we drove the Mercedes 300 SLR, the most expensive car in the world

This early winter morning of 2004, a pair of snowflakes twirled between two rays of sun on Mercedes’ private circuit in the heart of Stuttgart. In a shed, very hot, awaits us one of the rarest, but also one of the most formidable road cars produced by the brand with the star. : Mercedes 300 SLR coupe from 1955. Unique, the encounter with this Mercedes is exceptional in more ways than one. Under its dress, reminiscent of the standard 300 SL, this “R” variant hides a true racing engine derived from the eight-cylinder Mercedes Formula 1 at the wheel, of which Fangio was world champion in 1954 and 1955. Above all, it is extremely rare to an owner, even a car manufacturer, agrees to entrust the steering wheel of such a rare piece to someone. In addition, for almost 70 years of its life, this 300 SLR has known nearly thirty drivers … and two journalists … We can not thank Etoile enough for this unique trust.

Long preparation required

We are of course accompanied to this test drive. In this case by Gert Straub, the engineer responsible for the maintenance and use of the car. It is he who begins the heating procedure. Turn the ignition key, activate the fuel pump and start the starter: Deuce, have never heard such a sound! The competition obliges, the recording and the exhaust could not be more direct. It does not sound like something familiar, it is not music, but it certainly impresses, even scares. First a few minutes of stabilized speed at 3,000 rpm, followed by three others by giving throttle speeds up to 6,000 rpm, and the engine is silent. No, there is no problem. However, when the engine is hot, “cold” spark plugs must be fitted, the only ones capable of ensuring operation at stabilized temperature. A mechanic opened a large hatch at the bottom of the right wing and began replacing the 16 spark plugs! Yes, in addition to using an innovative mechanical direct injection, this in-line eight has a dual ignition.

A meeting under surveillance

Spark plug replacement done, the 300 SLR coupe reaches out to me. Despite the butterfly doors, access requires a bit of flexibility, which is not my strong point. To make matters worse, a huge transmission tunnel (approx. 70 cm) separates the brake pedal from the clutch pedal because the engine block tilted to the left to promote aerodynamics forces the passage of the bias transmission shaft under the driver’s seat. Without a seat belt, sitting with my legs wide apart, my hands resting on a huge steering wheel, I worry about the quality of the brakes. “There are four large ventilated drums with hydraulic assistance. It works very well with one warningsaid Gert Straub, smiling at me,The aid is proportional to the speed. It brakes very well over 200 km / h, but at low speeds … better to pump and push very hard! For the gearbox, the five gears are in sync, but it creaks a bit anyway. And then the grid is a little special: first at the top left, second in the middle at the bottom, third at the front, fourth at the bottom right and fifth at the front. Ah, another thing, the clutch is vintage. It is therefore forbidden to make it skate. You insert 3000rpm and then you suddenly release. Let’s go ?

ten minutes grace

OK, here we go, 3,000 rpm, I escaped everything: almost without losing speed, The 300 SLR coupe starts with power. If this 8-cylinder does not like to drive below 2,500 rpm, beyond 4,000 rpm, it shows an astonishing force and really explodes above 6,000 rpm., and up to the switch located at 7,800 rpm. Admittedly, this 300 SLR coupe weighs well over 1100 kg thanks to its lightweight chassis and body in magnesium and aluminum alloy (80% -20%). But even 50 years later, it is rare for sports cars to be able to accelerate with such force and without losing traction despite a bitumen close to 0ºC.

Wicked, this engine is for the ears too. For after ten minutes of this shock treatment, a persistent whistle made me regret having denied the noise-reducing plugs. If the chassis, despite a hard but fairly precise steering without too much effort, seems to digest the 310 hp and the curves are not too tight, the brake inevitably dates this silver arrow. No bite, obligatory pumping and insufficient power: this is without a doubt the car’s weak point. Maybe, as Gert told me, it improves over 200 km / h, but out of respect for this almost unique object, as much as out of lack of courage, I did not want to try.

Deprived of competition due to the dramatic accident that cost 81 spectators their lives at the 24 Hours of Le Mans on June 11, 1955, Rudolf Uhlenaut, the designer of this unique barquette, then worked on the development of road cars, then on the C 111 equipped with a rotary piston motor. However, he did not leave his two 300 SLR coupes, which he would use for a long time as ultra-fast service cars. Without knowing that one of them would become the most expensive car in the world in 2022 …

Datasheet Mercedes 300 SLR Coupe 1955

  • Engine: 8 cyl. inline, 16s, 2982cc
  • Output: 310 hp at 7,400 rpm
  • Torque: 317 Nm at 5,950 rpm
  • Transmission: rear, mechanical 5 gears.
  • Dimensions (L / W / H): 4.35 / 1.75 / 1.21m
  • Tank: 155 l
  • Weight: 1117 kg
  • Maximum speed: 284 km / h
  • Average consumption: approx. 30 l / 100 km

Leave a Comment