The Mercedes-Benz 300 S is the epitome of elegance. It was the car for stars, the elite, more expensive than any other. What follows is a brief historical review of this beauty, one of the highlights of Dorotheum’s sale of classic cars.
Cary Grant owned one, so did Bing Crosby and Gary Cooper; Clark Gable even called it his dearest – the Mercedes-Benz 300 S, a car designed by its inventors to invoke the glory of their own past and to show the world one thing: that Stuttgart could still build the best cars. It was in October 1951 in Paris, at the “Salon de l’Automobile”, that Mercedes-Benz presented its new flagship to a stunned audience. It was designed by Hermann Ahrens over the shortened chassis of the 300 limousine presented half a year earlier in Frankfurt, with a three-litre, six-cylinder engine of 150 horsepower, and loaded with all the elegance and opulence the world had to offer. The Mercedes-Benz 300 S was more than an unexpected surprise, it was an exclamation mark. Yes, they could!
Some might have been bigger, others stronger, but the 300 S outshined each and every one of them, even in the fully motorized new world. No other car had its level of class – nor, in fact, its price, which was almost twice as high as that of the fanciest Cadillac. Whether as a Coupé, a Cabriolet A with a fully lined convertible top, or as a sleek Roadster with a fully disappearing roof – the price was always the same: 34,500 German Marks. The press called it a car for the “world’s elite”, a euphemism for “out of this world”. In the old world resurrecting from the ashes, where most people could only dream of a Volkswagen (which had a similar price tag, except for the additional “0”), the 300 S must have appeared like a starship from outer space. But a stiffening breeze of Wirtschaftswunder made it also find some homes on this side of the pond, though more often with industrial tycoons than with movie stars.
560 cars left the factory in three years, chic roadsters being the rarest specimens, with only 141 cars built. In 1955 the 300 S was upgraded with fuel injection, dry-sump lubrication, even more chrome, and a new low-pivot independent rear suspension. The price was increased by half a Volkswagen’s worth, which put it two full Volkswagens above its famous gull-winged contemporary that Mercedes had meanwhile released from the race tracks into road traffic. This further reduced the already low sales numbers, and another three years later, in 1958, production of the 300 S ceased.
This 300 S Roadster which was on sale in Dorotheum’s classic car auction in June, was built in 1953 for a steel tycoon from North Rhine-Westphalia. Its current owner acquired the car in the 1970s and has since enjoyed many summers at its French residence. After a mere 20 years together he had the car restored, and today, another 20 years later, the time has come to pass it on to a new loving caretaker. In the 65 years since the presentation of the 300 S, the world has become a different one, but one thing has not changed. It still amazes passers-by and makes them turn their heads no matter where it goes. The 300 S is quintessential elegance; it always has been and always will be. The American “Road & Track Magazine” put it beautifully in 1953: “Wherever the Mercedes-Benz 300 S has been seen, since its first appearance at the Paris Salon in the autumn of 1951, it has caused a quiet riot of enthusiasm, with its low, sleek lines and its attitude of ‘going’ even when standing still”.
Wolfgang Humer heads the classic motor vehicle department at Dorotheum.
Classic Car Auction, 18th June 2016
Fahrzeug und Technik-Zentrum Wien-Vösendorf