If you want to do the Carrera Panamericana – in period as today one of the world’s great motoring challenges – a Mercedes-Benz 300 SL is a fine place to start. But what if the factory version isn’t quite as sport licht as it could be? Well, you could, of course, modify it a little…
AUG 29th 2017
£2million could buy you one of the most special Mercedes 300 SLs
That’s exactly what German classic car collector and racing driver Georg Distler did. Georg and a team of SL specialists took two years to turn his original 1957 300 SL into an aluminium-bodied road racer, re-creating one of the most famous and successful American racing SLs of the 1950s. The aim? To put it to the ultimate test and take on the Carrera Panamericana Highway. In period – 1950-54 only – this car-destroying 2000-mile thrash across Mexico was considered the world’s most dangerous road race, and the latter-day re-runs of it today are hardly a walk in the park.
Georg’s alloy SL was finished in 1997 when it was immediately entered for that year’s Panamericana, coming home first in class and 11th overall. Georg completed the seven-day blast across the continent without any backup service vehicle and without once having to open the box of spares he took with him.
Since then this magnificent competition 300 SL – how becoming it looks with its Panamericana stickers still in place! – has been extensively campaigned in many of the world’s greatest historic events.
After success at places like Hockenheim, the Nürburgring and in the Tour de France, the car has now arrived at Chantilly in France where it will be looking for its next new owner. Bonhams has the car as star lot in its sale at the Château de Chantilly on September 10th. Its presale estimate is £1.3-2.2 million.
Even by SL standards, that’s a lot of money, so what is it that makes this 1957 evocation quite so spectacular? While it is unique today, it is not actually the first alloy-bodied competition 300 SL. The car was not all Georg Distler’s idea…
Beating him to it by 40 years was noted American Mercedes racer Paul O’Shea. In the 1950s O’Shea built a 300 ‘SLS’ racer by giving the stock SL all aluminium bodywork – and saving a whopping 337kg. Already one of the finest production sports cars of its day, the resultant lightweight racer proved a winner. In 22 starts O’Shea and his SLS were among the top finishers in 18 of them, and the car’s reputation for reliability and speed was set. This was the car that George Distler set out to re-create, using the original factory drawings and involving even an engineer who worked on the original car. As well as the new alloy body, created by Zagato, the car was given lightened seat frames, dual side-exit exhaust system, Getrag five-speed gearbox, disc brakes, electric cooling fan, oil cooler, and alternator electrics. As well, all the engine internals were polished and balanced.
Paul O’Shea never ran his SLS in the Panamericana in period but the factory-fresh Merc SL was no stranger to the epic race. In 1952 Mercedes chose the then-new model to showcase its post-war return to motorsport. In a feat of endurance, the SL came home first at an average speed of 102mph.
A ready-to-race and totally gorgeous looking competition car that recollects such feats at what was the world’s most dangerous road race will surely be a hard one to resist when it crosses the block at the Bonhams sale at the Château de Chantilly on September 10th.
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