The Don Davis Collection

27 April 2013

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Lot 158

1957 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Roadster

  • Chassis no. 198.042.7500303
  • Engine no. 198.980.7500146
  • Body no. 198.042.7500217

Sold for $770,000

215 bhp (DIN), 240 bhp (SAE), 2,996 cc OHC inline six-cylinder engine, four-speed all-synchromesh manual gearbox, independent front suspension with twin wishbones, coil springs and anti-roll bar, single-pivot swing axle rear suspension with compensating spring and coil springs, hydraulic telescopic shock absorbers, and hydraulic, servo-assisted brakes. Wheelbase: 94.5 in.

  • Outstanding colors
  • Spectacular performance, even by today’s standards
  • Excellent long-distance touring GT

The spectacular Mercedes-Benz 300SL “Gullwing” was in production for just three years, during which time only 1,400 cars, not including racers and prototypes, were built largely by hand in Stuttgart’s finest tradition. Yet despite the low production volume, Daimler-Benz remained sufficiently convinced of the value of an expensive, image-leading sports car as part of its model lineup to develop an improved open version, resolving the well-documented ventilation issue associated with the Gullwing.

A modified 300SL Roadster chassis was first spotted in the summer of 1956 at Stuttgart, by the German magazine Auto, Motor und Sport. The improved 300SL Roadster debuted in the spring of 1957 at the Geneva Motor Show. By the end of that year, the final 70 of the 1,400 Gullwing Coupes and the first 618 of the 1,858 300SL Roadsters were assembled.

Among the Roadster’s many advancements was a lowered central section of the lightweight 300SL space-frame chassis to allow improved entrance and egress with smaller sills and enlarged doors. Strength was maintained, nonetheless, with the addition of diagonal struts bracing the lowered side sections to the rear tubular members. At the rear, the spare tire was repositioned below the trunk floor, necessitating a smaller fuel tank but maintaining reasonable luggage space.

The Roadster’s suspension was fine-tuned by the repositioning of the single-pivot rear swing-axle and the addition of a coil spring mounted transversely above the differential, linked to the two axle halves by a vertical strut, allowing the use of softer rear springs and providing a more comfortable ride and improved handling. Coupled with fatter tires and a wider track, the Roadster exhibited none of the prior Gullwing Coupe’s tricky handling characteristics. This specific feature was borrowed from the W196 Grand Prix racing car.

These revisions added some 250 pounds, the majority of which were associated with the convertible top and its mechanisms. The snug-fitting roof retracted fully into a well behind the seats and was covered with a hinged panel, making for a sleek, disappearing top body line. Regardless, the car remained an excellent performer with a factory-claimed 137-mph top speed.

According to The Roadster Registry, this car’s early owners were Stephen R. Johnson, Frank C. Beacham, and Per Soholm. There are no dates assigned to these three owners, so it is possible that this early ownership is complete. The car was owned by Ken Novarr, of Dallas, Texas, from approximately 1974–1989. During this period, the car was enjoyed by Novarr extensively, as indicated by the file that contains a copious number of service invoices. Interestingly, these invoices span the entire length of Novarr’s ownership, indicating that the car was serviced on a regular basis. It most recently spent some time with an owner in Massachusetts before joining the Davis Collection.

As presented today, this 300SL Roadster is finished in silver with red leather, red carpeting, and a red padded dash with a black cloth top. It is reported that the upholstery is original, which is believable, given that it has an evenly worn, inviting appearance. With 96,657 miles on the odometer, this car makes no excuses for its appearance. The older paint and brightwork present extremely well, and the engine bay, having been detailed in the past, remains presentable, but it proudly shows signs of the use it has experienced over the years. The 300SL Roaster is guaranteed to remain an icon for generations to come: when driven, this example will serve as an apt testament to the legend that was created in the crucible of racing at Le Mans, the Nurburgring, the Carrera Panamericana, and the Mille Miglia.

Please contact our exclusive automotive transportation partner, Reliable Carriers, for a shipping quote or any other information on the transport of this vehicle.

Alexander Weaver

+1 864 313 6844
California, United States

Alexander Weaver joined RM Sotheby’s in 2011 as a Car Specialist after graduating from Furman University in South Carolina. Born... read more

Augustin Sabatié-Garat

+44 (0) 74 1511 4179
United Kingdom

Augustin Sabatié-Garat joined RM Europe in 2012 as a Car Specialist after more than a decade in the collector car hobby. Gradua... read more

Barney Ruprecht

+1 203 912 7168
Ontario, Canada

Barney’s interest in classic cars began at an early age after being introduced to his father’s all-original 1965 Porsche 911. Barney l... read more

David Swig

+1 415 302 2247
California, United States

David Swig joined RM Sotheby’s West Coast division as a Car Specialist in May 2015. David is a life-long automobile enthusi... read more

Don Rose

+1 617 513 0388
United States

Don joined RM in 2006 after several years of professionally trading sports and classic cars, and after earning a reputation as a noted... read more

Donnie Gould

+1 954 566 2209
Florida, United States

Donnie Gould joined the RM team in 2002 as a partner and Car Specialist after more than two decades in the vintage automobile auction ... read more

Gord Duff

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Ontario, Canada

Gord Duff began his journey with RM Sotheby’s in 1998. Since then, he has gained an intimate knowledge of a variety of marques a... read more

Jake Auerbach

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California, United States

Jake Auerbach got his start in the automotive industry at an early age, spending his summers during high school working at a classic c... read more

Kurt Forry

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California, United States

Having worked for Bonhams’ Automobilia department for over 10 years, Kurt Forry joined RM Sotheby’s with more than a decad... read more

Matt Malamut

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California, United States

A long-time car enthusiast and Southern California native, Matt studied Automotive Technology at San Diego Miramar College and complet... read more

Michael Squire

+44 (0) 20 7851 7070
United Kingdom

Michael Squire joined RM Sotheby’s European Division in the summer of 2016. He comes to RM with a prestigious racing background ... read more

Mike Fairbairn

+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

As one of the three founding partners of RM Sotheby’s, Mike has a long-standing interest in the classic car industry. Graduating... read more

Oliver Camelin

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United Kingdom

With an extensive background in exotic sports car history and sales, a particular passion for American curves, and fluency in three la... read more

Paul Darvill

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United Kingdom

Paul Darvill joined the RM Sotheby’s European team at the beginning of 2015. Paul holds a degree in French and Politics from the... read more

Pete Fisher

+1 519 784 9300
Ontario, Canada

Pete Fisher was first introduced to antique cars in high school, working for Classic Coachworks in his hometown of Blenheim, Ontario. ... read more

Shelby Myers

+1 310 559 4575
California, United States

Shelby Myers grew up with the classic car industry infused into every aspect of his life. He had the unique opportunity to watch the R... read more

Tonnie Van der Velden

+31 653 84 19 60
United Kingdom

Tonnie Van der Velden joined RM Sotheby’s European division in September 2015 as a Car Specialist. A lifelong enthusiast, Tonnie... read more