That was the dilemma that faced German entrepreneur George Distier in 1986. Munich-based Distier was desperate to take part in the famous cross-America tussle known as the Carrera Panamericana, but rather than just buying a classic and having a go, Distier's target was recreating the incredible image of a 300 SLS crossing the continent as they had done in the 1950s – and reviving the memory of his hero Paul O'Shea.
America O'Shea, who in his '50s heyday raced alongside the likes of Phil Hill, Dick Thompson, Zora Arkus Duntov, Augie Pabst, and Pedro Rodriguez, built two 300 SLS racers, using road-going 300 SLs and a little help from Mercedes-Benz. O'Shea's stunning work changed the beautiful GTs that were the road cars into lightweight racing heroes, even stripping a whopping 330kg from one by creating a bespoke aluminium body. O'Shea would campaign his racers in 22 separate events, breaking into the highest placings 18 times, before Mercedes-Benz withdrew from US motorsport, citing high costs.
Before O'Shea began competing in his specially-built 300 SLS pair, Mercedes-Benz had used the famous cross-continent rally to showcase their return to motorsport in 1952. Fielding a fleet of three (300 SL-based) W194 works racers, the German giants completed the 2,000-mile course, regarded as one of the toughest in the world, at an average speed of 102mph in the hands of Karl Kling and Hans Klenk, completing an historic victory.