In case you think all of the good barn finds are gone, here’s one that may literally be for the record books when all is said and done: an original-owner, alloy-bodied 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL gullwing coupe.
Rudi Koniczek knows a thing or two about gullwings, having restored quite a few of them over the years at his Victoria, British Columbia-based shop, Rudi and Company. He also knows that of the 29 alloy-bodied competition specials built by Stuttgart, only 28 had been accounted for, with number 21 on the M.I.A. list for quite some time. With restorations of alloy body numbers one through six under his belt, he was hardly a stranger to those rare models either.
Rumors of the unaccounted-for 300 SL residing in a Santa Monica, California, garage had teased Koniczek and a California-based friend for years. But as the Vancouver Sun reported recently, after locating the owner – who knew what he had buried in his garage – Koniczek was eventually able to make a deal, knowing that he would very likely be able to find a buyer for the car once it was restored.
Owner Tom Wellmer’s parents had given him the car in 1955 as a gift for his college graduation. He drove it until the early 1970s when the transmission failed. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: After partially disassembling the car with the intention to fix it, Wellmer let it sit… for four decades. And while it sat, he continued to accumulate stuff in his garage.
So even after making a deal with the owner, Koniczek still couldn’t see the car, as it was parked in a garage jam-packed with old mainframe computers. Wellmer had been an executive in the computer industry during its infancy and collected the machines as they were retired. According to Koniczek associate Robert Dening of Spirited Automobiles, it took Koniczek, “his friend and three hired laborers two 10-hour days just to clear enough space around the car to walk around it.”
But once he could get close to the car, Koniczek was able to confirm the alloy body with a simple sweep of a magnet that had no attraction at all to the Gullwing rarity. It took yet another day of heavy lifting to clear enough space to get at all of the removed parts stored on shelves in the back of the garage.
Although standard 300 SL steel-body coupes had alloy doors, hood and trunklid, the lightweight models had an all-alloy body, along with Plexiglas windows, for lighter weight. Mercedes-Benz also fitted them with revised and lowered suspension, a high-lift camshaft, knockoff Rudge wheels and bigger brakes.
Koniczek now has the car in his Victoria shop and Dening reports that a buyer has already been lined up, ironically enough in Santa Monica. While they reported no sale price, alloy-bodied gullwings are valued well into the seven figures. Considering the one-owner provenance, this car will surely break that barrier as well.
It’s good to know that even if it seems that all of the good ones are taken when it comes to barn finds, something as spectacular as this 300 SL shows up.