Rare 1957 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing transformed by restoration experts Thornley Kelham
Reknowned vintage car restoration specialist Thornley Kelham has transformed a rare 1957 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing to its former glory. The result is a product of very detailed owner instructions: it should be perfect, period-correct and finished in anything but silver.
In the 1950s, the 300L was designed as the result of Mercedes-Benz's decision to develop their own sports-racing car. They used the engine, transmission, suspension, and steering from the existing 300 saloon car. The result was the 1952 Mercedes-Benz W194 powered by a 3.0-liter straight-six. That was enough power and performance to earn the car victories in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Eifelrennen at Nürburgring, and Carrera Panamericana in Mexico. Just 10 examples of the car were made.
English keyboard player Jon Lord (1941-2012) from rock band Deep Purple poses with a Mercedes 300SL Gullwing coupe sports car overlooking Los Angeles, USA in June 1975. Photo by Fin Costello/Redferns
The 300SL Gullwing coupe was the company's road-going version of the race car. It was powered by an engine similar to the race car and could get up to 163 mph making it the fastest production car of its time. It was in this car that Mercedes used the "SL" designation for the first time - it stands for "super light".
Interestingly, the car was not originally part of the Mercedes model plan. It was Max Hoffman, the Manhattan car dealer responsible for Porsche and the Volkswagen Karmann Ghia coming to America, who made the suggestion to Mercedes.
The car won many fans in its heyday, with over 3,200 coupe and roadster versions of the 300SL sold. Among the car's owners were some of the best-known royal figures, government leaders, artists, and celebrities of the day including the Shah of Iran, Juan Peron, Pablo Picasso, Sophia Loren, Clark Gable, Paul Newman, Yul Brenner, and Frank Lloyd Wright. In the years since, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone, designer Ralph Lauren, and King Abdullah II of Jordan have called one of the models their own.
The 300SL Gullwing that made its way to Thornley Kelham's headquarters in the Cotswolds, following a stopover in France in the early days of its life, has resided in the U.K. since 1981. According to a release, its early history isn't very well documented, but a 1971 inspection carried out as it transferred owners revealed it to be in "perfect condition".
By 2020, that was not the case. The Coupe had arrived at the shop with Roadster parts, the result of a shoddy repair following a front-end collision. Luckily, the frame was in good condition though the engine was in need of rebuilding. Sourcing as many original parts as possible was key, as was the careful adjustment of the wheel arches, which proved particularly delicate. The owner has opted to remove the bumpers from the car for a more streamlined appearance.
The car also needed to be painted and trimmed to the client's specifications. This meant putting a period-correct Horizon Blue paint job on the model and finishing the interior with blue plaid non-leather upholstery.
"Restoring a Gullwing is a huge responsibility, and restoring a Gullwing for a Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance judge like our client also comes with a fair bit of pressure. When you're working with a car as rare and iconic as this, originality and accuracy is absolutely crucial," said Simon Thornley, co-founder of Thornley Kelham. "We spent hundreds of hours getting the details of this car exactly right, while making sure it adheres to the same standard that every car we work on does – it has to look good, drive well and is made to last. This car has been enjoyed for over 60 years now, and we're delighted to have extended its lifetime for many more years of pleasure for its owners."