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Gullwing, the popular name for the Mercedes 300 SL coupé, is probably the greatest and most successful supercar of all time. Throughout the model's long life the name 'Gullwing' has highlighted the car's unique feature, the lift-up gull-wing doors necessitated by the 300 SL's elaborate multi-tubular space-frame chassis.
Conceived and developed in 1951, the 300 SL proved a fast and reliable competition sports car. In 1952, the original 300SL (model Mercedes-Benz W194) scored overall wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, in Bern-Bremgarten, in the sportscar race of the Eifelrennen at the Nürburgring, and in Mexico's Carrera Panamericana. It also managed second and fourth places at its first outing, the Mille Miglia in 1952.
The decision to create a road going SL was largely due to Mercedes-Benz's American distributor, the formidable Max Hoffman. While attending a 1954 meeting of the Daimler-Benz Board of Directors, Hoffman argued passionately for a production version of the 300SL racing car. According to legend, despite initial objections the determined Hoffman prevailed and left Germany with a commitment for the construction of 1,000 SLs.
The sleek body design was a classic case of form following function. The attractive bulges over the wheel openings, for instance, actually improved high-speed stability, and the two longitudinal hood bulges and distinctive grillwork on both front wings removed excessive heat from the engine bay while reducing interior noise. In addition, lightweight aluminium was used extensively for the bodywork, particularly for the doors, bonnet, boot lid and interior sheet metal. While the rest of the car utilised steel panels for the bodywork, the entire car, in ready-to-drive form, including the spare wheel, tool kit and fuel, tipped the scales at just 1,295 kilograms. Designed for high-speed, cross-country travel, the 300SL was equipped with a large 130-litre fuel tank.
From these highly successful sports-racing cars Mercedes-Benz developed the production model that was a pioneer of fuel injection. In production form, the Gullwing was built to the highest quality and had a standard of performance - 140mph top speed coupled with exceptional acceleration - that surpassed the offerings of rival manufacturers. (The Gullwing was by far the fastest production car of it's day). The result was that over a period stretching from late 1954 to April 1957 the Mercedes-Benz factory built 1400 of these magnificent cars.