Sophia Loren, Spaghetti, and Gullwings
From her jewels to her clothing, Sophia Loren clearly had taste with a capital ‘T’, and is one of the most beautiful and talented actresses to grace the silver screen. “Everything you see I owe to spaghetti”, Loren once said. That must include her classic cars too, then. Loren had several, including an Alfa Romeo Giulietta, Ferrari 275 GTS, Ferrari Daytona (I can’t imagine Sophia wrestling the heavy, non powered steering around), Mercedes-Benz 280SL, Rolls Royce Silver Cloud II and even a Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9 that was converted into a station wagon, complete with mesh dog-guard to prevent her hounds climbing into the passenger area.
But perhaps the car she is best known for owning is a 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL in which she posed with some frequency. Loren received the car as a gift from her husband, the prolific Italian film producer Carlo Ponti (perhaps best known for Marriage Italian Style, Doctor Zhivago, and Blowup). Ponti surely wanted his wife to drive a car as glamorous as she was, and he found her match in the sleek, teardrop shaped coupe. Of course, now Gullwings have become a familiar sight at concours, and auctions, coveted by collectors the world over. But in the 1950s the Gullwing was a sports car that could also be used as a daily driver at a time when many high-end sports machines could be…ahem…fickle.
Closely related to the W194 racers, the 300 SL was the state-of-the-art in sports cars, with a $7,000 price tag to match. Mechanical fuel injection was a production car first, and performance didn’t disappoint. The 3.0-liter engine’s 220 hp at 5,800 rpm was a 50-hp bump over the racecar that spawned it, and an optional Sport Cam boosted power to 240 hp. A 300 SL could reach 0-to-60 in less than eight seconds and hit a top speed of 140 mph, depending on axle ratio. The option list was fairly short: Rudge knockoff wheels, $350; leather upholstery, $142; matching fitted Mercedes-Benz luggage, $142; a Becker Mexico radio, $200; and bumper guards, just $35.
With the car, Loren joined other luminaries in a very exclusive club. William Randolph Hearst, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Tony Curtis, Glenn Ford, Clark Gable, and Elvis Presley are among the famous owners who once warmed a Gullwing’s seat. They, and Loren no longer have their cars which might have annoyed them had they known that these cars now regularly fetch one million dollars or more at auction. Depending on their condition and provenance of course. Still, we can feast our eyes on lovely Sophia in her Gullwing. Time forever stands still when captured on film, but clearly the woman had taste.