The Timeless Mercedes-Benz Gullwing: A Legend Reborn

1954 Mercedes-Benz 300SL AMG Gullwing
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When car enthusiasts think of Mercedes-Benz, they often picture the iconic “wings” of the classic 300SL Gullwing rising into the air, as if preparing for takeoff. First released in 1954, this vehicle marked the beginning of the now revered Mercedes-Benz SL-Class and was considered the fastest, most advanced production vehicle of its time.

The 300SL was born from a racing heritage, and has speed engrained in its genes. It may surprise some people then, to find out that the car donned an unassuming 3.0 liter, six-cylinder engine churning out 215 horsepower. This may not sound impressive at all by today’s standards, but it was leaps and bounds ahead of comparable sports cars at the time. The car’s minimal weight (just 3,400 pounds) and sophisticated aerodynamics were in line with the SL, or “Sports Light” badge, and contributed greatly to its exceptional quickness, balance, and cornering ability. To put things in perspective, its 160 mph top speed was enough to shatter the previous record by a production vehicle and it pioneered the first-ever direct-injection system on an automotive application.

Many vehicles have recently adopted direct-injection technology because of its advantages in performance and fuel efficiency; all of these modern manufacturers owe a tip of the hat to Mercedes-Benz and the car that started it all.

Most Collectors and enthusiasts consider the 300SL to be the greatest all-around sports car of the 20th century. Today, a classic Gullwing can roll across the auction block for nearly $1 million, without breaking a sweat. Less than 1500 were built, so it comes as no surprise that these cars are highly desired and rarely go up for sale. If you’re looking to buy one, you might have better luck searching the obituaries instead of the classified section.

Road & Track magazine raved after an initial review of the 300SL, and had the following to say: “We are looking at a car where a comfortable interior is complemented by remarkably impressive handling characteristics, quite incredible roadholding, light and precise steering, and performance levels which are up there with – and even an improvement on – the best cars the automotive industry has to offer. There is only one thing left to say: the sports car of the future has become a reality.”

Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG
SLS AMG GT3 45th Anniversary Edition

Moving forward, we see the future of the 300SL coming to fruition. The recently released 2013 SLS AMG® GT is the physical and spiritual predecessor to the Gullwing, and embodies all that made the original 300SL such an incredibly special car. Who says perfection can’t be improved upon? From its sultry curves and timeless styling, to its cutting-edge power plant and drive-train, the SLS AMG GT mirrors the idea behind the original 300SL and defines the parameters for what a sports car should be.

A quick glance at the SLS will leave no doubt about its lineage. Its traits are unmistakable: The impossibly long hood, the small, two seat cockpit and tiny trunk, the suave, rounded curves, the low-slung center of gravity, and of course, the often imitated Gullwing doors. All of it nods to the original 300SL.  However, there is something more dark and ominous about the SLS. Its aggressive body lines and widened, ground-hugging stance indicate that it is a different beast than the 300SL. Each vehicle was shaped by the principals of its performance, and the SLS quite literally screams that it was built for more power and greater handling control. It is essentially a modern 300SL on steroids.

The angry, snarling exhaust note on the SLS is similar to the original Gullwing in its ferocity, but what lies under the long, sleek hood is another animal altogether. A high-revving 6.3-Liter AMG V8 pumps out a ground-pounding 583 horsepower and 479 pound-feet of torque; its broad power-band is enough to send the SLS past 60 mph in just 3.3 seconds. This engine is the most powerful naturally-aspirated V8 ever stuffed into a production vehicle, and marks a momentous achievement in technological design and engineering.

As one might expect, the direct-injection technology first seen in the 300SL is carried over into the SLS. Other elements also set the car apart from its competition, including a dry-sump lubrication system, a 7-Speed dual-clutch trans-axle which shifts at a lightning-quick 100 milliseconds, a double-wishbone suspension system with electronically-controlled adaptive damping, carbon-ceramic brakes, the list goes on and on.

All of this performance does not come at the price of everyday drivability. Just as the 300SL was built to take a beating, the SLS was created as a true driver’s car, reliable enough to be driven daily, and tough enough for a weekend trip to the track and back. It was built to display extreme endurance without missing a beat.

The AMG division of Mercedes-Benz has outdone themselves with the 2013 SLS AMG GT. It represents all of the ideals that a sports-exotic should, and smashes any competition in the process. Faster cars lack its graceful styling and class, and more luxurious cars cannot match its balance of power and agility. Simply put, the SLS AMG GT is one of the most advanced, well-rounded vehicles ever built.