Thornley Kelham, an award-winning classic and vintage car specialist, has recently unveiled a full transformation of a rare Mercedes 300SL that was owned by a critical, but very knowledgeable, owner. Before leaving the 300SL in their care, the owner’s instructions were quite simple: it had to be period-correct, perfect, and the finish can be in anything except silver.
In 1952, Mercedes-Benz decided to produce a sports-racing car, and hence, the 300SL was born. From the existing 300 luxury saloon, Mercedes used its engine, transmission, suspension, and steering, and built it around a new chassis frame, and developed one of the most beautiful and breathtaking body designs. This gave birth to the 300 Sport Leicht or SL, also affectionately known as the ‘Gullwing’ because of its upwards opening doors.
This example of the 1957 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing has been in the UK since 1981 before it was brought to Thornley Kelham’s HQ in Cotswolds. Although its early history was not well documented, they did know that it spent some time in France in its early years and it was ‘in perfect condition’ when it transferred owners in 1971.
One of the things that immediately caught the attention of the Thornley Kelham crew was the Roadster headlights and taillights that were fitted to the Coupé. Since Mercedes was focusing more on building Roadsters by 1957, there was a theory that the example was a special hybrid commission. Unfortunately, after a closer and more thorough inspection, a more basic truth was revealed, an accident damaged the front and rear so it was rebuilt using Roadster parts.
The tubular chassis, however, was in great condition, but there were still many parts and mechanicals that required to be rebuilt, including the 3.0-liter straight-six engine.
Thornley Kelham’s team immediately set to work cleaning, crafting from scratch, or replacing parts of the Gullwing’s drivetrain so that it would run reliably to its maximum performance.
The team also started on painting and trimming the car and with the client’s instructions in mind, they finished it with a period-correct Horizon Blue with the interior completed in a blue plaid, non-leather option.
Hundreds of manpower hours were spent to make sure that the complex doors as well as the ‘eyebrows’ above the wheel arch were finished accurately. The design of later Gullwings had an eyebrow design that was practically invisible to the design of earlier cars but was critical that this detail was correct.
The Thornley Kelham team was given the responsibility to source numerous original parts which included troublesome to find parts like the interior lights. In just the parts alone, the client already spent a six-figure sum. Since the client preferred the look of a de-bumpered Gullwing, the Thornley Kelham team did not have to worry themselves sourcing them.
“Restoring a Gullwing is a huge responsibility, and restoring a Gullwing for a Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance judge like our client also comes with a fair bit of pressure. When you’re working with a car as rare and iconic as this, originality and accuracy is absolutely crucial. We spent hundreds of hours getting the details of this car exactly right, while making sure it adheres to the same standard that every car we work on does. This car has been enjoyed for over 60 years now, and we’re delighted to have extended its lifetime for many more years of pleasure for its owners.”