1954 Mercedes-Benz 300SL
The 1954 Mercedes-Benz Type 300 SL (W 198) coupe with chassis and body number 198 040 4500003 was constructed in the summer of 1954 at the Daimler-Benz AG factory in Stuttgart-Untertürkheim, Germany and delivered to the United States on August 23, 1954. Mercedes-Benz distributor Maximilian E. Hoffman, owner of Hoffman Motor Car Co. (New York City, NY) sold 198 040 4500003 to Briggs Swift Cunningham (Palm Beach, FL) on September 15, 1954.
The 1954 Mercedes-Benz Type 300 SL (W 198) coupe was largely based on of the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL (W 194) race car that debuted March 12, 1952. In 1951, Mercedes-Benz reinstituted a sports car racing program, building the 300 SL (W 194) race car featuring a repurposed passenger car engine, innovative space frame, and vertical opening doors. The car was a success on the racetrack capturing many victories including an overall win at the 1952 Le Mans 24 Hours race. Mr. Hoffman, an influential car dealer and distributor in the United States, met with the board of Daimler-Benz AG in 1953 to secure the construction of a production road-going Type 300 SL coupe to sell in the United States. Mr. Hoffman successfully convinced the board and placed a significant order for vehicles, as he believed a road-going Mercedes- Benz sports car would be successful in the growing U.S. car market. Mr. Hoffman’s order was the reason the of the Type 300 SL (W 198) coupe was produced.
A prototype was created based on the meeting with Mr. Hoffman and unveiled by Mercedes-Benz at the New York International Motor Sports Show on February 6, 1954. It was dubbed a “gullwing” by the media and public based on the vertical opening doors required by the race car based space frame chassis. While never officially recognized by Mercedes- Benz, the name remains closely associated with the 300 SL (W 198) coupes and is their primary identifying feature. The New York launch of the Type 300 SL (W 198) coupe marked the first time in the history of Daimler-Benz AG an automobile debuted outside of Europe.
Daimler-Benz AG became the first foreign manufacturer to successfully mass-produce and launch an automobile expressly for the American market. The vast majority of Type 300 SL (W 198) coupes manufactured were sold in the United States. 1,400 Type 300 SL (W198) coupes were built from 1954 to 1957.
198 040 4500003 is the first production Mercedes-Benz Type 300 SL (W 198) coupe that left the Mercedes-Benz factory and the first Type 300 SL (W 198) coupe to be sold in the United States. Its serial number is the third serial number in the production series of Type 300 SL (W 198) coupes. Serial numbers 198 040 4500001 and 198 040 4500002 were completed after 198 040 4500003.
Mr. Cunningham exhibited 198 040 4500003 at the Watkins Glen Grand Prix Concours d’Elegance on September 17, 1954 where the car was awarded first prize in the “Sports” car class. Subsequently, Mr. Cunningham entered 198 040 4500003 in the NASCAR Daytona Beach Speed Week from February 20 to 27, 1955. Famous American race car driver Phil Hill was photographed sitting in 198 040 4500003 with Mr. Cunningham standing next to the car at the event. In the photo, the car features race number A18. The car reportedly did not fully participate in the event due to an engine failure (engine number M198.040 4500007). A replacement engine (engine number M198.040 4500019) was fitted at some point after the event, and the Type 300 SL (W 198) coupe was sold to William Fleming (Westport, CT) in 1955. Mr. Fleming campaigned the car in the 1956 Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) season, finishing third in the national points for that year. Fleming won his class in the 198 040 4500003 at the Mount Equinox Hill Climb on June 17, 1956. Fleming was one of many early adopters of the 300 SL in sports car racing. Mercedes-Benz Type 300 SL (W198) coupes dominated their class in SCCA racing in both 1955 and 1956.
Victor J. Stein (San Carlos, CA) purchased 198 040 4500003 in 1959. Mr. Stein owned the car until February 1972 when he sold it to James Hein and Peter Henning (Darien, CT). Mr. Henning eventually sold out his share to Mr. Hein who owned the car until 2013. Dennis Nicotra (New Haven, CT) purchased the car from Mr. Hein and had it restored in 2014 by HK – Engineering (Polling, Germany). Mr. Nicotra has since exhibited the car at concours d’elegance events around the country. It is currently used for display and exhibition only.
Paint and exterior
The 300 SL features a frame-off restoration refinished in the correct “Silvergrey DB180” paint. All chrome and brightwork has been restored. The restoration work commissioned by Dennis Nicotra was completed by HK – Engineering (Polling, Germany).
Upholstery and interior
The 300 SL has blue and gray plaid upholstery and blue leather trim. The steering wheel is of- white and the dash is body color. The interior is fully restored with redone upholstery, trim and brightwork.
Original Engine: Yes
The 300 SL features a fuel-injected SOHC inline 6-cyl. 2996cc engine producing 215hp. It utilizes a dry sump oiling system.
Cunningham exhibited the 300 SL at a handful of events and entered it in the Daytona Beach Speed Week in ‘55. A subsequent owner raced the car in SCCA events until the late ‘50s. Today it is in restored condition. Its total mileage is unknown.
Wheels and tires
15" steel wheels with center caps, 205/70VR15 Vredestein tires
Four-wheel hyd. drum brakes
The engine is mated to a four-speed, synchronized manual transmission. It is in restored/rebuilt condition.