FEA­TURE CAR

New Zealand Classic Car - - Feature Car -

road­ster en­gine was in the Gull­wing. Parts for both cars were dis­cov­ered in other old cars on the owner’s prop­er­ties — with Garry be­ing for­tu­nate enough to un­cover an in­jec­tion pump and in­let man­i­fold in the boot of one of th­ese old cars. A camshaft and in­jec­tors were ly­ing rust­ing away on the mud floor of the shed along­side the road­ster and, when turned over, wa­ter drained from the miss­ing cover bolts in a gear­box that had been ly­ing open to the weather. For an avid Mercedes-benz en­thu­si­ast, the en­tire scene was akin to some­thing out of his worst night­mares.

How­ever, with the rar­ity of the al­loy-bod­ied coupé not open to ques­tion, Garry forged ahead with the pur­chase, and, once he’d viewed all the rel­e­vant pa­per­work and doc­u­men­ta­tion per­tain­ing to each ve­hi­cle, bills of sale were duly signed and the cheque ex­changed.

Un­for­tu­nately for Garry, how­ever, the owner’s next re­quest was terse: the cars had to be gone from his prop­erty by Sun­day, giv­ing Garry just three days to make all the nec­es­sary ar­range­ments. Af­ter a few phone calls to round up a few friends, in­clud­ing good friend Ken Wil­liams (who turned up with his six-wheel 5.5-litre V8 G-wa­gen race-car trans­porter, this prov­ing in­valu­able for ne­go­ti­at­ing the wet and muddy con­di­tions at the cars’ lo­ca­tions). By 3pm on the Satur­day, they had res­cued the cars and as many of the parts as they could find. At that point, Garry re­al­ized just how much had gone miss­ing over the 25 years that th­ese cars had spent be­ing moved from one bad sit­u­a­tion to an­other.

By late Satur­day evening, the road­ster was safely with Garry’s re­storer, Lloyd Marx in Hamil­ton, to be used as a ref­er­ence for the fi­nal as­sem­bly of Garry’s 1957 road­ster, while the Gull­wing was at last in safe and dry stor­age within his own garage in Auck­land.

Restora­tion

Over the fol­low­ing months, as Garry and Lloyd worked to com­plete the 1957 road­ster, a com­pre­hen­sive sched­ule for the restora­tion of the two new ac­qui­si­tions was com­piled. Garry also de­cided to visit Clas­sica Tech­nico in Essen, Ger­many, to look at other 300SLS and talk with parts sup­pli­ers. As well, he took the op­por­tu­nity to visit the Mercedes-benz ar­chives in Stuttgart. There, once his cre­den­tials had been ac­cepted, he was able to ob­tain a copy of the build sheet for the Gull­wing. This con­tained all the fac­tory in­for­ma­tion per­tain­ing to the car and con­firmed that it had orig­i­nally been de­liv­ered, ex-works, to the MercedesBenz dealer in Lon­don on 29 Jan­uary 1956.

Once the ’57 road­ster was com­plete, Lloyd com­menced work on Garry’s new ac­qui­si­tions, start­ing with the Gull­wing.

With the car com­pletely stripped down, the first step in the long road to restora­tion was to place the car’s unique space frame on a chas­sis robot. As ex­pected, the frame was found to be twisted, prob­a­bly as the re­sult of an ac­ci­dent that had oc­curred in 1972. The chas­sis was pulled back to fac­tory spec­i­fi­ca­tions, with only two small pieces of the chrome-moly steel need­ing to be re­placed. The space frame was then bead-blasted and pow­der-coated in semi-matte black. Verification of the chas­sis rebuild was by laser­beam wheel-align­ment ma­chine, which con­firmed the front and rear wheel track­ing to be at 0.02.

The next stage of the restora­tion process was to tackle the huge task of re­pair­ing the car’s alu­minium body. As well as suf­fer­ing from past ac­ci­dent dam­age, the al­loy was also show­ing signs of metal fa­tigue crack­ing and elec­trolytic cor­ro­sion.

Ap­prox­i­mately 25 per cent of the metal in the body was re­fab­ri­cated and welded into place, in­clud­ing a full set of belly pans. Great care was taken to re­tain as much of the orig­i­nal metal as pos­si­ble. In the parts of the body where stress fa­tigue had taken place, a dou­ble thick­ness of ma­te­rial was panel-bonded in­ter­nally to give added strength and rigid­ity — es­pe­cially in the roof cen­tre, where the hinges for the car’s iconic gull-wing doors are mounted. Par­tic­u­lar at­ten­tion was also given to boot, bon­net, and door gap­ping. Garry points out that th­ese gaps are now ab­so­lutely per­fect, and he reck­ons that the sign of a good 300SL restora­tion is the five-mil­lime­tre paint line on the A-pil­lar be­tween the wind­screen rub­ber and the door gap — which has been achieved with this car.

Mo­ti­va­tion

Mean­while, the 2996cc in-line six-cylin­der en­gine was re­built to its orig­i­nal fac­tory ‘NSL’ high-per­for­mance spec­i­fi­ca­tion — the mo­tor still re­tains the orig­i­nal en­gine num­ber as per the fac­tory build sheet. The NSL power plant was a fac­tory spe­cial-or­der com­pe­ti­tion en­gine that was stan­dard on the 29 al­loy-bod­ied Gull­wings built and fit­ted (on rare oc­ca­sions) to steel-bod­ied cars as well.

The ‘Son­derteile’ (spe­cial-parts) en­gine con­sisted of a rac­ing camshaft, adding about 11kw (15bhp), paired with a dif­fer­ent gover­nor for the in­jec­tion pump, and an ap­pro­pri­ately cal­i­brated dis­trib­u­tor. Only four per cent of to­tal Gull­wing pro­duc­tion was sup­plied with th­ese spe­cial mo­tors.

The 8.55:1 com­pres­sion ra­tio re­mained un­changed, but the al­loy cars did re­ceive dif­fer­ent springs and shock ab­sorbers.

The block was re­bored and fit­ted with Mahle pis­tons and a re­place­ment stan­dard-size crankshaft was also fit­ted. The head was also a re­placed — Garry still has the orig­i­nal — while the fuel pump and in­jec­tors were re­built and cal­i­brated by Pa­cific Fuel In­jec­tion in San Fran­cisco. Fi­nal dy­namome­ter testing showed the en­gine ca­pa­ble of pro­duc­ing its orig­i­nally rated power and torque.

The gear­box, which is num­bers cor­rect, was dis­as­sem­bled and all the in­ter­nal gears were re­placed along with new bear­ings and seals. The dif­fer­en­tial was also com­pletely re­built with new bear­ings and seals.

The wiring loom is new and is a com­plete re­place­ment, while all dash in­stru­ments are orig­i­nal and were re­built as nec­es­sary. The clock is the orig­i­nal me­chan­i­cal one, which runs via an au­to­matic elec­tric rewind ev­ery 15 min­utes. The faces of all the in­stru­ments were cleaned and now look fan­tas­tic with their pe­riod patina.

Ac­cord­ing to the car’s fac­tory build sheet, the trim was ‘cream L2’, and Garry en­deav­oured to stay as close to this as pos­si­ble. ‘L2’ called for ‘Tex Leder’ — a vinyl used be­fore MB Tex but no longer avail­able. In­stead, Garry chose to use leather, as it was a pe­riod op­tion.

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