BY CODY FACTEAU
"This is not just the greatest car Mercedes makes; right now, I think, it's the greatest car in the world." This is, according to Jeremy Clarkson, Top Gear BBC, Series 16 Premiere, in which Clarkson and his compadres use three supercars to drive up a part of the east coast of the United States. The car he was driving was, of course, the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Gullwing.
How did it all start? The Mercedes-Benz 300SL is where it all began, introduced in 1954 as a two-seat sports car with distinctive gullwing doors. Built by Daimler-Benz AG, this fuel injected model was based on the company's highly successful, yet somewhat less powerful and short-lived carbureted 1952 race car. It featured fully independent suspension, swing axles at the rear and a complex tubular-truss chassis. It is this chassis that dictated the unique roof-hinged doors. Since the tubing ran halfway up the car, conventional side-hinged doors would have compromised frame stiffness. The solution left very high and wide sills that made getting in and out somewhat of a chore, but it was this clever design feature that made this car more than magnificent, it was now brilliant and it is still one of the most coveted classic cars of all time. Powered by a 183-cubic inch inline six, which was tilted to accommodate the sleek stylish hood, and modified by what was then a newly developed Bosch mechanical fuel injection system. The result was performance that is exceptional, even by today's standards: 0-60 mph in 8.5 seconds, with a top speed anywhere from 145-165 mph depending on the gear you were in.
What we have today is the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG, which is a front-engine, 2-seat luxury grand tourer automobile designed in-house by Mark Fetherston, a first for AMG. The spiritual successor to the Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing, the SLS stands for "Sport Leicht Super" which translates into Sport Light Super and it is assembled in Sindelfingen, Germany. This car was designed to be a modern revival of the original Gullwing, as it too sports wing doors that open upwards on gas struts. It has a 6.2 L V8 engine, with a 7-speed dual clutch automatic transmission.
Now, let's get down to brass tacks here. What would it cost to own a car like this? The new Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG, like the one Jeremy Clarkson drove through downtown New York City would set you back about $200,000. Think that's a lot of money? Try buying one of the rare 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwings. When it first came out it went for roughly $7,500 which with today's inflation rate would equal about $65,000. A lot of dough back then, more than twice that of the Corvette and even more than a Cadillac Eldorado. If you can find one of these today for under a $1,500,000 then consider yourself lucky. Clark Gable's Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing recently sold for an astonishing $1.85 million through Barrett-Jackson's Auctions in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Arguably the first supercar of all time, this phenomenal beauty was also the clear choice of celebrities, like Grace Kelly, Alfred Hitchcock, and my favorite singer of all time, Frank Sinatra. All I can say is, if it was good enough for Frank, then its good enough for me!
Cody Lerch-Facteau is an 18-year old homeschooler from East Burke. He enjoys anything to do with cars, particularly the Classics. He loves Le Mans racing, his favorite TV shows are Gearz with Stacey David and Top Gear (BBC), and hobbies are Lego's and Xbox 360. Check out Cody's Car Talk on Facebook. Career goals? What else, cars!