mercedes elite living africaWhile the Gullwing is the obvious choice for collectors of classic Mercedes-Benz cars, those in the know seek out Roadsters. Elite Living Africa goes on a restoration journey as a 300 SL is restored to her former glory. Photography by Corné du Plessis writes Johann Venter

Between 1957 and 1963, 1,858 of these goddesses on wheels were hand-crafted at the Mercedes-Benz factory in Sindelfingen. Spawned from the 300 SL Gullwing, a direct result of Mercedes’ successful racing coupé, the W194 SL reclaimed Mercedes’s glory years after the war.

While the Gullwing and Roadster are similar in appearance, it was the a 300 SLR in which Sir Stirling Moss won the Mille Miglia on in May 1955. The topless 300 SL, however, is substantially more powerful than the racing coupé as well as out-performing the Gullwing thanks to a high performance camshaft and higher compression ratio.

It was aimed at the upper echelons of society, royalty and the glitterati. The jet set of the time including Natalie Wood, Clark Gable, Glenn Ford, Yul Brynner, Horst Buchholz, Curd Jürgens, as well as Elvis Presley, all chose the Roadster to saunter down the boulevards.

The Roadster is more spirited in performance than the Gullwing, it handles better, and it certainly does not require the acrobatic manoeuvres needed for getting in and out via gullwing doors. The cockpit is roomier – and in summer, the top can be removed, whereas the Gullwing feels somewhat claustrophobic in the summer due to the limited ventilation.

However, the biggest technological advance on the Gullwing and the Roadster, is the direct fuel-injection system. Developed during WWII by Daimler-Benz in conjunction with Bosch for the V12 DB601 engine used in a 1942 German fighter plane, the technology was adapted for the Mercedes-Benz SL programme, giving the marque a technological advance that would take other manufacturers decades to master.

The immaculate 1961 Roadster featured is, according to the Mercedes-Benz Club of South Africa, one of only 12 imported into the country. The Roadster in the Franschhoek Motor Museum has been superbly restored in Anthracite metallic which is period-correct, although not a standard colour option at the time. According to Mercedes-Benz Classic, only seven were originally ordered in this hue. Many Roadsters today have been resprayed this colour and it is easy to see why. The Anthracite metallic over the blood-red cabin, combined with the black hardtop is stunning.

This Roadster has not been owned by one family since new, nor has it enjoyed the benefits of living in a temperature-controlled garage and hauled to shows every so often. It has not won prizes, nor does it have a complete history. Instead, it’s onto its fifth owner but three owners ago, a story of devotion began.

The story started at Grey College in the Free State, a renowned rugby school. While attending Grey College, a young Steve Rademeyer falls in love – with the 300 SL Roadster, a late 1957 model, the first to be imported into South Africa in early 1958, to be precise. It was the very car in which Dr Jan Stegmann broke the official speed. 

The rest of this article can be read on page 42 of Elite Living Africa.