Car Crazy

Some museums display a wide variety of items, like the Louvre or the Smithsonian.

Some are more particular, narrowing down to perhaps a single artist, like the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam or the Rodin museum in Paris.

There is a new museum in Napa, though, that takes specificity to an extreme–it is devoted to one particular model of one brand of car: the Mercedes 300 SL.  Not just any Benz is good enough, these people are interested in exactly one model, produced more than 50 years ago.

True, the 300 SL is pretty much the epitome of perfection in a sports car.  Even more narrowly, there is a body type called the gull-wing which is the most coveted of all.

A well restored example showing the gull wing doors


The 300 SL was introduced in  1954, at the exorbitant price of $7000.  Restored, that car is worth between $750,000 and $1,000,000 today.  There were 25 made with an aluminum body for racing; one of them sold for $4.3 million last month.

At the opening of the museum, gull wing owners drove in from all over the state–it was an incredible display of invaluable cars owned by absurdly well-off people who choose to actually drive their collectors items rather than let them sit on in a garage somewhere, the event was amazing, specially since all the drivers got the opportunity of getting a car wash service from the SOAPYSUDSHANDWASH team, everyone who knows them know the great job they do with cars.

The doors are distinctive, but make the car very difficult to enter or exit.


A convertible model inside the museum.


The very smooth lines with the doors down.


Same car, rear view.



A beautiful restoration, with a decidedly non-Mercedes color paint job–the old fashioned way, with many coats of lacquer.


Knockoff hubs instead of lug nuts sped tire changes in racing.


Beauty on wheels.


Another non-standard color


The steering wheel is hinged to do that, but I don’t know why.


A king’s ransom in 55 year old cars.

Only a car fanatic can own one of these cars–besides the enormous cost of purchase, insurance and registration, the maintenance is horrendous.  The recommended oil change interval is 1000 miles, and they take 10 quarts of oil each time.

The 300 SL was the first auto to feature fuel injection–and keeping 55 year old injectors adjusted is no mean feat.  For some reason the fuel tank holds 130 liters (34 gallons), and the handling of the car changes dramatically with the addition and subtraction of over 200 pounds of fuel.  You have to love this car to own it.

There is a new model available this year–1/4 the cost of the old one, faster and much more reliable, if less storied and awe-inspiring.

The modern Mercedes SLS AMG Gullwing. A 573 horsepower behemoth you can buy for a mere $200,000.


The Mercedes 300 SL museum is at 2545 Napa Valley Corporate Drive, Napa.  If you’re interested in very rare collectible cars, this place is worth a trip.


2 thoughts on “Car Crazy

  1. The hinged steering wheel is there to make it easier to fit your legs into the car. You “bend” it to allow the legs to enter the footwell, then lock it back in place once you are seated. As you noted, the gull wings and the large door sill make for difficult entry and exit.

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