Courtesy of Gooding & Company. Photos by Brian Henniker.
Will This Pair of Mercedes Benz 300SLs Set a Sale Record?
Two models of the beloved sportscar, in original condition with low mileage, are coming to the auction block together.
This August, at their flagship auction in Pebble Beach, California, exclusive automotive auction house Gooding & Company will offer a pair of mid-century Mercedes-Benz 300SLs: a “Gullwing” coupe, and a roadster. This is not atypical. Nearly every Gooding auction has featured at least one quality 300SL. One is nearly requisite for any discerning top-notch car collection.
But these particular cars are distinguished by a unique and impeccable provenance. Both were purchased new by a car-loving Chicago publishing executive back in 1955 and 1957, and they have remained with his family ever since (his son is the current owner.) Maintained and exercised regularly in original and un-restored condition, with wonderfully timeworn factory paint and interior materials, over the past sixty years they have covered just 53,000 miles total between the two of them.
“These are cars that have never been shown, and the Mercedes community has never been aware of them,” says Garth Hammers, Gooding’s 300SL specialist, who grew up around Gullwings and their collectors; his father owned six, over time. “The owners never joined any clubs, never took them to a show. They just enjoyed them as cars. For them to still be in such long-term ownership, it’s just unheard of.”
In addition to their intriguing pedigree, the cars each represent something of rarity amongst 300SLs. The coupe is a one-of-one original color combination of dark green with a natural tan interior, and the roadster is a rare light blue metallic with a grey interior and a matched original set of Karl Baisch luggage.
The cars are being offered individually, but in sequential lots, in August. Gooding estimates that the coupe will sell for between $1 million and $1.3 million and the roadster for between $800,000 and $1 million. But given their exclusivity, they could go much higher, especially if a single collector wants both and has to outbid challengers in order to get them.
“There were only so many of these cars and I’m comfortable in saying that nearly all of them have been discovered,” Hammers says. “It’s quite a unique situation.”
The Collectible/Susceptible 300 SL
The 1954-1963 Mercedes-Benz 300SL, in “Gullwing” coupe or soft-top roadster form, is one of the most iconic vehicles of the 20th century, an outrageously sophisticated and over-engineered European extravagance from an era in which American automotive innovation often amounted to little more than adding engine displacement and chrome. More than 3,200 were built in total, a significant number when compared with contemporary Ferraris, but they still remain amongst the most reliable collectible vehicles.
According premier vintage car insurance and valuation firm Hagerty, over the past five years, 300SLs have been the most common $1 million-plus car at auction, with over 100 sold at or above that threshold, more than double the next closest vehicle in the price range, the Ferrari 275, of which 49 have sold.
“The Mercedes 300SL is the definition of a global Blue-Chip collectible,” says McKeel Hagerty, CEO of Hagerty. “They enjoy persistent and broad demand in all parts of the world. They were also produced in abundant numbers, which means there are always several options available on the market.”
But after a decade of significant year-over-year gains, the high-end collector car market has slowed a bit in recent years, and the 300SL has been among the casualties. Not only are average prices down more than twenty-percent from their 2015 peak (from nearly $1.25 million to just over $1 million) but there has been a glut of cars at recent auctions, resulting in a plummeting sell-through rate as an increasing number has failed to sell.
“300SLs are great example of how supply and demand works in the market,” Hagerty says. “The market for one million-plus dollar cars is limited, and it looks like people in the market for a 300SL picked theirs up in 2014 and there were not as many buyers left at one-point-five million in 2015 and since.”
A $3,000,000 300SL Correction?
Of course, these two vehicles on offer this summer at Gooding are not your “average” 300 SLs, because of their condition. Neither are they high-quality examples of the perfectly restored cars that have commandeered top prices in the collectible car market over recent years. These two cars offer something different, and potentially more desirable to the contemporary collectible car market: Originality.
“We do see a significant shift towards original cars,” says Gooding’s Hammers. “In many ways, it’s the last frontier of car collecting. Because so many cars were restored in the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s, there are so few that have that original feel. And I think, increasingly, collectors are appreciating that.” Hammers continues. “All collector cars provide a connection to the past, but in many ways an original car offers a more pure connection. And there’s an authenticity to that, that we’re seeing collectors appreciate more and more.”
The market seems to agree. Un-restored, original cars have seen their values increasing, adhering to the old maxim, It’s only original once. Prices for the market overall have shown some fresh signs of life in early 2017, based in part on this interest, but the prestigious August Monterey auctions are the primary locus for high-end cars of this ilk, so this pair of 300SLs could be something of a bellwether.
“After decades of preference for perfectly restored cars, the current market now puts a premium on un-restored vehicles,” says Hagerty. “Anyone can buy a fully restored car, but finding one that actually shows its age tells a more authentic story. Patina is the new black.”