We were recently presented with the opportunity to work on this utterly stunning, concours winning, 1954 Mercedes 300SL Gullwing (W198). Having benefitted from a complete restoration around 10 years ago, it is now considered one of the best examples in the UK. Our task was to make the best even better.
When introduced for sale by Mercedes Benz, this car must have seemed like something from the future. It immediately claimed the Fastest Production Car record, and depending on axle ratio fitted, could achieve 160mph. It was the first production vehicle to be fitted with fuel injection, a mechanical Bosch system derived from that fitted on the Messerschmitt BF109E fighter aircraft during WW2. This addition immediately gave the road car a near 25% increase in power over the race car from which it’s engine was taken!
Independent suspension at all 4 wheels allowed for an excellent ride quality whilst maintaining good body control, and an understanding of aerodynamics lead to what engineers called ‘eyebrows’ being fitted above the wheel openings to reduce drag and help achieve the amazing top speed.
The distinctive ‘gullwing’ upwardly opening doors were a necessity rather than a styling effort. The W194 race car this Grand Tourer hailed from was made from a light but very strong aluminium spaceframe chassis. Because of the way the strengthening braces ran, it meant normal doors would have been impossible. The body of the car is mainly steel, but to save weight and keep the centre of gravity as low as possible, the doors, bonnet and bootlid were all made from aluminium. The name refers to the 3000cc straight six engine capacity, and ‘Sport Leicht’ (Sport Light).
Just 1400 cars were made in total between 1954 and 1957, 80% of which went to the USA. This car has attended and competed in numerous concours events, and taken part in the Mille Miglia in Italy.
Believe it or not, the owner of this car is new to the world of detailing, or ‘Curating’ as we like to call it, and intrigued to see what could be done. An inspection of the straight black showed a plethora of scratches, swirls and minor defects that all detracted from the ultimate finish possible.
The car is always kept immaculate, so relatively little work was required to prepare it for polishing. Some minor contamination on the paint was dealt with using a clay bar, and badges were removed from the boot lid and sill to allow unhindered access and best finish right across the panels.
Straight black paint is without a doubt the hardest colour to work on, but when done well, looks like an infinitely deep black pool of liquid. Polishing was slow progress, defects worked at gently and removed gradually to uncover beautiful results. Not too many pictures were taken during the correction process, but you can see from the pictures below how the finish was being restored.
Hours disappeared working panel by panel, also being careful to manage the dust that is a by product of polishing, not making too much of a mess on the car or the surrounding workspace. As well as being good practice, a good level of cleanliness is vital when working on a paint finish such as this. Compared to some other work, cloths were used to wipe a panel just once before changing to another, to prevent any minor contamination from marring the perfectly polished surface.
Given the delicate nature of the paint, and that it is a car to be used relatively regularly for a car of this sort, GTechniq C1 was selected as the product of choice to protect it. Had this been original paint we would have been more likely to use a luxurious Swsissvax wax, but given that it’s a relatively modern paint, the GTechniq coating suits it perfectly, giving a lustrous, peerless durability, and most importantly a vital improvement in scratch resistance. After wiping the car carefully down to ensure any polishing oils were removed, the coating was applied to all painted surfaces.
The results speak for themselves, but we’re delighted to say the client was very pleased indeed. Having extensive experience of concours preparation (another car they own won a 3rd place at Pebble Beach in California last summer), it was very satisfying to show what further, and quite significant, improvements could be made on an already stunning car. The work done here is not invasive to the car, is sympathetic to original paint finishes where they are in good order, and offers a genuine restorative effect, not just temporarily hiding marks with oily products.