It was no surprise that the competition-bred Mercedes Benz 300 SL Gullwing coupe set the world afire upon its debut, with its scintillating bodywork stretched over lightweight space-frame construction, a potent fuel-injected inline six-cylinder engine, and of course, the “gullwing” doors that made it instantly iconic. It was equally unsurprising that such a popular model would spawn a Roadster variant, one that, in particular, fed all the important North American market’s voracious appetite for open sports cars.
Spurred on by the powerful importer Max Hoffman, such a model appeared in 1957. Extensively re-engineered to suit the removal of its roof, it also improved upon the original Gullwing performance by standardizing the formerly optional 240-horse-power engine with a competition-derived camshaft. The rear suspension was revised with a single-joint low-pivot swing axle for more predictable handling. In its inaugural season, the 300 SL Roadster sold 554 examples worldwide. At least one of them made its way to the West Coast of Canada.
According to its factory data card, chassis no. 198.042.7500348 was originally delivered to Mercedes-Benz Vancouver, Canada. The newspaper article indicated this was a firm known as Mercedes-Benz Distributors Western Ltd. or simply Mercedes-Benz Ltd., of 1219 West Georgia Street on what was then the “Automobile Row” in Vancouver, British Columbia. It was equipped with engine no. 198.980.7500338, gearbox no. 216, front axle nos. 367 (left) and 366 (right), rear axle no. 374, and body no. 198.042.7500268, all retained today and finished in Silbergrau Metallic DB 180 (Silver Grey Metallic) with Rot 1079 (Red leather) interior and Schwarz 872 (Black) top.
Further specifications included the fitment of English language instrumentation, sealed beam headlights, 3.89:1 rear axle, Becker Mexico radio, a luggage set and, most prominently, the Rudge knock-off wheels. These rather racy wheels, most frequently seen on Gullwing’s orders for competition, were available only on the Roadster during the early production run. Just 22 Roadsters, out of the total production of 1,858 built between 1957 and 1963, were so equipped from the factory.
Delivered from factory in Silbergrau-metallic DB 180 (Silver-Grey Metallic)
Rot 1079 (Red Leather) interior
Schwarz 872 (Black) top
Rudge knock-off disc wheels Luggage set
Becker Mexico radio
3.89 :1 rear axle
English language instrumentation Sealed beam headlights
Engine no. 198.980.7500.338
Gearbox no. 216
Body no. 198.042.7500 268
Front axle no. 367 (left) and 366 (right) Rear axle no. 374
In 1957, the Mercedes-Benz 300SL Roadster, Chassis no. 198.042.7500348, began its journey across the country to an orchard farm in Wenatchee, Washington. Per Kurt Solland, the son of the car’s second owner, Mr. Merle Solland, this Roadster was purchased new by a major commercial apple farmer in the Eastern Washington town of Wenatchee. Why, exactly, the farmer went to Vancouver to acquire the 300 SL is not known but Kurt Solland explicitly recalls his father identifying the farmer as the first owner. Perhaps the Roadster had not yet found its way to the American dealerships at the time the farmer was searching for one. With the Roadster being available in British Columbia which was only a short distance away, the trip was made.
According to Mr. Solland, the farmer had a young daughter who came of age within the next few years. She fell in love with the 300SL and as a teenager, she would drive it all over the family orchard. Naturally, her father did not want her to have such a powerful sports car as her first automobile, especially one so likely to catch boys’ attention. He decided to put it up for sale.
Merle Solland was, in his son’s words, “kind of a rally cool dude. A Steve McQueen-type with the ‘X-factor’ who winked to all the women.” He was a hydroplane racer of considerable skill, a world record-holder known for his patience and stability at the controls, such that in competitions, he would frequently jump from boat to boat, as everyone wanted him to captain their particular craft. Fond of speed on both land and water, he desired a new Jaguar at first but decided that a 300 SL would better suit his needs.
Kurt Solland recalls that his father learned of the availability of their future Roadster through a racing connection in early 1964, when Kurt was only a year old. Having learned that the farmer desired a more practical first car for his daughter, “my dad brought a Ford or something like that and drove it over to the orchard to look at the Mercedes. The car was sitting outside and while my dad was looking at the Mercedes, the farmer was looking at the Ford. The farmer explained that his daughter was spoiled ”and I can’t tell her no, so give me a little money and leave the Ford here, and take home the Mercedes. Dad paid him some money and drove home in the 300 SL which was always what he had hoped for in the first place.”
The car remained original except for an unusual off-yellow paint job, which Kurt Solland believes had been applied at the orchard by the original owner. To his recollection, it only had about 36,000 miles at the time. The title was transferred to his father in late January 1964 and the original registration for that year remaining in the file along with the previous owner’s 1963 Washington license plates.
One would expect a man like Merle Solland to have had wonderful adventures with his Roadster, and that he did. According to Kurt, in 1964 or 1965, Mom and Dad decided to drive it to Reno. My dad was a very good driver. They were going through the Siskiyou Mountains on very windy curves at 120 mph. The car was handling beautifully. Suddenly, to the right, there was a cop on the side of the road. Dad didn’t lift up, just kept going and went through the whole mountain. When they were on the other side, they pulled into a gas station. The cop came by about five minutes later, having been unable to keep up with the Mercedes. Instead of being irate, the cop rolled down the window, slowed down to about 5 mph, and drove by the car in about 15 seconds, taking it all in, then drove on.”
In 2018, the current owner, Jan Kanevad of Sweden, acquired the 300 SL, becoming only the third owner. Mr. Kanevad is an avid connoisseur of original sports cars with a fine eye for those with the best-preserved factory finishes. Untouched originality is important when he considers an automobile so the Solland 300 SL was a perfect acquisition. Careful removal of the “apple orchard” paint job made possible because the paint had been applied so poorly, it could very easily be stripped revealing the immaculate original silver finish, all factory-applied with consistent thickness of 60-90 µ from panel to panel. Photographs included in the file depict the painstaking process of revealing the original finish on each panel. No evidence of even the smallest accident is visible.
The original factory interior remains completely intact, down to even the rubber floor mats and the mat of the trunk, in flawless condition. The factory soft top is in place and is in nearly new condition, as is the window glass. Every piece of chrome is original and shines beautifully. The original headlights and taillights are all still in place. Not only are the original Rudge wheels still in place and intact, they are still wearing correct as original Continental tires in place since around 1957!
The same meticulous attention to detail has been carried out in the car mechanical rejuvenation. A major technical renovation of the engine, gearbox, suspension, rear axle, brakes, and fuel injection pump was carried out in 2019 by noted 300 SL specialists HK-Engineering GmbH of Polling, Germany. Every original numbered component remains in place and, as much as possible, with its original external finishes still intact. Only a few dry cables had to be replaced as part of an examination of the electrical system.
The undercarriage was cleaned with dry ice and found to be in beautiful, solid and unmolested order. Still with the car is the original factory 300 SL Bord Ersatzteile Sortiment or “On-Board Spare Parts Collection” with, of course, all the original spares. A complete factory tool roll is present along with the original factory jack, the original manuals and books in their folio, an original sales brochure, and the original workshop manual and spare parts book. The trunk carries the original set of Hepco luggage manufactured in 1957 including two keys with their original tag. Mr. Kanevad even possesses for the car an extra set of original Rudge wheels, removed from Clark Gable’s 300 SL Roadster, as well as a spare Bosch injection pump in its original Robert Bosch-Mercedes- Benz box.
Now with 42,800 miles, the 300 SL that was too fast for a farmer’s daughter remains carefully conserved in appreciative hands. One of only 22 factory Rudge wheel Roadsters ever produced, it is likely the only one remaining worldwide in this factory original condition. Thanks to the apple farmer in Wenatchee and the hydroplane racer Merle Solland.
Comments from Gooding & Co
Jan’s extremely original 300 SL Roadster is, without question, the best driving example I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing. I have driven a nicely set up 57 Roadster over 2500 miles on two 300 SL classic tours in Utah and Colorado, but this car was far better in every respect. Since the engine was balanced and blueprinted, which is rarely done on 300 SL engine rebuilds, there was almost no vibration from the engine at any speed. You could notice that the rear-view mirror did not even vibrate, which is very uncommon. The engine was very responsive and quick to rev. One thing that stood out in particular about this car was how nice the controls felt. Sometimes on these 300 SLs you can get somewhat sticky throttle or clutch pedals. But on this car the steering, brakes, and pedals were incredibly smooth, precise, light and linear. As was the feel of the gearbox. This speaks to the level of thoroughness that was carried out during the mechanical restoration. I can’t imagine a better driving 300 SL Roadster out there, and this will be the benchmark for any example that I drive going forward. (Angus Dykman, Specialist, Gooding & Company)