Perfect Patina: Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing Stands Out Among Concours Queens
Photography by SSSZ Photo
Last weekend saw the return of Classic Days to Schloss Dyck, and while the static show and demonstration runs up the hill were great for spectators, the amount of people drawn to the event made photographing it an exercise in patience rewarded by only a few legs in frame rather than a few dozen. The grounds outside of the castle were humming with activity the entire time we were there, and while it’s nice to see enthusiasm manifested like this, it can be frustrating to have your shots interrupted by someone’s iPad-tography for the umpteenth time. So you pick and choose, you might not be able to get every car from every angle, but there are ebbs and flows to the crowd’s clustering, so when we came across this green Gull it was only a matter of lingering until we had some space to work with.
There were more valuable cars in attendance, faster ones with race history, rarer ones with more award ribbons in the front seat, but the authenticity of this 300SL separated it from the roster of noteworthy machines on display—to some, not even perfectly preserved, never-restored cars can compete with the allure of authentic patina. Even if you’d prefer everything neat and new, I think it goes without saying that there’s a certain intrigue earned with a couple of scars. A few pieces of pitted chrome and a touch of crustiness around the edges of the paintwork, these things aren’t enough to warrant an erasure of originality in our opinion, and thankfully for other fans of rock chips the owners of this Merc seem to agree.
Coated in a silty layer of dust kicked up by the foot and tire traffic, the car took on an aura of fresh exhumation, looking as it did like something just pushed out of some codger’s mostly-dilapidated shed. The knock-off Rudges suit the look perfectly, at least in comparison to the paint-matched hubcaps that were more commonly fitted to the 300SLs. The raw, pure-function look of the Rudges lends itself to the car’s lack of nonsense. The fender decals told us the owners of this rare bird are the Valkenburgs, and while they were out and about elsewhere during our impromptu photoshoot and not available for questions, the name should be familiar to those in Gullwing circles, as Benny as regarded as one of Europe’s foremost experts on the model, commonly brought in to assess cars going up for auctions and such.
It makes sense then, that his car would be a highly original specimen, and in a rare configuration to boot. The color is a stunning green that in the more sun-faded places verges on teal, and the lack of even shine made for some fascinating textures along the sculptural bodywork that never seems to age. For those of us born so many years after this car, it is perpetually hard to place this thing in the 1950s, so ahead of its time was the SL. When many cars of the era (sports or otherwise) were characterized by curvy but still somewhat frumpy shells, Mercedes-Benz went ahead and showed them what the ’60s would look like years before they arrived. The cab-back design and the taught pontoon elements would be staples of Italian and to a lesser extent American sports car design in the years that followed, but the Gullwing was never buried under a pile of its direct imitators and indirect offspring, such is the staying power of a truly groundbreaking automobile.