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Ventilation is poor but there are effective quarter light windows in the door windows, which whistle loudly.
Also whistling are the aluminium doors, which don’t seal as well as a modern car.
Posing somewhere between automotive haute couture and gaudy strumpet, the 300SL gullwing has had a lot of words expelled on it. How the original racing car was noisily launched on March 12 1952 on the old A81 between Stuttgart and Heilbronn.
This isn’t a heavy car, it wasn’t idly named SL (Sports Leicht) and at 1,295kg dry weight, its space-frame construction and aluminium doors, bonnet and boot gave it performance to match and beat the opposition.
There’s a story that when it was first seen, the speed of the Mercedes 300SL so rattled the Jaguar team that they sacrificed the C-type’s reliability for speed and lost out at the 1952 Le Mans to the slippery 300SL.
The gearlever pokes out of the centre tunnel like a knitting needle and has a precise mechanical action for the four speeds and a heavy clutch.
Steering is more a sensation of helming the nose between the twin pontoon wings.
That rear suspension imposed a high rear roll centre and encouraged large camber and toe-in changes according to the wheel travel.
The problem was fixed for the later roadster versions of the 300SL, but quite how Rudi Uhlenhaut, Mercedes-Benz’s legendary engineer/chief designer allowed his gorgeous car to be offered to the public with such a flaw is understandable, if not altogether excusable. Since the boom in classic car prices, gullwing values have gone nuclear.In fact you can see the road through one of them, which isn’t uncommon for hand built cars of this period.At 80mph with 3,500rpm on the clock in fourth the gullwing is starting to tell you it’s a very serious piece of kit.And that, together with better crank damping, hotter cam profiles and timing, and optimised porting, meant that Mercedes virtually doubled the power from 115 to 212bhp.Maintenance was parlous, however, as the fuel quickly poisoned the lubricating oil, which demanded a big sump capacity of 2.2 gallons and oil-change intervals of just 1,000 miles.The driving position isn’t bad, but the red leather buckets are sweaty and have no support or whiplash protection.You sit quite close to the pedals with the wheel intimately in your lap.If applied in a corner they tend to jam the suspension bushings in the direction of travel so you need to brake before turning.At this point I told my tape recorder that the swing axles weren’t quite as scary as I’d been warned. Down the Sussex lanes the 300SL feels quite floppy and you can sense the body twisting, but it’s a delightful dance between the hedgerows where it feels like a strong car if that’s not too contrary.Strangely the gullwing doors aren’t a huge problem for bay parking, but getting in and out is an inelegant process.Once you are sitting in front of the chromium-plate, seven-dial dash it feels every millimetre a thoroughbred.