HONOURING THE ANCESTOR
We take a muscular newcomer on an 870 km road trip to meet an illustrious predecessor
The Mercedes-amg GT C Roadster doffs its cap. Parked next to a respected ancestor, the GT C’s fabric roof lifts up and folds quietly into its boot. I might’ve had my finger on the button, but such is the reverence this 300 SL roadster demands that I have a feeling the GT C would’ve done it anyway.
Sixty years and significant technological advancements may separate these two cars, but there’s no denying the genealogy. The progenitor is, of course, the roadster version of the 300 SL Gullwing, MercedesBenz’s racecar-derived coupé that now ranks among the most collectable post-war models in the marque’s illustrious back catalogue. Like the Gullwing, the roadster shares the same tubular space-frame chassis and that jewel of a 3,0-litre, straightsix, M198 engine with its revolutionary-for-the-time direct fuel-injection system. Canted by 50 degrees to allow for a low, aerodynamic body, in the roadster it’s good for 240 bhp (179 kw); some 20 horses more than the Gullwing thanks to the standard fitment of a competition camshaft that was only an option on the coupé.
Marginally less collectable than the coupé, the roadster is more than a mere Gullwing with a soft top, though; it is, in fact, a better car. It succeeded the Gullwing in 1957 and offered not only more power, but more predictable handling thanks to a new rear suspension setup. The Gullwing’s dual-pivot system had a tendency to dramatically understeer at the limit, but the roadster’s new, lower-roll-centre, single-pivot trailing-arm rear axle allowed for far more neutral and predictable road manners.
These underpinnings, though, are a mere back story to its looks. The 300 SL roadster has to be one