5 Lessons in Owning a Gullwing, Classic Car Round Up, June 2018

In 1972 I purchased a 1955 black 300 SL Gullwing from the original owner in Los Angeles and paid the exorbitant price of $12,000.00, well above market but it was in great condition and I flew to Los Angeles to make the purchase.  After getting the car from the original owner I drove it up to San Francisco and on the way back decided to open it up on Hwy US 1 – the speedometer was buried at 135 mph when I went by a traffic cop sitting by the side of the road. I immediately lifted my foot from the gas but did not apply the brakes, as I did not want to bring attention with the brake lights to the fact that I was slowing down.  Nonetheless the officer was able to follow me in hot pursuit and clock me at 85 mph.

The discussion went kind of like this, “Young man, I am only going to give you a warning that you were doing 85 mph in a 65 mph speed zone”.  I emphatically thanked him and carefully asked him what if he had clocked me at say 100 mph and he replied that he definitely would have had to give me a ticket.  “Well what if you had clocked me at 115 mph?” he said, “Not only would I write you a ticket but I would have to take you in and put you in jail at least overnight until the judge could hear your case in the morning”.   Then I asked the big question, “What if I were going over 130 mph”?  He was silent for a long moment and then said, “Young man if you were doing a 130 mph you would have gotten away”!  THAT WAS MY FIRST BIG LESSON WITH THE MERCEDES GULLWING.

My second lesson with the Mercedes Gullwing was after I had brought the car back to Chicago I was entering one of the turn on loops on the Eden’s highway and decided to press the car in this tight turn, I quickly discovered one of the unique traits of the Mercedes Gullwing the hard way.  As I was pushing hard into to the turn at a high speed and coming onto the Eden’s highway from the entrance ramp the rear wheel under the pressure of the turn instead of pushing up into the wheel well tucked under the car throwing the car into a boomerang spin as I entered the highway; suddenly I was facing 180 degrees backwards looking at the oncoming traffic.  I cut the wheel hard the other way and spun around 360 degrees and was again facing the traffic coming toward me.  This happened one more time until I got control of the car and got it straightened out and went down the highway in the proper direction.  I quickly learned from other Mercedes Gullwing owners that this was a trait of the Mercedes Gullwing and that you had to adjust to it because it could not be corrected quickly once the rear end broke loose.  (I further learned that on the Mercedes 300 SL Roadsters that the suspension had been modified so that it was no longer a problem). LESSON NUMBER TWO WAS VERY SOBERING.

The third lesson that I remember about my Mercedes Gullwing, which I had for fifteen years from 1971 until 1986, was that it certainly was no Corvette.  Off the line it was very slow to gather momentum but once on the roll at 50-60-70 mph it turned into a real barnstormer plus the fantastic handling traits that it could take advantage in the twisties that is if you paid attention to not allowing the car to get into a position to have the rear tire tuck under. LESSON NUMBER THREE

The next lesson that I remember about my Mercedes Gullwing was that if the temperature was over 80 degrees it was always like an oven inside.  The pop out windows offered a limited amount of ventilation and driving at slow speeds with the Gullwing doors open was almost mandatory if you did not want to become toast.  LESSON NUMBER FOUR.  IF IT’S OVER 80 DEGREES DRESS IN SHORTS AND A T-SHIRT.

The last lesson, number five, was never under estimate the future market for a great collector car. People vote with their money and when I sold the car in 1985 at $25,000+ I thought I was a genius, today in 2014, well you know the rest of the story — a lesson well learned for future reference.

Now that I look back it may be time for lesson number six—-TIME FOR ME TO GET ANOTHER GULLWING?