Eight Mercedes-Benz 300SLs to headline the 2024 George Old Car Show

The biggest gathering of original Mercedes-Benz 300SL sports cars will take place at the 2024 George Old Car Show on the weekend of February 10 to 11. A total of eight of the nine original series 300SLs residing in South Africa will be at the show, which is now in its 27th rendition in 2024.

These are the cars that earned the 300SL the title of “Sports Car of the Century” in 1999!

“We are thrilled to have committed entries of these magnificent cars", says Waldo Scribante, chairman of the organising club, The Southern Cape Old Car Club, which has established this show as the premier Western Cape event for classic cars, over the past three decades.

“Seven of the 300SLs are Roadster versions, and for the first time, a magnificent original Gullwing 300SL Coupé will be joining the Roadsters at our event. The Gullwing is presently the only one of these original SL series coupés in South Africa. The sight of this car joining seven roadster versions is going to be awe-inspiring,” says Scribante, who personally owns one of the most comprehensive Mercedes-Benz classic collections in South Africa.

“From the club’s point of view, we are extremely honoured to have eight of these ultra-rare and very valuable Mercedes sports cars attending our show, and it points to the status that the George Old Car Show has in the classic car fraternity, all over the country.

“What I find intriguing is that the SL 300s entered for next month’s show hail from many parts of the country. The cars are arriving from as far afield as Johannesburg, Klerksdorp, Cape Town, and Paarl, - while one of them is a local machine owned and garaged here in George.

“And even more significant is that our SL display marks, almost to the day, the 70th anniversary of the Mercedes-Benz 300SL.”

The 300SL - A motorsport heritage harking back to 1954

The original Mercedes-Benz 300SL premiered at a time of supreme dominance in international motor racing by the Stuttgart-based manufacturer. Juan Manual Fangio scored two of his Formula One world championships in the Mercedes W196 Grand Prix machine in 1954 and 1955. Mercedes-Benz also famously won the 1955 Mille Miglia in the hands of Stirling Moss, with its 300SLR sports racer.

The road-going Mercedes-Benz 300SL, launched in coupé form at the New York Auto Show in February 1954, was derived from the first 300SL which was built by Mercedes’ competitions department for the 1952 Carrera Panamericana, a tortuous 3 500 km road race run over dirt roads in Mexico. The special triangulated tubular space-frame design of the chassis was largely carried over into the road going version.

The famous Gullwing Mercedes 300SL

The heavy tubular chassis bracing along the flanks of the competition-spec 300SL resulted in very high door sills, which made cockpit access difficult for the average person. So Mercedes came up with the novel solution of extending the door openings into the roof area, and hinging the doors so that they flipped upwards, instead of outwards. Daringly, this access system was carried over into the production 300SL coupés built between 1954 and 1957.

Thus the racing DNA present in the production coupé versions of the 300SL resulted in the famous nickname of the car, the “Gullwing” as the doors resembled seagull wings when they were both opened to receive the driver and the passenger. But there was a lot more to the 300SL that was trail-blazing from an engineering perspective.

First direct-injection petrol engine

The 3,0-litre straight-six overhead camshaft engine was the first production engine in the world to feature direct petrol injection, nearly half a century before this practise became popular in today’s production cars. The engine was rated at 179 kW, and canted over to one side to achieve the famous low SL bonnet line. Also helping achieve that low bonnet line was a dry-sump lubrication system.

Depending on the rear axle ratio, top speed of the SL ranged between 235 and 263 km/h, making it the fastest production car in the world in the mid-1950s.

The Mercedes-Benz 300SL Roadster

By 1956 sales of the Gullwing coupé had tapered off and Mercedes released the 300SL Roadster version in 1957. It featured the same mechanical layout as the coupé, but the side sections of the chassis frame were modified to accept conventional doors. Most roadsters featured leather interiors to contrast with the beautiful ivory of the steering wheel and gear lever knob and stainless steel dashboard insert. A hard top option was added soon after production began.

A striking feature of both the coupé and roadster is the small frontal area achieved by the low bonnet line and the cockpit that is narrow relative to the wings of the car. A distinctive feature of the 300SL is the use of “eyebrows” above the wheel arches, said to deflect rain away from the windscreen.

In total some 1 400 Gullwing coupés and 1 858 roadsters were built between 1954 and 1963.

Famous owners of the car include Sophia Loren, Pablo Picasso, Clark Gable, Bernie Ecclestone, Hugh Heffner and Paul Newman,

*The George Old Car Show 2024 takes place on February 10 - 11, 2024 at the Eden Technical High School, Union Street George. The show runs from 9am to 6 pm on Saturday, February 10 and from 9 am to 2 pm on Sunday, February 11.

*The organisers, the Southern Cape Old Car Club, are expecting upwards of 1 000 classic cars for this year’s event.

*Tickets are now available through iTickets. Log on to the iTickets website using this link: https://itickets.co.za/events/475607

*Ticket prices for Saturday February 10 are R100 for adults, R80 for pensioners R50 for high school scholars, while children under 12 are free. Sunday February 11 ticket prices are R80 for adults, R50 for pensioners, and R50 for high school scholars.

*The organisers strongly recommend buying tickets on-line to avoid queueing at the gate for this highly popular event. On-line tickets are purchased at a discounted rate.

*Owners of pre-1985 classic cars who wish to show their vehicles should visit the Southern Cape Old Car Club on https://scocc.co.za/register/index-new.php. Only pre-registered cars will be admitted to the show grounds.

For more information, visit www.scocc.co.za