Golden opportunity / Classic choice Mercedes-Benz 300SL Roadster W198
With its still exceptional touring capabilities, this apparently unique, low mile 300SL Roadster was born for the Californian sunshine. Words & Images Richard Truesdell.
The year is 1963 and Beatlemania is sweeping across Great Britain. Over on the other side of the Atlantic, an American president is felled by an assassin’s bullet in Dallas, Texas. And in Germany, the Mercedes-Benz 300SL Roadster ends its illustrious, almost six-year production run.
It was with these events as a backdrop, that Arthur Dring walked into Budd and Dyer Mercedes-Benz on Catherine Street in Montreal, Quebec, Canada in 1964. Intending to buy a 190SL, instead he purchased this #1963
300SL Roadster, apparently the only one produced in this unusual but prepossessing shade of DB462 Tunis Beige metallic, that had been specially ordered for another client of the dealership who, in the end, took delivery of a different car. Its VIN indicates the chassis was built in late 1962, titled by Canadian authorities as a 1963 car and delivered to Arthur Dring, its first registered owner, in 1964.
LAST OF THE LINE
The story of the 300SL Gullwing and #Roadster
has been well documented many times. The duo of road going 300SLs built upon the success of the legendary W194 300SL racing car, and both coupe and roadster were supercars of their era. They were informally marketed as race cars for the road, owing to their relationship to the #Mercedes
W194 racers, especially true in the case of the gullwinged coupe. In roadster form, the 300SL could be said to be brutally elegant, and its classic exterior styling has stood the test of time exceptionally well and is reflected by the prices that well maintained and documented examples command when they change hands, especially at auction. This particular 1963 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Roadster is virtually 100 per cent original, with just 42,000 documented miles showing on its odometer at the time of its recent sale, which came about through an interesting set of circumstances.
The tale starts with Tony Shooshani, a real estate investor and car nut living in Beverly Hills, California, and Craig Calder who operates FastCars Ltd in nearby Redondo Beach. For more than six months, starting in June 2010, the pair searched the world for an alloy block, disc brake 300SL. Their search located several cars, including a white/black car in Germany offered by the Mercedes-Benz Classic Centre. But in December 2010 a very interesting car popped up in an online search performed by Calder, a car that would become known as Goldie.
FINDING THE ONE
This car was being presented by Robert Dening of Spirited Automobiles in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, a dealer that works with the legendary restoration firm, Rudi & Company.
Rudi is Rudi Koniczek, whose shop is located near Victoria, British Columbia. Known as one of the world’s foremost restorers of the 300SL, he was sought out by representatives of Mr Dring, now in his 80s, who was no longer able to handle his own financial affairs. Calder, knowing that the car would not stay unsold for long, contacted Shooshani, who told him to put down a deposit right away, based only on the online description and Koniczek’s reputation. This was in December 2010. The next month, they flew to Victoria to inspect the car and the deal was finalised. “We knew we had to act quickly,” said Shooshani. “We flew up on a Friday evening and looked over the car on Saturday. I had to immediately return to California, so Craig stayed an extra day, completing the inspection.
“As soon as I saw the car I knew I would buy it,” Shooshani recalls. “I feel that a car has to talk to me before I buy it, and this car did. It was love at first sight. Looking at the car in Victoria I thought about how much I would enjoy having it in my garage, among my other cars, and sitting in it each night. The car exceeded my expectations in every way.”
Once the roadster arrived in California, FastCars worked hard to bring it back to its factory fresh condition, maintaining originality the primary goal. It was not the intention to restore the SL to better-than-new condition. “We serviced and detailed the car,” explained Calder. “One of the things we did was fabricate a unique frame and crate system to keep the original soft and hardtops safe.”
LIVE AND LET DRIVE
Shooshani, being an enthusiast collector, someone who feels that he is a custodian of history, has not kept Goldie locked away. He has enjoyed several long drives in this 300SL Roadster, including two from his home in Beverly Hills, up the Pacific Coast Highway to Santa Barbara, a round trip of 200 miles. “I’ve done it with the top up and with the top down,” he tells us.
“The car is rock solid, a great touring car, perfect for the open road. In the summer of 2011, I did the Tour d’Elegance at Pebble Beach. The car is very smooth, even upwards of 90mph. While in Monterey, I did the famous 17-mile drive, drove it south to Big Sur and back to Monterey. In my mind the car is a work of art because it is unique, it’s priceless.” So now, the SL has 43,350 miles on the clock, more than 1,000 of which were added in the first nine months of 2011 alone!
It is this roadster’s superb condition and the fact that everything is in perfect working order, that makes it such a dream drive for Shooshani. “Every time I take the car out, I turn on the radio,” he says. “The original power antenna raises every time, and the music comes on when the antenna is extended fully. I listen to the station that gives me the clearest signal. With the right music, it’s easy to imagine what it must have been like to drive Goldie when the car was brand new.” It is wonderful to know that a classic Mercedes of such stunning beauty and in such fabulous condition has been enjoyed – and is still being enjoyed. One of its most striking elements is the beguiling lustre of its rare paint. On this topic, Koniczek was able to share some interesting details.
“The cars were originally painted with a nitrocellulose lacquer with no clear coat. This kind of paint, especially the metallics, dulled over time. We spoke with Art’s [Arthur Dring] neighbours who said he took the car back to Mercedes-Benz in North Vancouver at some point in the 1980s to have the paint restored.”
I can’t help but wonder if Art and Mary Dring drove the car when they relocated from Montreal to Vancouver, British Columbia. If they did, they probably travelled the Trans-Canada Highway that spans Canada over two routes from St John’s in the east to Vancouver and Victoria on the Pacific coast. While many of us fantasise about driving a Mercedes-Benz 300SL Roadster top down through the Alps, the Canadian Rockies, especially the Lake Louise region, would provide equally spectacular roads and scenery for a drive in a million.
But then, in a classic Mercedes-Benz of this calibre, every drive is special, every journey a grand tour, the gently purring straight-six the perfect companion.
Thank you to Rudi Koniczek at Rudi & Company Tel 00 11 1 250 727 6020 Web www.rudiandcompany.com, Robert Dening at Spirited Automobiles Tel 00 11 1 250 532 6547 Web www.spiritedauto.com and Craig Calder of FastCars Ltd Tel 00 1 310 937 6700 Web www.fastcarsltd.com for their help
A surprising discovery offers a glimpse into the past The paperwork trail of this 300SL Roadster was extensive. Quite possibly the most interesting document was found in the car’s glove box – a nearly new owner’s manual.
We had noted there was no mention of firm Studebaker-Packard in any of the 300SL Roadster’s documentation. From 1958 to 1964, Mercedes-Benz automobiles were distributed in the United States by Studebaker-Packard. The lack of mention of Studebaker-Packard in any of the printed materials indicates that Mercedes-Benz vehicles from this era were imported to Canada through a separate sales and marketing organisation. Interesting!
When we opened the owner’s manual, on its back page we found a fold-out map showing all the authorised Mercedes-Benz sales and service outlets, including service only outlets. The map shows that many were in faraway and remote locations, demonstrating that even back then, #Mercedes-Benz
went to great lengths to support owners of its cars, wherever they lived or travelled.
One of its most striking elements is the beguiling lustre of its rare paint.
The car is rock solid, a great touring car, perfect for the open road.
As soon as I saw the car I knew I would buy it – it was love at first sight.
This 300SL Roadster is virtually 100 per cent original, with just 42,000 miles on its odometer.
JUST THE FACTS #Mercedes-Benz-300SL-Roadster-W198
Power 212bhp @ 5,800rpm
Torque 203lb ft @ 4,600rpm
Transmission 4-speed manual, RWD
Top speed 155mph
Fuel consumption 22.6mpg
Years produced 1957-1963
Presented three years after the coupe, the 300SL Roadster became an even greater sales success than its iconic, gullwing doored sibling Figures for car as pictured; fuel consumption determined at ¾ of top speed (not more than 110km/h, 68mph) plus 10 per cent; top speed depends on rear axle ratio.
This now evocative, trademark design is seen on later SLs.
The two-seat, red leather cabin has been used but not abused.
The roadster’s rear suspension differs from that of the coupe.
The Becker Mexico radio works well.
The glove box lid with “300SL” script.
The SL has recirculating ball steering.
The M198 was Mercedes’ first fuel injected engine in a series produced car.
All the 300SL ’s original tools are present and correct.
The full size spare wheel is in ready to use condition.