In February 1954, the 300 SL standard-production sports car (W 198) celebrated its world premiere at the International Motor Sport Show in New York. The coupé was called the “Gullwing” or the “Papillon” (butterfly) owing to its distinctive roof-mounted doors, which resembled a gull’s wings. However, they were not an aesthetic end in themselves, but actually technically necessary. This was because the tubular space frame was so high at the sills that conventional door constructions were simply not possible. The high-performance sports car was based on the legendary 300 SL racing sports car (W 194) from the 1952 season. It was the first standard-production car in the world with a four-stroke petrol injection engine. With an engine output of 158 kW (215 hp) – a good 25 per cent more than the carburettor motor racing version of 1952 – and a top speed of up to 250 km/h, the W 198 was in the top echelon of production sports cars in its day, which also made it predestined for racing.
One legendary triumph was the triple class victory of the 300 SL “Gullwing” in the 1955 Mille Miglia. John Cooper Fitch and his co-driver Kurt Gessl took fifth place in the overall classification in car number 417, which represented their starting time of 4:17 a.m., and led the field of production sports cars with engines over 1.3 litres of displacement ahead of two other “Gullwings”.
A total of just 1,400 SL “Gullwings” were built between 1954 and 1957, of which 29 had aluminium bodies.
Production period: 1954 to 1957
Displacement: 2,996 cc
Output: 158 kW (215 hp) at 5,800 rpm
Top speed: Up to 250 km/h