Representing early and later versions of Mercedes’ glorious 300 range, this 300S Roadster and 300Sc Coupé have each undergone a five-year restoration at Mechatronik.
Photos by Charles Russell
As I watch the body of the 1954 300S Roadster bobbing and weaving in front of me, I realise it is possibly one of the most visual reminders of the development of automobile technology during the past 60 years. As the road turns to the right, I watch from the driver’s seat of a 1956 300Sc Coupé as the roadster’s left-hand rear wheel pushes up into the arch, the sheer amount of suspension movement unlike anything seen on a modern car.
As the road straightens again, I notice the left rear tyre isn’t recovering from the pressure created by the cornering forces. Half a minute later we identify that it’s flat. Fortunately, both these cars had only returned to South Africa one month earlier, after undergoing five years of restoration work at Mechatronik in Germany, meaning the jack, spanner and full size spare wheel are all accounted for. Some 15 minutes later we are back on the road and heading to our photoshoot location.
It is when both cars are parked next to one another that the slight differences begin to emerge. My eyes are initially drawn to the 300S Roadster, but it is the minor details on the later and rarer 300Sc Coupé that hold my attention longest. Its wheelarches offer chrome beading while the bonnet also features two chrome stripes on the sides. For some this might seem excessive, but I find it adds to the classic look of the car.
The 300S Roadster is basically identical to the 300S Cabriolet, except for the lighter, fully retractable hood, without coach joints.
Eagle-eyed readers will notice ‘Einspritzmotor’ situated on the rear bumper of the coupé, indicating the mechanical fuel injection of the engine, and an increase in power from the 110 kW of the carburettor 300S Roadster, to 129 kW in this 300Sc Coupé.
Cars such as these are usually trailer queens, or works of art taking up garage space in collectors’ residences, but that is not the case with these two examples. After their owner had waited five years for the cars to be restored by Mechatronik, he flew to Germany to drive them before they were shipped back to South Africa at the end of 2014. I could sense that one trip in Europe with the roadster was particularly special to him.
“When that car had been fully restored, I drove it in a rally to Lake Como in Italy. It was a truly spectacular trip, but what made it so special was that I travelled back from Italy to Stuttgart and arrived quite refreshed, despite the six-hour drive. Although my 300SL is sexy, stylish and flamboyant, you won’t arrive at your destination feeling as refreshed as you would in the 300S Roadster,” he says
I share his opinion, to an extent. The interiors of both these cars are truly relaxing environments. Although the steering wheel fills your lap, you have enough leverage on the wheel to feel in charge of the car. Each interior colour combination was chosen by the owner, and suits each Mercedes perfectly.
The 300S Roadster is draped in a combination of chocolate brown and light beige, while the 300Sc Coupé offers a combination of Anthracite and Cognac brown.
Even the steering wheel colours have been taken into account – white in the case of the roadster, and black for the coupé. The result is that I suddenly feel too young to be piloting this car; my head feels naked without a hat, my wrist similarly exposed without a watch, and where is my cigar? The addition of air-conditioning is a must, especially during hot seasons in South Africa. However, looking at all the chromed organ stops and levers, you would never guess that there is such a system hiding behind its elegant appearance – more of Mechatronik’s work.
The steering in both cars is heavy at parking speeds, but once you get going, it is quite easy to point the car. Both Mercedes's have floor-mounted gearshift levers, and what a joy they are to use – as long as you don’t rush things!
When the owner purchased these cars nearly 15 years ago, they already had floor-mounted gearlevers, as opposed to the column change system fitted as standard. Unfortunately, it is unclear whether the column-shift mechanism was converted to the floor shift system by the factory, or whether it was done by Mercedes-Benz in South Africa. Nevertheless, it looks perfectly suited and only contributes to the sporty intent of both two-door cars.
The light coloured cloth roof of the 300S Roadster complements its dark brown exterior hue. Both interiors have been meticulously restored (and slightly improved) to the same condition as the exterior. But it is only when you spend more time in the cabin that you fully appreciate Mechatronik’s effort. Sourcing parts for these two restoration projects was difficult – some parts had to be remade and some sourced from Mercedes-Benz.
The interiors have a fresh smell, but not the sort you’ll find in a modern car. I quickly peek at the rear seat, where I find a neatly folded picnic blanket – how appropriate! In the middle of the dashboard there is a sleek, veneered panel that opens with a gentle push to reveal an Alpine radio/CD player, no less.
Bend down to look at the left-hand side of the steering column and you will find switches for modern functions such as the hazard lights, fuel pump (needed when the engine is warm and you want to restart it), and a switch for adjusting the level of power steering assistance.
As the sun’s last rays disappear behind the mountains, we begin our return to Cape Town. It is never ideal to drive such old cars in the dark, but tonight that is not a problem. Both Mercedes's are fitted with xenon headlights, which means we can see way into the distance. Never before have I passed slower moving traffic in such an old car so effortlessly. Both cars keep to 120 km/h with ease, leaving little doubt that, on the right road, they would match the top speeds stated by Mercedes-Benz (175 km/h for the roadster, 179 km/h for the coupé).
The 300Sc Coupé is definitely the more refined of the two cars. Featuring fuel injection, it not only offers more power, but the cabin is also slightly quieter than that of the carburettor-fed 300S Roadster. Obviously, one has a hardtop and the other a fabric roof, but when holding a gear, it is the carburettor engine that sounds like it is working harder, albeit with a sound to savour.
The large pews are soft, but sturdy at the same time. They are comfortable, but don’t engulf you in such a way that you will feel uncomfortable on a warm day. Your passenger also has a significant amount of space on their side of the cabin. Ahead of you, the long bonnet points the way forward with the thee-pointed star proudly fixed at the end.
As is still the case today with modern Mercedes models, you need to pay attention to the details. For example, the rear view mirror of the roadster has two small joints that allow it to pivot and provide a view over the fabric roof when it’s folded at the rear.
Symbols of wealth
As our day comes to an end, I have one final look at the cars. Whatever your views are about personalised numberplates, these two cars are equipped with registrations that hopefully teach admirers a thing or two about the particular Mercedes they are looking at. For me, the 300SL Gullwing represents the pinnacle of engineering at Mercedes-Benz in the 1950s, but I certainly have more respect for the earlier 300 range after driving these two examples.
They were the most expensive cars on Mercedes-Benz’s price list at the time, topping even the 300SL Gullwing. The 300Sc Coupé retailed for DM 36 500 in 1955 and the 300S Roadster cost DM 34 500 in 1952, whereas the 300SL Gullwing boasted a price tag of only DM 29 000 in 1954.
At the time of the photoshoot, the combined mileage of these cars since the nuts and bolts restoration at Mechatronik was 4 000 km. Since our day with them, this number has already climbed and it was so refreshing to hear the owner’s plans regarding these cars and the trips he wants to do in them. They might be rare and they might be worth hundreds of thousands of pounds, but this duo, which were described by the press at the time as “cars for the world elites”, are still used in the way their designers intended.
Mercedes-Benz 300S Roadster (W188)
Engine: M188 2 996 cm3 6-cyl
Power: 110 kW @ 5 000 r/min
Torque: 230 N.m @ 3 800 r/min
Transmission: 4-speed manual, RWD
Weight: 1 760 kg
0-100 km/h: 15,0 seconds
Top speed: 175 km/h
Fuel consumption: 13,8 L/100 km
Years produced: 1952-1955
Mercedes-Benz 300Sc Coupé (W188)
Engine: M199 2 996 cm3 6-cyl
Power: 129 kW @ 5 400 r/min
Torque: 255 N.m @ 4 300 r/min
Transmission: 4-speed manual, RWD
Weight: 1 780kg
0-100 km/h: 14,0 seconds
Top speed: 180 km/h
Fuel consumption: 12,5 L/100 km
Years produced: 1955-1958