The Gallery is at the bottom.
We gathered together with our team of experts to examine several gullwings, roadster and even an alloy chassis of the 300SL (W198).
There are few silhouettes in the car world more iconic than the legendary 300SL. With its revolutionary gull wings gracefully inviting you in and the revolutionary space frame chassis, the 300SL quickly became a widely known legend.
I still remember the first time being the co-driver in a Gullwing 300SL as if it was yesterday. I accompanied my father to a long-standing client – a trip that was bound to become one of my best automotive experiences. The elderly man, a true racing legend, introduced me to his first owned roadster and Gullwing 300SL on top of the pre-Alps, overviewing one of the great lakes of Switzerland. He started telling me the many stories from back in the day when he used to race the Gullwing as one of the first people ever. As if this stunning view and these stories weren’t enough, he took me out for a drive in both his cars up and down the Alps. The way he was able to push and drive the cars through traffic up and down the Alps and along the lake was just astonishing and breathtaking. This feeling of pure happiness, fuelled by the exhilarating drive in these wonderful cars, really made me fall in love with them. I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.
Flash forward to a couple of weeks ago. I went with my father to work on a project with HK Engineering in Bavaria, southern Germany, who are the world experts for anything 300SL related.
The company was founded by Hans Kleissl over 25 years ago. As a young law student in Munich Hans’s life was changed by a fleeting moment when he saw a 300SL elegantly drive by the University. The rear end – or “hot booty”, as he affectionally calls it – clearly made an impression as he dreamed from that moment of working with these cars and eventually owning one. There are a few really sought-after cars in the classic car market and the 300SL is certainly one of them. If you have a serious “collection” then odds are you have got a 300SL. An original car will easily be worth more than a million euros. A much rarer all aluminium bodied one is significantly more even than that.
However, being such an iconic car means its also one of the more frequently copied classic cars. One of the (not very original) tricks is when people take one car and split the chassis and body, thus “creating” two. Both have some level of originality and its often enough to fool an unsuspecting buyer. Finally some cars have an interesting and colourful past. Many have been crashed and repaired. Others have been modified – and so on.
This is where we come in. HK called my father in order to gather a team of specialists whose job it is to do some detective work and find out everything there is to know about a car and its history. The team assembled included some classic car experts, some material scientists, some VIN number specialists, my dad – a classic car specialist who has examined 300SLs for over 30 years – and me, the engineering student who’s soaking up as much information as possible.
The team worked hard and coordinated on the different cars to examine and investigate the material and age of the material and car, the originality of numbers, body parts and engine…
In order to identify those high class replicas, one needs to find ways to identify material, parts and ways to claim originality. One way is the material analysis. If one can identify the material as “old” material, and maybe even the era, there will be more certainty that the car is original. The team meticulously took samples from all over the car and tested it to check it’s the right material the factory cars were made from, as well as the material age itself to identify whether it fits into the era of manufacturing.
Secondly the famous “matching numbers”, where numbers on engine, gearbox, frame etc. are being compared to the reported or internal manufacturer numbers. However, many replicas are “matching numbers” on first sight. That is were further investigation is necessary – of the numbers, depth of impact, material thickness and so on.
Next thing is the history of the car. Is there a clear history? Are there non relatable years? Uncertainty of the history and so on… Many questions need to be asked and then answered to be able to give an almost certain answer to the question “Is my car an original?”. And of course, as a potential buyer, you would want to know.
Ever since my first drive in it, I am in love with the 300SL, its beautiful form and incredible power. The project with HK Engineering gave me wonderful new insights, this time into the technological details involving the car. I truly feel blessed for being able to be around automotive icons such as the 300SL and to learn about them.
What is your opinion of or relationship to the 300SL? Do you also have special memories associated with it? I would love to hear it! :)