Photos copyright and courtesy of Gooding & Company. Contemporary Mercedes-Benz 300 SL images by Brian Henniker.
In the collector car world, originality often enhances the value of a car being sold at auction. This was certainly the case with a 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL coupe, offered after six-plus decades in single family ownership, at Gooding & Company’s 2017 Scottsdale sale. While the pre-auction estimate anticipated a selling price between $900,000 and $1.1 million for the unrestored coupe, the car ultimately achieved a hammer price of $1.33 million, or $1.46 million with buyer’s fees factored in.
Chassis 5500098 wasn’t purchased new by a famous racing driver, or Hollywood star, or even someone lucky enough to be born into wealth. In fact, Sigurd “Sig” Nygren and his twin brother Albert were orphans, raised in a small Oregon town on the banks of the Columbia River. Timber and fishing were the region’s primary businesses, but the Nygren brothers took to the sea with a different focus, joining the Merchant Marine at age 18. Through World War II, both served as assistant engineers with the service, with Sig spending his time on transport ships supplying the Allied Forces in the Pacific Theater.
Albert poses with a Taylor Aerocar, while Sig poses with his 300 SL coupe.
Following the war, both brothers (who were also licensed pilots) remained in the Merchant Marine, a job that evidently paid well but kept the two apart from their families for significant periods of time. On one stateside stint, circa 1955, Sig found this Gullwing coupe in the showroom a California Mercedes-Benz dealership, and purchased the Feuerwehrrot (Fire Engine Red) coupe on the spot. He’d wanted an alloy-bodied coupe, but couldn’t stand the thought of having to place an order and wait, potentially through several voyages, for delivery.
During his ownership, Sig added a bevvy of aircraft instruments, including an altimeter, a thermometer and a chronometer. He also added an eight-track tape player with six speakers, fog lamps, reverse lamps, and a windshield defroster fan, and drove the Mercedes-Benz through 1976, the last time it was registered for road use in his native Oregon. During his time at sea, the car remained parked in one of Sig’s aircraft hangars, and even after it was no longer registered, he was said to be diligent in starting the car during visits to the building.
Sig died in December of 2013, though it had been ten-plus years since the car was last run at that point. As offered at auction, the odometer reading of 31,239 miles was believed to be accurate, backed up by service records provided with the car. While the coupe had never been restored, paint overspray indicated that portions of the car were touched up over the years, perhaps to address paint chips. Remarkably, even the heavy paper factor inspection tags remained in place on the car’s oil tank, coolant reservoir and fuel tank, further evidence of the care taken by its long term owner.
While the lot did beat its pre-auction estimate, it’s worth noting that it didn’t approach the $1.9 million realized for an original and unrestored 1956 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL at Gooding & Company’s 2014 sale. What happens next is up to the car’s new owner, as valid arguments can be made for preservation and restoration alike.
The 1925 Bugatti hammers for $3.0 million. Photo by Mike Maez.
Other lots in the Gooding & Company top-10 included a 1925 Bugatti Type 35 Grand Prix, which set a record for the model at auction when it sold for $3.30 million; a 1965 Ferrari 500 Superfast, which sold for $2.92 million; a 1932 Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 Series V Grand Sport Roadster, which sold for $1.60 million; a 2011 Ferrari 599 SA Aperta, which sold for $1.49 million; a 1964 Shelby 289 Cobra, which sold for $1.10 million; a 1928 Bentley 4 ½ Litre Open Sports Tourer, which sold for $1.10 million; a 1988 Porsche 959 Komfort, which sold for $1.09 million; a 1961 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Roadster, which sold for $1.03 million; and a 1969 American Motors AMX/3, which set a record for an American Motors product at auction when it sold for $891,000.
For complete results from the Scottsdale sale, visit GoodingCo.com.