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Mercedes 300 SLS Super Light Sport. 400 kilos less and more power to win in America

Although the Mercedes 300 SL is one of the best sports cars of all time, its destiny was never to stand out in the field of competition. However, Mercedes itself built two units designed from the ground up for racing with Paul O'Shea as the driver who was to drive them to success. In this sense, the two 300 Super Light Sport were the most extreme variants of the model, with a weight lowered by almost 400 kilos.

When the Mercedes 1954 SL was introduced in 300 it came with the ambition to become one of the best automobiles in history. Something that without a doubt it obtained. Not so much for the attractive design of its Gullwing versions as for the engine M198 with fuel injection. The first to apply this military aviation solution to the field of motorsports, achieving a degree of effectiveness capable of placing the model among the best sports cars of the moment. Thus, the curious thing is that his role in the races was not more visible.

A fact that is explained by the aristocratic character of the brand in those times. Which did not renounce its competition program, but with the 300 SL decided to target a clientele that, just perhaps, decided to enter the vehicle to a race occasionally. Thus this model oozes details that take it away from the spartan character of the great racing cars of the moment. Since his commercial niche was not that of the "Gentleman drivers" or private pilots but that of wealthy businessmen eager for a performance car for the day to day.

However, Mercedes itself offered official support to certain drivers willing to compete with the 300 SL. One of them was the American Paul O'Shea. A regular in endurance races such as the 12 Hours of Sebring, who competed for various teams always paying great attention to racing units from Mercedes. For this reason, in 1957 he was the protagonist of the creation of a very special model: the Mercedes 300 SLS. The best advertising accompaniment to the commercial appearance of the 300 SL convertible model in the United States.

MERCEDES 300 SLS. A CAR MADE FOR PAUL O'SHEA

Paul O'Shea did not make stellar appearances in endurance racing on the European scene. However, within the United States he was a true driving ace during the XNUMXs. So much so in 1955, 1956 and 1957 he was awarded the US Sports Car Championship. The title with which the specialized press crowned the one who, according to the specialized jury, had been the most prominent driver on the national scene. In addition, Paul O'Shea was so well connected that he always stood out for the quality of his frames. Something that is seen in the cars he raced in the 12 Hours of Sebring.

A list that begins with a Posche 550 belonging to the Max Hoffman team. But that continues with the Ferrari 250 GT LWB of the NART and 250 TR of the Mexican National Auto Club led by the mythical and ill-fated Pedro Rodríguez de la Vega. However, these models are not as specific as the Corvette SR-2 to drive in the 1957 edition. The first Corvette built from scratch for racing. Possibly Harley Earl's most exclusive creation, which is however much better known today than the two Mercedes 300 SLS exported from Germany by the official house.

Slightly boosted and extremely lightened, the Mercedes 300 SLS represents what is possibly the strangest and most competitive version of the model. A variant born specifically for competition, focused on North American racing to accompany the launch of the 300 1957 SL Roadster. The model requested by the importer Max Hoffman. Who, showing off his good nose for sales, detected the demand that in the United States would have a discovered version of the 300 SL Gullwing.

MUCH LESS WEIGHT TO SUCCEED ON THE TRACKS

Well connected to the Sttutgart household thanks to his relationship with Max Hoffman, Paul O'Shea was a charismatic pilot who He did not hesitate to release a folk record with lyrics about sports car racing. Including a cantata to the benefits of Castor oil and a ballad to the memory of Alfonso de Portago. What's more, his special skill in tuning his cars made Mercedes trust him to drive the 300 SLS. A project born from the convertible version of the 300SL, being the perfect base to devise a lightweight barquetta to the maximum.

In this sense, the Sttutgart engineers used one of the roadster prototypes to extract all the accessories. Decomposing and reassembling until they achieved reduce the 400 of the 1330 SL Gullwing by almost 300 kilos. A spectacular improvement, which was complemented by an increase of 20CV in the M198 aluminum engine, thus reaching 235CV. All this gave an elaborate design for the 300 SLS -Super Light Sport-, arriving within a few weeks a second unit manufactured from scratch. Later, both were sent to the port of New York along with five spare engines.

From there, the 300 SLS were transferred to the Lime Park racetrack for Paul O'Shea to perform the final tests for the 1957 season. The year in which he participated in 22 endurance events. Managing to place the Mercedes 150 SLS as the winner in its category - the one for modified cars, since a minimum of 300 units had not been assembled, it could not be homologated in that of production cars. A car that from the beginning was dominating with respect to the Jaguar and Ferrari.

Thus, being able to fantasize about what would have happened if, just that year, Mercedes had not decided to cut its competition program after the disaster that occurred at the 1957 Mille Miglia. Thus, making it possible for the 300 SLS to have had the possibility of racing at Le Mans or Nürburgring.

Photographs: Bonhams / Daimler

PS Unfortunately, the two units of the 300 SLS are not preserved. Therefore, the unit illustrated in this article is a replica last offered by Bonhams at the auction held in Chantilly last 2017. Built in collaboration with Mercedes in the Zagato workshops on an original 300 SL.

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Miguel Sánchez

Written by Miguel Sánchez

Through the news from La Escudería, we will travel the winding roads of Maranello listening to the roar of the Italian V12; We will travel Route66 in search of the power of the great American engines; we will get lost in the narrow English lanes tracking the elegance of their sports cars; We will speed up the braking in the curves of the Monte Carlo Rally and we will even get dusty in a garage while rescuing lost jewels.

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