Jay Leno Samples the Oldest Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing, a True Golden Age Supercar

Jay Leno Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing 9 photos
Photo: YouTube Screenshot/Jay Leno
Mercedes-Benz 300 SL GullwingMercedes-Benz 300 SL GullwingJay Leno Mercedes-Benz 300 SL GullwingMercedes-Benz 300 SL GullwingMercedes-Benz 300 SL GullwingMercedes-Benz 300 SL GullwingMercedes-Benz 300 SL GullwingMercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing
Hypothetically, if Mercedes gave you a one-off chance to own one of their legendary cars, which one would you pick? I’d choose the SL 65 AMG Black Series without blinking. The Mercedes-Benz Classic Center offered Jay Leno a chance to drive the oldest Gullwing in existence — a Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing from 1952.
The Mercedes-Benz 300 SL is a true classic royalty from the golden age of racing. Leno remembers this car as a kid from 1950s magazines. Coincidentally, the car from the Classic Center is a 1952 version (car number 5).

This car was in a race series designed specifically for the track. It comes with an aluminum body, with a later released version in magnesium. For a 1952 car, this 300 SL Gullwing has a low weight of below 1.000 kg (2,000 lbs), like a Lotus Elise of the time, with a closed roof.

It came with the Rudge wheels, and while it might seem peculiar to have heavier wheels on a race car, but they were much quicker to change in a track event. Plus, it’s cool watching the spinners following it from behind.

Leno also got another car from Mercedes Benz Classic Center, a W194 (Car number 11). It’s also a 1952 version with a magnesium body, a prototype developed for 1953. It weighs 960 kg. According to Leno, this car looks futuristic and feels like a recent production. Comparing it to a Porsche Carrera, he feels this was a big powerful meaty American car for the American taste.

Mercedes did not intend to make the SL 300 Gullwing into a series car. It was a race-breed, but Max Hoffman convinced them to build 1,000 units for the American market. Little did they know, a legend was born.

The number 5 car has a 180 hp 3.2-liter carbureted race car compared to the general series 170 hp. The number 11 car, based on the success of the 1952 season, came with a W198 motor, the same one as on the production Gullwing - a fuel-injected 3.0-liter 6-cylinder making 225 hp.

First drive inside the Gullwing, and Leno feels it is powerful even by today’s standards. The 300 SL Gullwing runs like a 4.5-liter in his experience. It’s nicely balanced with a loveable gear whine and no handbrake.

You feel like you are driving when you are driving this. It almost feels like power steering. No effort at all,” Leno said.

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About the author: Humphrey Bwayo
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Humphrey is a car enthusiast whose love and passion for automobiles extended into collecting, writing, driving, and working on cars. He got his passion for cars from his Dad, who spent thousands of hours working on his old junky 1970 E20 Toyota Corolla. Years later, he would end up doing the same with a series of lemons he’s owned throughout his adult life.
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