Barn Find Hunter: Discovering a 1954 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing

After Barn Find Hunter Tom Cotter stumbled upon a 427 Cobra and Ferrari 275 GTB/2 in the same garage a few months ago, we asked Tom what could possibly top that amazing discovery. “I dunno,” he answered. “It’d be cool to find a Gullwing.” It certainly would, Tom. Keep dreaming.

But then it actually happened.

In this episode of Barn Find Hunter, Tom heads to Florida to meet Amelia Island Concours d’Elegenace founder and chairman Bill Warner, who took Tom to the location of a very special car. “On Barn Find Hunter we find lots of (plentiful) vehicles like Falcons and Chevelles,” Tom says. “We like to find rare cars, but we don’t have a choice. We find what we find.”

Until today.

Warner first saw the car when he was 16, and although he can’t reveal its location or the name of the owner, he is willing to give Tom a peek. [Tom jokes that in order to keep the location secret, he had to be blindfolded, but that would have required some amazing extrasensory perception considering he was the one driving.]

Bill calls the car a “true garage/barn find… a fabulous car that is all original.” And no, Tom, it isn’t a Nash. It’s a 1954 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing, the 43rd built.

Bill explains that you can tell it’s an early Gullwing because of the bolted-on “eyebrows” affixed to the wheel wells; on later models they were molded into the body. In anticipation of a repaint that never happened, the car was primed and its grille, chrome pieces, and exterior lights were removed. Bill guesses the 300 SL hasn’t been on the road since 1956, so considering there are 35,308 miles on the clock, the original owner certainly got plenty of enjoyment out of it during the two years he drove it.

It still wears an original AAA sticker on the windshield offering a $200 reward for the “arrest and conviction” of the thief, if the car is stolen.

Bill explains that “there are some styling cues from this car that later showed up on American cars,” like the fake vents on the 1958 Chevrolet Impala and twin hood ridges that showed up on the ’56 Corvette.

Hagerty Valuation Tools lists the value of a 1954 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing in #4 (fair) condition at $940,000. But that’s for a running car, and the 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine in this one has not run in many years. Asked what it might cost to fully restore the car, Bill says, “I’d hate to guess, but somewhere north of a half-million dollars and two years to do it right.”

With that, Tom bids the Gullwing farewell. As he closes the door, he says, “See you in 20 years.”