Cars

Why No One Makes an Authentic Mercedes 300SL Gullwing Replica

Because rising values often keep vintage vehicles stuck in the garage, classic car and motorcycle replicas offer economical experience alternatives. For example, instead of an original Shelby Cobra, you can get Factory Five’s kit. Some, like Pur Sang’s Bugattis, are replicas in the truest sense, i.e., made with the same methods as the originals. Others, like Jaguar’s continuation cars and the Allard J2X MkIII, are even included in official model registries. However, despite its iconic status and price-tag, there’s no Mercedes 300SL Gullwing replica. But, there’s an excellent reason for that.

Mercedes takes the 300SL Gullwing very seriously

1954 Mercedes 300SL Gullwing
1954 Mercedes 300SL Gullwing | Mercedes-Benz

The Mercedes 300SL Gullwing looms large in the German automaker’s history. Particularly with those gullwing doors. Though, unlike some modern re-interpretations (*cough* Tesla Model X *cough*), they weren’t there primarily for visual appeal. As Bring a Trailer explains, the car’s stiff and lightweight frame left it with high door sills. Conventional doors wouldn’t work—hence the gullwing ones.

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And the Mercedes 300SL Gullwing wasn’t just visually striking. It was the first passenger car with fuel injection, Hagerty reports. And with a possible 160-mph top speed, it was the fastest production car in the world at the time. The late Sir Stirling Moss drove one to win the 1955 Mille Miglia. Not for nothing was it awarded the title “Sports Car of the Century” in 1999. Hence, why Mercedes is extremely protective of it.

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To quote a company press release, “the body shape of the legendary…model has been trademarked by Daimler AG. Anyone building, offering, or selling replicas of the vehicle is in breach of the Company’s rights. This even applies if the replicas do not incorporate any logos or trademarks of the Company. Daimler AG has long taken a tough approach to vehicle replicas.”

Mercedes Classic workers destroy 300SL Gullwing replica
Mercedes Classic workers destroy 300SL Gullwing replica | Daimler AG

And by tough approach, we mean destroying Mercedes 300SL Gullwing replicas. In 2012, Motor Trend reports, authorities seized German-made fiberglass 300SL replicas. Replicas that Mercedes Classic workers crushed into pieces using two separate 33-ton hydraulic presses.

2011 Mercedes SLS AMG
2011 Mercedes SLS AMG | Mercedes-Benz

Although Mercedes did create a spiritual successor, the SLS AMG, the original remains a highly-prized collector car. One that can’t be replicated. However, it has been cloned.

There are Mercedes Gullwing clones

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Using body kits to turn cars into something new isn’t unheard-of. And a few enthusiasts have used this strategy to make their own Mercedes Gullwing clones. Motor1 reports one owner used a 1996 Corvette; another, Road & Track reports, used a 2000 Mercedes SLK320. And for SEMA 2018, Hoonigan reports, John Sarkisyan built one on a 2002 Mercedes SLK32 AMG.

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Potential legal issues aside, Sarkisyan’s 300SL Gullwing clone is extremely well-made. The fact that an original Gullwing was used to make the mold for the fiberglass bodywork helps. Although, the clone is noticeably more powerful. In the 50s, the Mercedes 300SL’s 3.0-liter six-cylinder produced 215 hp. Stock, the SLK32 AMG’s 3.2-liter supercharged V6 makes 349 hp and 332 lb-ft. Here, though, it’s been tuned to 380 hp. In addition, the clone is allegedly lighter than the original.

And despite the attention to detail, it’s still likely cheaper than an original Mercedes 300SL.

How much would it cost to get one?

Sarkisyan used several OEM components in his build, such as the windows and gaskets, MB World reports. Also, the bucket seats are from a Gullwing. And making the clone wasn’t cheap—making the grille alone was about $30,000. Even so, a 1950s Mercedes 300SL Gullwing would still be more expensive.

1956 Mercedes 300SL Gullwing rear
1956 Mercedes 300SL Gullwing rear | Bring a Trailer

As of this writing, there’s a restored 1956 model listed on BaT. The starting bid was $1,000,000. Even a ‘fair’ condition example, Hagerty reports, a daily-driver with flaws and imperfections is valued at $910,000.

Little wonder people are willing to risk legal action to drive even a copy.

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