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Gary Anderson and Pat Matthews

Hand-built in tiny numbers as a 2+2 Coupe, Roadster and Cabriolet, the extremely rare Mercedes-Benz 300Sc represents a final flowering of the company’s powerful and luxurious prewar grand touring cars. One dedicated enthusiast has painstakingly tracked down and restored definitive examples of all three models.

300Sc Roadster, Cabriolet and Coupe

Article by Gary Anderson and Pat Matthews
Images by Maurice Liang

As Daimler-Benz gradually emerged from the ruins of World War II, the company first used its limited resources to repair and repurpose trucks and cars used during the war. With some production facilities back on line with salvaged tooling by 1947, the company started building small, affordable cars and light trucks designated as 170s on the W136 chassis. Those vehicles, even though largely outdated, provided cash flow to the company as they put the German economy back on wheels.

Rebuilding a proud reputation

By 1951 the company was ready to launch a multi-pronged strategy to maintain economic growth while rebuilding its enviable prewar reputation. In April, at the first Frankfurt Motor Show held since 1939, Daimler-Benz introduced a solid second model – an update of the prewar styling and technology of the 170s with a new 2.2-liter 6-cylinder engine – the 220 built on the W187 chassis.

Right beside the 220 sat the enormous 300 limousine on the 120-inch wheelbase W186 chassis. This stately conveyance would put the three-pointed star in front of diplomatic processions throughout Europe to make a strong statement for the company’s vision of itself. The 300, later to be nicknamed “the Adenauer” for its most famous passenger, took its designation from the 6-cylinder 3-liter engine producing an adequate 115 horsepower that was developed to power it.

Two months later, believing its reputation would benefit from a return to international motorsports in Grand Prix and sports car racing, DBAG management undertook the development of a race car around the block and head of the 300 engine. The W194 300SLs, in gullwing, roadster, or open-wheel body styles, would capture victory after victory on circuits and road courses all over the world, underlining the superiority of German engineering and reliability.

The final prong of the reputation-building strategy would be introduced at the Paris Motor Show in October 1951. Targetting prominent entertainment celebrities and wealthy trend-setters who were again beginning to show off their affluence in Europe and America, the company introduced the 300S – a two-door grand touring automobile available only through custom order – in roadster, cabriolet, and coupe body styles. Built on a wheelbase six inches shorter than the Adenauer and designated as the W188, this automobile would use the 300 head and block, but with three carburetors, producing 150 horsepower.

The three body styles were sketched by Hermann Ahrens, who had designed the grand 540Ks that were popular among the wealthy before World War II. Rather than drawing on the futuristic aero styling already being introduced by American designers, Ahrens would deliberately draw on the key features of the 540Ks – a tall proud grille, topped of course by the Mercedes star, curvaceous front fenders, and a long hood line with short rear deck that visually projected the car forward to display a sense of presence and class.

One chassis, three eye-catching body styles

Offering the 300S in three different body styles was a stroke of genius, underlining the bespoken nature of the cars, though there are few differences among them. The roadster looked best with its two-layer top neatly tucked beneath a taut tonneau cover, while the cabriolet, differing only in having an additional layer of lining in the top and external landau bars that required the top to be folded proud of the bodywork, looked most elegant with its top up. Enthusiasts said the difference is simple: you put up the roadster top out of necessity when it rained, and folded the cabriolet top to enjoy occasional warm sunny days.

The coupe was the most practical of the three, perhaps best suited for the wealthy individual who desired more driving comfort and didn’t feel the need to be quite so obvious while on the road.

Each car would be built to order, by hand rather than on an assembly line, with all panels carefully fitted and edges leaded to minimize panel gaps. Accenting the elegant exterior lines and carefully applied paint, chrome trim was molded in brass, then fitted by hand to the individual car before it would be removed, chromed and then carefully re-attached to the body. 

On the interior, each detail evidenced care in design, fabrication, and assembly. Wood veneer was available in a variety of grains and finishes and soft trim was of the finest leather and woven wool. Details such as the ashtray that emptied itself into a catch compartment whenever folded under the dashboard, and the rear view mirror that could be pivoted upward for visibility over the folded top, were delights. A Grundig or Becker radio was standard, complete with two large speakers mounted in the foot wells.

The cost to enjoy such craftsmanship, should one actually have to ask, was as breathtaking as the car itself. When the car was first announced, the base price in dollars was $6,500, approximately twice the cost of a top-of-the line Cadillac, though with shipping, import taxes, and dealer preparation, delivered prices could be around $12,000. For comparison, a nice new three-bedroom home in the burgeoning suburbs could be purchased for less.

A set of fitted leather luggage that took maximum advantage of the shape of the trunk was available as an option, and most owners seem to have requested the trunk set. In addition, two suitcases could be ordered that fitted behind the front seats on a shelf formed by folding down the rear plus-two seats, though none of these sets seem to have survived.

The array of three personal luxury automobiles on the Paris show stand excited the crowds. Buyers at the show and in the first few weeks after the introduction would order enough so that 113 units were produced in 1952, and an additional 353 would be built in 1953. However, demand for such perfection wasn’t infinite, even in the growing economies of the 1950s, and only 92 examples of the exclusive 300S would leave the Sindelfingen coachworks in 1954-1955.

The 300Sc – last and best

In 1955, the engineers upgraded the engine using the Bosch fuel-injection system introduced on the W198 300SL Gullwing. Fuel was injected directly into the cylinders, but the fuel-injection pump was driven by a chain instead of a gear train. With a slightly milder cam than the sports cars, the M188II engine produced 175 horsepower and 182 pound-feet of torque, a substantial increase over the 300S.

With the new engine, denoted by the words “Einspritzmotor” (fuel-injected engine) on the rear bumper, the 300Sc was introduced at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September 1955. Only a few other trim changes, including chromed cooling slits about each fender, perforated chromed disc wheels, and enlarged turn signals distinguished the new model.

With the technical improvements, 145 units were sold during the remainder of 1955 and through 1956. However, even the impeccable craftsmanship and traditional lines were not enough to overcome potential buyers’ reluctance to accept the lack of air conditioning, automatic transmission, and powered amenities common in competitive luxury cars. Only 52 units would be sold in 1957 and three more in 1958 after production ended. In total, only 49 300Sc Cabriolets, 53 300Sc Roadsters, and 98 300Sc Coupes were sold, making these models among the rarest dealer-ordered automobiles ever produced by Mercedes-Benz.

Our examples

The three exquisite examples shown here are all part of the small stable of lovely Mercedes-Benz automobiles owned by Pat and Patti Matthews of Glen Ellen, California. Pat describes his passion for the 300S as a logical evolution from his ownership of a 300SL, a transition he says is typical for most Gullwing and Roadster owners.

After owning several 300Ss, he found the first of the rare 300Scs in 2004 – the brown coupe. Thoroughly enjoying the extra power of the fuel-injected engine, Pat put out feelers to find examples of the two other models. By 2009, he had accomplished the unthinkable, acquiring one of each of the three rare 300Sc models. Outside the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart, he is unaware of any other collection where all three sit side by side.

The fortunate trait of these cars is that they have such visual and mechanical integrity that their owners nearly always carefully maintain them. The three in Pat’s collection required little more than careful cosmetic rejuvenation and the typical replacement of hoses, seals, tires and other wear-prone items to bring them up to the condition shown on these pages.

However, they are by no means trailer queens. Pat and Patti have packed their clothing into the fitted luggage of each and driven them thousands of miles all over the western United States. Even on the road, Pat doesn’t baby them, as we discovered while trying to keep up with him on the narrow curving two-lane roads around his home during the photo shoot. He says the cars cruise easily at 75 mph, though he noted that a tank of fuel disappears fairly rapidly when a gallon of gasoline is used every 14 to 18 miles. Having driven two of the three cars ourselves, we can agree when he says that is a small price to pay for the sheer joy of driving one of these timeless classic beauties.

All three of the 300S/Sc models share the same distinctive body style including stately grille and sweeping fenders, but have different tops; the Cabriolet top usually erected, the Roadster top usually folded, and the Coupe always snug and dignified.

The engine distinguishes the 300Sc version, with the 300SL fuel injection system replacing the carburetors of the 300S. Pat Matthews thoroughly and enthusiastically enjoys driving his 300Scs.

A sunny afternoon in the vineyards of Northern California is a perfect opportunity to enjoy the Roadster, with its top neatly tucked under the snug tonneau cover.

Fitted luggage sets were a dealer option on all 300s. Matthews and his wife Patti frequently pack these suitcases for long touring trips.

Most 300S/Sc models were ordered with the five pieces of trunk luggage(these are original), but Matthews had to have the two interior cases custom made from pictures in advertising brochures.

OPPOSITE PAGE, CLOCKWISE: The interiors of all three examples are exquisite, but the burled walnut choice on the Cabriolet is particularly elegant.

On all three models, the center rear-view mirror rotates upward and extends because of the need to see clear of the folded top on the Cabriolet.

The center ashtray rotates down and out of sight under the dash, emptying ashes into a bottom receptacle.

Radio speakers are original, though judges often assume they’re later aftermarket additions.

Headlamps on the U.S. cars were sealed-beam and required an additional chrome ring; the larger European lights (shown) were better suited to the fender lines.

The Cabriolet looks best with its top erected, supported by the landau bars.

The three cars at home in Pat Matthews’s display garage.

German for “fuel-injected engine” is emblazoned on the bumper.

The coupes were sold in greater quantities than the convertible models, perhaps because their dignity suited executive buyers.

The coupes certainly have handsome lines from the rear, with the long trunk lid suiting the lines of the top.

The roadster has a slightly less fancy wood veneer, but otherwise shares all the same trim as the Coupe and Cabriolet including the column-mounted gear selector.

Patti and Pat Matthews take equal pride in their cars and share a similar high enthusiasm for actively driving and enjoying them from their home in the hills above Glen Ellen, California.

1958 Mercedes-Benz 300Sc (W188 II)
TYPE: Two-door, 2+2-seat Roadster, Cabriolet A, and Coupe
ENGINE: M188 6-cylinder 2,996cc fuel-injected, dry-sump lubrication
TRANSMISSION: 4-speed manual with column shift
HORSEPOWER: 175 (DIN) @ 5,400 rpm  TORQUE: 182 lb-ft @ 4,300 rpm
LENGTH: 185 in.  CURB WEIGHT: 3,924 lb.  FUEL EFFICIENCY: 13.8 mpg
PERFORMANCE: Zero-60 mph 14.0 sec; Top speed 112 mph