clearance, but I mean, if you're not -

Ben: It's not as much.

Scott: - in a tight situation, it's pretty convenient to be able to lift the door straight up really. That's kind of a cool design.

Ben: It's still better use of space I think, for if you're parking, than the conventional doors.

Scott: Yeah, I agree. I agree.

Ben: Maybe we should get some gull wing doors, dude.

Scott: Maybe, maybe. I'm sure you could find some shop that would do it for you.

Ben: You think so?

Scott: You know what? I know you could. I know you could find somebody that would do it.

Ben: Let's see. I'll think about.

Scott: All right.

Ben: You know I'm bad with impulses.

Scott: Let's dive into the 300SL here.

Ben: Yes.

Scott: Basically it's two-door, we mentioned the doors, two-seat sports car. At the time, it was the fastest production car, so that give you another clue that this thing was a different beast, like you said.

Ben: Yes.

Scott: Or a different animal, however you put it, I don't remember. This is the top end production car at the time. I think even now the styling stands up.

Ben: Oh, yeah.

Scott: I mean, it's definitely something that I could still see on the roads around here.

Ben: It translates.

Scott: Yeah, it really does. I mean, it's just good styling. The 300 in the name, it's a 300SL of course - oh, the W198 designation, that was just how it was referred to inside.

Ben: Internally, right?

Scott: Yeah, exactly. Mercedes had numbers for their cars. They still do this on car platforms. They have letter/number designations to designate different programs for them, but the 300 meant simply that it had a 3-liter displacement, and the SL stood for sport light, which meant it had aluminum pieces to it then.

Ben: Which is very interesting for a vehicle of that time?

Scott: Yeah, it really is. I mean, because aluminum, I mean, of course, you're talking about cars that are made of iron and steel, and heavy, heavy metals at the time. This thing, you could get it with - actually, it came with an aluminum hood and an aluminum trunk already, but if you wanted to, if you opted to, you could really make this thing a lot lighter by opting for a full aluminum body on it, which was remarkable at the time. Even now, that would be remarkable to do something like that.

Ben: Incredibly expensive, too.

Scott: It is very, very expensive, yeah, but it did reduce the weight by about 175 pounds, which is pretty significant. I don't know much - I have no figures for how much the aluminum and aluminum trunk actually lightened the vehicle, but if you want the full aluminum body, it would lighten the car by 175.

Ben: And that's crazy that it - when you think about the advantages that losing that much weight could bring to a performance vehicle, which is already - it's a small car.

Scott: Sure, and it's aerodynamic. This is one of the cars that they kinda first tinkered with aerodynamics and they were looking at a lot of different technologies for this car. I mean, first the direct injection, then the aerodynamics, the gull wing doors of course. There was more to it than that, but in this just quick overview of this thing, that's kinda what you're looking at is a test bed really. Another test bed vehicle. We talked about those in the past. So and this is also coming off of the success of the original '52 version that we talked about just a moment ago.

Ben: Right, in the races.

Scott: Yeah, the race only vehicle because it did have some wins. It had some significant wins.

Ben: Right. Was it at Le Mans?

Scott: It had a win at Le Mans, and overall win at Le Mans, so I think it was the top finisher. Not just the class finisher, but the overall win. Nürburgring, it won there. It also raced in the Carrera Panamerican race, which is in Mexico. You probably will see more so associated with that race than this car, you'll see that Porsche Spyder, the one that looks like the James Dean car. You'll see that car an awful lot associated with that race back in the '50s, like, '55 era. I guess in '52, this car was running the same race. And then it also d id well in a something called the Mille Miglia in 1952, where it got, I think, a second and fourth-place finish. So this thing, it was the top performance sports car of the day. Top speed, or fasted production sports car if that makes sense. It's racing against cars like Ferrari, Jaguar, the big players of the day, in a car that really, I think the horsepower in this thing was something like 175 horsepower.

Ben: Yes, exactly.

Scott: Come on. I mean, it's incredible, but it was lightweight, it was aerodynamic and it had - I think it had some type of revolutionary new suspension set up, four-wheel independent. Something about that made it loose in the back end I know I've heard from people or read about it, but what's strange is that this car kinda came out of nowhere, this '52 version, 1952 version. I think it surprised a lot of the motoring world.

Ben: I think that's very safe to say because, in addition to being a test bed vehicle with all sorts of new technologies incorporated into one package, the very strange thing and I would say even more unusual thing here is that it worked. A lot of times when you have vehicles incorporating newer technology, it's buggy and it's spotty. Your GPS is telling you you need to take a left wall through a brick wall, right, while your ABS is braking randomly. I think there's definitely something to be said there about well integrated all these new features are, including from the design to the mechanics of the suspension that we mentioned earlier, to the architecture of the doors even. I mean, the doors are the low hanging fruit. People are always going to talk about the doors, but I think we should also talk about what happens to the 300SL in the '50s.

Scott: Yeah, in the '50s, unfortunately, it went away. It ended, what was it, 1957 I think was the final year.

Ben: It had a very short run for such an awesome car.

Scott: Yeah, and they had a roadster version of this car, so they have a top free edition I guess if you want to call it, a roadster. Most people know what a roadster is, but that lasted, what, another six years, something like that, six or seven years.

Ben: Yeah, around that.

Scott: And then that went away as well, but also, another beautiful car. I mean, those are great, but it didn't have the distinctive gull wings we're talking about. It did go away and the thing about this is that even though it had a relatively short run - I mean, actually, a really short run - it still today probably the most collectible Mercedes Benz vehicles that are out there. I mean, for some of these example of this thing, I don't know if you've looked around at all about this or not, but some of them are $500,000-plus. Some of them are $700,000-plus. They're very, very expensive if they're restored and well maintained. I read a quick paragraph from somebody that had ridden in an unrestored version and it was just a comment on some board somewhere. I don't remember where it was or what it was all about, but just the highlights of what the guy said was it was unrestored, so you've got to remember that. The driver told him, "I'm not going to go above 40 miles per hour because of whatever the situation was. It was too lose at a certain speed or something in its unrestored state. The guy said, "If you have anything to say to me, say it right now because I'm not going to be able to hear you once we get up to speed, because it's so loud inside." I don't know if it was wind or if it was engine noise, or a combination, but the guy said despite all that, it was probably the most exhilarating experience ever and they never even went above 40 miles an hour. He said just because of the nostalgia of the thing, the way that it felt on the road, he said it was just a pure sports car feeling. You've probably felt that before when it's not like you're getting into a quiet environment where you seal yourself off from the world, you don't feel the road beneath you and it's really kind of a benign experience. You're sitting in a car getting from A to B. This car, you feel the road, you hear the noises, you smell it. All of your senses are in play at this point and the guy said it was just one of the most exhilarating things ever.

Ben: Because you cannot be detached in a vehicle like that.

Scott: No, and I mean, here's a guy, he's used to - I don't know what his position was or what, but I mean, the guy knows what he's talking about. He's on a sports car forum talking being in an unrestored Mercedes gull wing, and the his unassuming ride under 40 miles an hour, which he was probably thinking at the time, "That's not going to be any fun." It turned out to be the best ride of his life.

Ben: I like that. You know what? I like that mentality. I should be a little more open-minded now that I think about it.

Scott: Yeah.

Ben: There's a moral. Did you just sneak a moral into our podcast?

Scott: I might have. Someone has to.

Ben: I'm totally immoral.

Scott: Someone has to.

Ben: Yeah, you know I'm enabling you, but we're not - it sounds like we're wrapping up, but we're not you guys, because there's something that happened with the Mercedes 300.

Scott: Yeah, go ahead.

Ben: Scott's giving me the go-ahead.

Scott: Yeah, sure, please.

Ben: You can't let a good thing die.

Scott: No.

Ben: And these - and we should also say that the success historically for this vehicle when it was first out in the '50s was mainly in the U.S. market.

Scott: That's right.

Ben: Which was a little unusual for Mercedes?

Scott: Yeah, because here they come out with this Mercedes vehicle that's a sports car in the '50s, kinda unusual at the time, but 80 percent of the production vehicles came here to the United States, which I thought was really crazy. I mean, you would think it would be the opposite, you'd think 20 percent would make it here and 80 percent would stay in Germany, but not the case.

Ben: And you have to wonder if the vehicle was selling as well in Europe would they have closed it out?

Scott: Well, see, they already had small sports cars going on over there. They had a lot of competition. Now, here in the United States, the weird thing about this is that if you remember back when we talked about the World War II podcast, where we talked about cars right around that era, soldiers that were coming back from Europe were bringing small sports cars back with them. They were brining back Triumphs, they were bringing back MG and Jaguars, and small two-seater sports cars from Europe. And this was kinda the new thing, and now here's Mercedes with something that's right up everybody's alley really in 1955. So you're talking just ten years after the war or something like that, or even less. And something that's the top, top fastest production car at the time, here's one's that's available for you to buy new from the factory. You don't have to worry about all the - you can buy it at the dealer down the road.

Ben: And if you want to pay almost twice as much as you would have, they'll make the car from aluminum.

Scott: That's right, yeah.

Ben: I don't know how much it was.

Scott: Yeah, twice as much probably. Well, I wouldn't even want to guess what that would have cost.

Ben: So the reason that we're bringing this stuff up is because, for all of you kicking yourself because you can't collect an original 1950s Mercedes 300 -

Scott: Ta-dah.

Ben: - there's a new one coming out.

Scott: That's right.

Ben: And it, let's see, I don't know if you can - you can't buy it yet, can you?

Scott: You know what? I'm not even sure if you can because this is one that goes back and forth. To date, no. They're calling it a 2011, so when is it going to be available? It could be any day now really.

Ben: Yeah.

Scott: But it is badged or labeled as a 2011 model year, Mercedes Benz SLS AMG, that's the official name.

Ben: And what's the AMG? I don't know what the AMG stands for.

Scott: That's their sports car version, like, you'll see AMG versions of Mercedes where, let's say, you'd see a rough version of a Porsche. I don't know if I'm comparing apples to apples or not, but it's like the upper sports car type end of Mercedes.

Ben: And they say it's going to look like - you can see photos and concepts they have.

Scott: Yeah, there's plenty of photos available because Mercedes has actually sent out press releases. There's some official work type stuff going on, so it's not just rumor and hearsay at this point.

Ben: Right, it's not just me and Scott on the Internet.

Scott: No, it's happening. Do you know anything about the - do you want to hit them with some of the details or you want me to?

Ben: What do you want, some stats or what do you -

Scott: yeah, sure, what do you got?

Ben: Okay, all right. Well, this guy, historically one thing about the original SL was that it was considered relatively underpowered, at least the '52 version. This new one can hit 0 to 62 in less than 4 seconds; 3.8.

Scott: Oh, 62, that's 100 kilometers per hour.

Ben: Yeah.

Scott: That's why do that.

Ben: That's why do that.

Scott: Yeah, a nice round number.

Ben: They say - I'm reading some reports. I've got this report in front of us that says the top speed is actually governed at 196.

Scott: I believe that. Sure, for safety, they do that often.

Ben: Yeah.

Scott: I think mine's way down at - not that's way down, but I think it's 120 or something, 140 maybe. I don't know.

Ben: It's a bummer. All these come; the new ones come with an aluminum space frame.

Scott: Oh, wait, really? So it's light. You know what? That's unusual because I've got the weight in front of me, and that's with the aluminum frame even. The weight for this thing - now remember, this is a two-door gull wing, of course, two-seater sports car, 3,571 pounds, which to me that sounds a little bit heavy, but this is a pretty big car really. I think it has a real long wheelbase. Not that it 's the same size as the original, but it has the same proportions as the original.

Ben: The same scale.

Scott: Exactly. It's the same scale vehicle, but it's larger, a much bigger vehicle. I'm sure that has a lot to do with just the size of the engine that's crammed in there, one, because it's got a huge V-8 engine. It's an AMG 6.2-liter, 32-value V-8. You know what the horsepower is?

Ben: I've got it in my notes here. No, you do it.

Scott: 563 horsepower in this thing.

Ben: Versus 176 -

Scott: 175, I think. Yeah, you're right, yeah, yeah, for that early '50s version.

Ben: That's just wild. So this thing is coming out, right. So you're an inventor, you're kicking - not an inventor, a car collector, excuse me. You're kicking yourself, "Why didn't I buy one of those in the '50s when I should have?" Now you can buy a new one, so your next question is, "How much? What's the damage?"

Scott: Half the price of the one from 1950s.

Ben: Oh, man, it's like these guys are paying us to talk about this car. They're not, nobody's paying us.

Scott: no, no, no. I mean, it's half the price. it's an estimate right now and I'm sure it depends on how you outfit these things, but around $200,000 to $250,000, which sounds like a heck of a lot, but you're talking about a super car again. And this is another one of those things where it's just weird how this happens. It's half the price for a 2011 than it is for a 1954 restored version, which will run you $500,000 or more, and good luck finding one.

Ben: Yeah, good luck finding one.

Scott: I've got an odd little bit of note, of a note here, if you want me to.

Ben: Lay it on me, brother.

Scott: Appease me here for a second. You ever heard of - this is terrible. You should look at this online really, it might make you mad though. You ever heard of Bathing Ape?

Ben: Bathing Ape?

Scott: It a fashion.

Ben: No.

Scott: Bathing Ape. Okay, there's a fashion designer and his name is N i g o. He's from Japan. Is that Nigo? Something like that. The guy, worth untold millions of dollars, right!

Ben: Sure.

Scott: Starts buying up exotic sports cars and he's doing things that people think is kinda sacrilegious really.

Ben: What's he doing?

Scott: He's coloring - he's having them painted and modified, and adjusting the skins of them at least. I don't know about the interiors, I haven't seen the interior, but just for example, he's got a Bugatti Veyron that's pink with a pink pattern on the inside, almost like a camouflage type pattern, which makes sense when you think about this. Because he's also got a Rolls Royce Phantom that's outfitted, painted completely in that green camouflage, like the traditional camouflage that you see. A Ferrari 599 GTB, which is brown camouflage and he also has, and this is where it ties in, he has a Mercedes - this is an or iginal - Mercedes Benz 300SL gull wing in green camo.

Ben: Well -

Scott: And, no, wait, wait, wait.

Ben: All right, I'm waiting.

Scott: Get this.

Ben: What?

Scott: This is maybe the worst part about this whole thing and I'm just going to say it, this is my opinion. Mercedes Benz did the restoration for him on this vehicle and they painted the car in this green camouflage. I can't believe that they would do this for him. It just seems like they're - I mean it's all, he's paying for it, all up to him, it's the eye of the beholder, I guess, but to me, this is terrible. But it's made a statement.

Ben: It's his car too. Personally, I wouldn't do it.

Scott: Yeah, but you've got to remember this is the factory, this is their heritage, this is there - it's like a museum piece, really.

Ben: Well, Scott, they're not volunteers. They like money.

Scott: I know they like money. I know, who doesn't like money, but my gosh. When you see this thing, when you see the green camo going, take a look.

Ben: That's interesting. I wonder why he decided.

Scott: It caused an awful lot of outrage in the collector community.

Ben: I'm sure the forums have gone crazy over this.

Scott: Yes, that's exactly right, and I completely agree. I think what an awful looking car. I mean, I'll just say it, it's awful.

Ben: I'll have to look it up, yeah.

Scott: Yeah, and same for the pink Veyron. I mean, terrible.

Ben: Camouflage is such a weird choice.

Scott: Yeah, and the Rolls Royce. You know what? All of them, all the ones I just listed, terrible.

Ben: Now, Phantoms are cars that are very close to my heart, so I might skip that picture.

Scott: And they're not very well hidden because they're just parked on the street. You still see them.

Ben: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Scott: It's not the like the car disappeared.

Ben: He's not really trying to camouflage it either.

Scott: He's not trying, no.

Ben: He's trying to make a statement.

Scott: In fact, it's quite the opposite.

Ben: How ironic.

Scott: Isn't it though?

Ben: Perhaps that is sorta the Bathing Ape approach.

Scott: Yeah, I guess so.

Ben: Well, I guess we'll wrap it up then.

Scott: I mean, that's - go ahead. That's about all I have. I just - I thought we'd end on something that was a little bit more fun, but then it just ended up making me mad.

Ben: No, it's okay, Scott. I think Kurt and Mark will forgive because hopefully we've answered the guys questions or we've told you a little bit more about this just amazing car.

Scott: Tip of the iceberg.

Ben: Scott and I are really into this car and the new one is coming out, so I don't know if you guys are busy just counting your hundreds of thousands of dollars, but Christmas gifts are always welcome.

Scott: Oh, sure. I mean, there's always the mid-year holidays too. You could go for a Memorial Day gift or something like that if you want to pass it along to us at or however you'd like.

Ben: Yeah, Columbus Day.

Scott: You could also make a cash donation in the same amount and I'll just buy the car on my own.

Ben: Yes.

Scott: Whatever you like.

Ben: Scott might actually go to - you would actually go get nonprofit status.

Scott: I'm begging, yeah. I can't believe I'm begging.

Ben: Oh, we're going to head out of here before Scott begs any more. And in the meantime, guys, thanks so much for tuning in. Let us know what you think on Facebook, on Twitter, if you want to learn more about vehicles, we've got the Auto Channel under We've also got a blog and, you know what, we're going to hook you up. If you'd rather talk to us directly, just send us an email at -

Scott: -

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