Making The Register: 1954 Mercedes-Benz Type 300 SL (198 040 4500003)

A ground-breaking, European sports car with an incredibly American story—the 1954 Mercedes-Benz Type 300 SL has become the seventh addition to the National Historic Vehicle Register. Check out all the reasons why.

Associative Value – Person (A vehicle associated with the lives of significant persons in automotive or American history)

Briggs Cunningham

Without the persuasive efforts of renowned car importer, Max Hoffman, it’s likely a road version of the Mercedes-Benz Type 300 SL racecar would have been little more than a pipedream. Convinced the sporty design would do well in the American market, Hoffman placed a significant order for the initial vehicles. Of these, the first to be produced and delivered—a car with the serial number 198 040 4500003—was sold to notable American businessman and sportsman, Briggs Cunningham. A famed racer of both cars and boats, Cunningham took possession of the car in September of 1954 and soon after took home first prize in the sports car class at Watkins Glen Grand Prix Concours d’Elegance. The vehicle later sold to William Fleming who raced it throughout the 1956 SCCA season, ultimately finishing third. Including Cunningham, this special “gullwing” has had only four owners in 61 years.

Associative Value – Event (A vehicle associated with an event or events that are important in automotive or American history)

The introduction of the Mercedes-Benz Type 300 SL marked the first time a foreign manufacturer built a mass-produced automobile specifically for and launched in the U.S. This 300 SL, 198 040 4500003, was the first production example to make it to the U.S.

Design or Construction Value (A vehicle that is distinctive based on design, engineering, craftsmanship or aesthetic value)

300 SL

Its iconic gullwing look aside, the 300 SL featured a number of other significant design elements that later found their way into other models. Among these, the 300 SL was the first production automobile to use fuel-injection technology. The car’s lightweight, tubular space-frame chassis (adopted from the racecar and, thus, necessitating the gullwing doors) and advanced aerodynamic body proved something to behold. Slim and sleek, the design of the 300 SL virtually oozed cool and sports car appeal.

Informational Value (A vehicle of a particular type that was the first or last produced, has an element of rarity as a survivor of its type or is among the most well-preserved or thoughtfully restored surviving examples)

Watkins Glen
[courtesy of the William Green Motor Racing Library]

As the first 300 SL ever sold, this particular car holds great historical significance. Having been such an early production version of the 300 SL, it featured a number of components, materials and finishes that were later altered as production continued. Among the most notable: a nonstandard, fixed steering wheel; and a shorter shifter that would later see implementation in the production models.

To learn more about this and other vehicles on the National Historic Vehicle Register, please visit the HVA’s National Historic Vehicle Register page for a full rundown on every vehicle entered so far.

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