Is the Mercedes-Benz Gullwing Coming Back?

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There is a story today that says that Mercedes-Benz may bring back the “Gullwing.”

After all those overpriced McLaren things, and AMG hot rods that really are no more original than a ’64 GTO, the return of the company to its real roots - quality and performance - with style, would be welcome.

Only the 540K compares in Mercedes-Benz legend to the 300 SL “Gullwing.” Built from 1954 through 1957, it was a direct derivative of the SLR racing car. 

It is somewhat difficult to describe the place held by the 300 SL “Gullwing” when it was a new car. Eventually, Mercedes-Benz decided to broaden it’s appeal by discontinuing the Gullwing in favor of a roadster. And the roadster outsold the Gullwing.

But when the name 300 SL is mentioned, the vision is of the Gullwing.

Is the Mercedes-Benz Gullwing Coming Back?

It got that name from its doors. 

They opened out and up. You lifted the door to get into the car, over rather high door sills.

This wasn’t really a fashion thing. It wasn’t really even a plan.

It was a solution to a problem.

Derived from the racing car, the body structure required a very high door sill to accommodate the frame members. This would necessitate extra clearance in the roof. In the end, the simplest way to accommodate the chassis structure and the necessary clearance for the human form was just to hinge the doors in the roof, rather than at the cowl. That’s the way they did it in the race car and, in this case, expedience made it into production.

It may have been something of an engineering accident, but the Gullwing was glamorous.

Hollywood stars had SL’s, Clark Gable among them.

The Gullwing occupied an interesting position in the lineage of the automotive world.

First, and perhaps foremost, it was the first car Mercedes-Benz produced after World War II that said the company was prepared to produce the best, in every way. Yes, Mercedes had built other quality cars after the war, but they were stodgy and stodgy in an era which was ruled by Harley Earl and GM’s design department didn’t cut it.

Nothing else compared to a 300 SL Gullwing. It had it all. It had quality. It had a race heritage. It had looks. Even the luggage was specially made to fit the luggage compartment. The pages of the catalogs were on paper so hard, shiny, and thick that you just knew the car had to be perfection. 

Second, it was something of a cross-breed. All of the true sporting cars that had existed before World War II had died, with the exception of Mercedes-Benz and Alfa-Romeo Alfa-Romeo , the later not really having much mattered since the early 1930’s. Post-war, the Italians were developing a sports car industry, using body builders within their country. But what they created wasn’t up to driving any real distance. A Ferrari was not the car you chose when you wanted to drive to Chicago from Toledo.

There was an absence, in that day, of automotive vision. Harley Earl and GM had in mind styling and the mass market. But the concept that had animated Duesenberg – the notion of a car that combined both luxury and unparalleled performance – had no successor.

Is the Mercedes-Benz Gullwing Coming Back?

Until the “Gullwing.”

A decade later, Jaguar would introduce the XK-E, drawn and devised by Sir William Lyons.

If there is such a thing as a car being sensual, exotic, erotic, and actually a bit pornographic, that was the E-Type.

But it couldn’t have existed if the 300 SL hadn’t proved there was a market.

Nor could the Corvette.

Ford abandoned the idea of a sporting two-seater in 1958, but General Motors embraced it.

It is commonly thought that the gleam in Harley Earl’s eye that turned into the first Corvette was the Jaguar XK-120.

Maybe.

But the car that turned into the Sting Ray was derived from the 300 SL. Zora Arkus Duntov modeled the Corvette SS on the Mercedes 300 SLR. Actually, “modeled” is a bit tame. He copied it.

He wasn’t stupid. He recognized that he couldn’t make it better, because it was as good as it got. It is that structure that eventually gave birth to the 1963 Corvette. Duntov was not necessarily the best engineer in the world. But he was a very smart man. He knew good when he saw it. 

And he wasn’t bashful about giving good the ultimate compliment: copying it shamelessly.

There is a story today that says that Mercedes-Benz may bring back the “Gullwing.”

It would be a Mercedes-Benz supercar, with more than 600 hp and to be be priced somewhere between $200,000 and $250,000. According to Autoblog, the first styling versions were rejected by M-B’s top management as being “too retro.” The code name is reportedly W198.

Is it a good idea?

Maybe.

But Mercedes needs to be very careful.

The original “Gullwing” was revolutionary in its day.

It wasn’t just a fifties version of an SLR McLaren.

And it had something else: Class.

The kind of class that only comes from designing and building a car that reflects your dreams, not the desire to appease the market, or even just to make a buck.

The man who ran Mercedes racing in those days was Alfred Neubauer. 

Neubauer was an incredible man. He ran Mercedes racing for over a decade. He was a consummate engineer. And he could also lap the Nurburgring within tenths of a second of the best driver on his team.

And that’s when his team included the likes of Caracciola and Rosemeyer and, later, Moss.

He had a 300 SLR which he had modified to be his personal street car.

That’s how the 300 SL Gullwing was conceived.

It was born from Alfred Neubauer’s street car, itself born of one of the greatest racing cars of its day.

One fears the new one will be just another marketing ploy.

With enough money, anyone can buy a Ferrari, any Mercedes, or even a Veyron.

In a sense, that is as it has always been. Rich people get to buy expensive cars.

But the 300 SL Gullwing was not built because it would sell to rich people.

It was built because Mercedes could do it, and they had something to show to the world.

The new one will not deserve the name “Gullwing” if it does not live up to that standard.

Or exceed it.


1 comments:

HWA already makes a gullwing model, there was one in the AMG garage on AMG’s website. There’s also a replica dealer in St.Pete Florida that sells one. So I guess if you have the cash you can get one. I’d Like the HWA one because that must be one hell of a car.

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