Featured: Buying a Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing …in 1970

Buying a Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing …in 1970

By Simeone Museum
April 16, 2015

Story by Dr. Frederick Simeone

Photography by Michael Furman for the Simeone Automotive Museum © 2015

Editor’s note: This is the first of several stories published with the help of Dr. Frederick Simeone and the Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum in Philadelphia, PA. This tale is a look at two “Gullwings”—and their somewhat related histories.

Back in 1970, with no Internet or regular magazines with large selections of collector cars, we often scoured the Sunday New York Times. It had an old car section full of great stuff, and most of it was local in the Northeast. I would read it religiously, but most of the cars were out of reach. There were plenty of Duesenbergs, but they were all over $50,000, and a medical student’s salary back then did not go very far.

I wanted something more usable, anyway, and because of my enthusiast dad’s influence, whatever it was had to have a strong sense of history, sport, great design—and all the other things he taught me to appreciate in a car.

Dad was a family doctor, general practitioner, and he was satisfied to work from a small office in our house, serving our community. He never made very much money. On this page, you can see a scan of his 1956 patient logbook—the only financial records he kept—showing how little you can make when averaging between $3–4 per visit. This typical page also shows how many people you could see in one day!

Before office hours, we would do house calls. They were kind of boring for me back in 1956, but often afterward we visited local junkyards or used car dealers. At that time, interesting cars of the mid-1930s were only 20 years old, and even then he helped me to realize that the cars someday might be important. Then, as is the case now, cars with classic “sporting” lines are the ones that land in the hands of sophisticated collectors.

Anyway, back to the New York Times: I found an ad from a suburban gentleman who was selling his 1955 Mercedes 300 SL Gullwing, with less than 30,000 miles—fitted with Rudge wheels—in great shape. The owner, a pool builder, took the car in exchange for his work, only to find that his wife found the car too difficult to manage, hot, and not particularly useful for uxorial duties.

At this time, fortunately, it was near the nadir of its value, so we were able to strike a deal over the phone: I had squirreled enough cash to pay the asking price of $3,500 in “green”.

I called my girlfriend Jackie for transportation, because I knew I was driving this car home! The deal was made quickly, and the car was—and still is—in excellent condition, having sustained no serious adversities in the ensuing years. Of course, I drove it everywhere, parked it on the street, and except for the pilfering of the Becker radio as it sat in front of a hospital I’d rushed to for an emergency, it has survived the last 4 1/2 decades in great shape.

Dad never said much about it when I proudly took him for a ride. I could tell, however, that he had no objections to my choice—especially since I paid for it.

A few months later, I was driving by the Jerry’s Used Cars lot and there, in this low income part of town where we grew up, was a shiny black Gullwing sitting uncomfortably among some irrelevant American iron. Since I was on my way to visit Dad, I told him about it and he responded with a kindly but muted quip, “Well, we don’t need two of them.”


I continued to drive my Gullwing. About two months later, I drove by Jerry’s and the black example was gone. “Jerry, what happened to that black Mercedes?” I asked. He snidely replied, “Your dad bought it!”

I went home and, knowing that the game was up, he took me to the garage where he had already started to make it as beautiful as he could. That was not hard, because it had—and still has—its original black paint, which makes it look like a new car. However, as you can see by the bill of sale, he paid $4,750. This was significantly more than my $3,500, so I felt that I had one up on him!*

As it turns out, he had a lot more fun with his car. While I was consumed with medical studies, he was fixing up, taking it to shows, and, shown here, you see him proudly winning first prize at the New Hope Auto Show in 1971.

After the sight of the car and the cheesecake, check the proud look on his face! Both Gullwings are proudly displayed at the museum to this day.

* Adjusting for inflation, $3,500 in 1970 is about $21,000 US today; $4,750 is approximately $28,000

Join the Conversation
0 0 votes
Article Rating
oldest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Jim Levitt
Jim Levitt(@jrl1194)
4 years ago


David Law
David Law(@gun)
5 years ago

My brother bought a beautiful Silver Gull Wing in ’68
from a neighbor in San Marino Ca. paid $4000.00
I bought a ‘nice Burgundy’ 56 speedster from the same guy in ’70 for $1100.00 ….

Rudolf Wesseln
Rudolf Wesseln(@wuseln)
5 years ago

What a story, thank you so much!

Jim Levitt
Jim Levitt(@jrl1194)
5 years ago

Same deal here. In 1974 the doorbell rang. There was Bruce Meyer (still an old friend). He stopped by in a 1962 300 SL roadster and asked me if I wanted to buy it for $4000. I said sure!
I drove it and showed for a year and sold it a year and a half later for 15K!
(Remember mid 1970s inflation).

Greg Long
Greg Long(@chapron67)
6 years ago

Wonderful story. Incredible that he still has them. I met Mr. Simeone at Pebble Beach this past August after he spoke on a panel about restoration versus preservation. Obviously, a very interesting man.

Carl Beck
Carl Beck(@cbeck)
6 years ago

The local Ford Dealer in a small town in Ohio had one. I wanted it soooo badly. In 1963 he wanted $3,500.00. I saved my money until 1968, but by then he waned $4,500.00. The price kept going up and I never caught up. Out of college in 1969 and into the Service, income still to low to save any additional funds – – I took my savings and bought my first 240Z in 1970. Although the Z has been the greatest Sports/GT I’ve ever owned {that includes the Porsches, Ferrari, Jags and Corvettes} — I still dream about that Gullwing. But then there was that 289 Cobra on the used car lot for $4500.00 in 1969 as well. Always a day late and dollar short… Still stories like Dr. Simeone’s make me happy – thanks!

Ted Wathen
Ted Wathen(@tedwathen)
6 years ago

I’m a photographer. A number of years ago I was in a wealthy man’s office. Amongst his office curios were a number of 300 SL items. At the end of our meeting, I asked if he owned one. “Do you want to hear a fish story?” he asked. “What’s a fish story?” I answered. “You know, a fish story . . .”
In 1968 he was a newly commissioned army officer stationed near Seattle. He saw a 300 SL sitting on a gas station parking lot with a FOR SALE sign on the windshield. He’d always wanted one. Enquiring, he found they wanted $4000. for the car. At the time he was earning about $3200 a year, so he began to scheme on how he could make the purchase. Maybe he could borrow some money from his brother, who was financially doing better than he was. While scheming, he really looked the car over and detected places where the paint was flecking off the body. “Oh!” he thought, “the body’s aluminum . . . paint will never stick to this.” Thus, he rationalized himself away from the SL. Two years later he bought a 230 SL, and applauded himself on making a much more financially prudent and repairable decision.
Years later he was rich. He began looking for a 300 SL. At that time the going rate for a well restored SL was in the million dollar range. He got a new copy of Hemmings, and was going through the listings and saw the following: “Mercedes 300 SL, rare aluminum body. $2,500,000.”
It seems that Mercedes only made 35 of the aluminum body models in order to compete them as a manufactured car.
Fish story . . . The one that got away.

Chris Leighton
Chris Leighton(@fb_100001202966870)
6 years ago

Hello ‘Simeone Museum’, I had to look up ‘uxorial’, ‘nadir’ i had covered. So jealous.

Bruce Fernie
Bruce Fernie(@fb_502079843)
6 years ago

This photo is fantastic!
Every Sunday the NYT auto classifieds were the holy grail…
Many a Sunday afternoon racing down the interstate to beat another buyer. FUN, first with Dad and then on my own. If I had the cars I bought that way… numerous Alfas, XK120’s, Sunbeam Tiger, and as a twenty year old kid a ’57 300SL cab with the engine apart. When I realized I didn’t even have the budget for the gasket set… I sold it on.

M Webb
M Webb(@adkskier)
6 years ago

A great story. I was at the New Hope Auto show in 1971 and remember the car very well. Somewhere I have a picture. If I find it I will scan it and send it to the author.

Chris Jeffs
Chris Jeffs(@fb_505990819)
6 years ago

Such a fantastic read! Thanks for sharing.

6 years ago

What an amazing story, really enjoyed getting the perspective from someone that bought the car as a “daily” and used it as such, there probably aren’t that many of you out there left. Would have been nice to see any contemporary shots of the SL when it wss in daily useage duties.

With today’s $1m plus values for these cars its easy to forget that at some point in the past such cars were, even thogh always very special, used like one would use a normal car today. Recently I bumped into the picture below which, while slightly “cringeworthy” given the obvious strain it must be putting on the car, is a visual reminder of this.

Edward Levin
Edward Levin(@edl)
6 years ago

Wonderful story. Back then the places to search for classics were the classifieds in [i]Road & Track[/i], where the ads were at least a month old, [i]Competition Press & Autoweek[/i], and the Sunday [i]New York Times[/i], as Fred says. Cars were much cheaper. Life–and correspondence–was much slower. Sending photos meant taking them with a camera, driving the film to the drugstore, coming back in a day or two for the prints, and sending them by US Mail.

josh kobrin
josh kobrin(@joshkobrin)
6 years ago

[quote]and, shown here, you see him proudly winning first prize at the New Hope Auto Show in 1971.[/quote]
oh we gotta’ see that!

Greg Horwitz
Greg Horwitz(@synracing33)
6 years ago

I absolutely love both of these cars and I even got to wrench on the silver one just last weekend (Perks of being a good volunteer at the museum!). I know Dr. S loves his silver one better, being the “right” color for a German car and fitted with the Rudge wheels, but I love the black one. Black with tan interior just suits that car so well