Rare Car Network

Rare Car Network
Unique Classics, Replicas and Build Culture
						300 Sl Tribute 30
Just Winging It

SLK32 AMG-based 300SL Gullwing tribute car from South Africa

By Sudhir “Banzai” Matai

Photos: Ian McLaren

Kevin is a soft spoken, unassuming businessman. He’s the kind of guy you’d expect to hear retelling the story of his perfect tee-shot on the 15th hole on a Friday afternoon over a few beers. The reality, however, is that you are more likely to find him in his garage than in the clubhouse, when he isn’t busy running his own business, as he is a classic car fan whose addiction to all things oily stretches back decades. He’s owned, built and worked on MGs, Alfas, Triumphs, Lotuses and the like over many years.

“A few years ago I decided that I wanted to build a car. The starting point was a Cobra chassis, though I didn’t want to build a Cobra replica. So I took on an ambitious project to build a replica of a 1958 Ferrari Testa Rossa, you know the one that featured the pontoon fenders.” There are no options on the market, so Kevin began to investigating the likelihood of having a composite body formed on a buck. Thanks to expertise found within his day job, it wasn’t long before he had created a full body buck for a Testa Rossa body to be formed on. The Testa Rossa got a bit of recognition locally and Kevin started to receive inquiries about body bucks for other models.

“One guy approached me about creating a buck to build a rare Maserati A6GCS. Once that car was complete and news of his build got around, the ball really started rolling and requests were coming in from all over the world. I formed a company called Car Body Bucks, which started to ship out kits to New Zealand, the Philippines, Sweden, Germany and the U.S. Buyers were asking for bucks to produce rare, and sometimes not-so-rare Alfas, Jaguars, Ferraris, Maseratis, etc.”

With Car Body Bucks producing kits for clients, Kevin decided that he wanted to build something of his own, but with a unique twist. “I aimed to build a car that featured a matching shell and underpinnings.” His choice was the breathtaking Mercedes-Benz 300SL or Gullwing as it is known to most. “During research for the project, I realised that the original SL and the first generation Mercedes-Benz SLK were pretty close in terms of wheelbase.” The modern roadster served as an ideal starting point for the exercise.

“I wasn’t keen to start with a crashed SLK” says Kevin. “Many people would have, but I was keen to avoid a bent chassis or any suspension issues.” So he bought a perfectly good, second-hand SLK32 AMG. “The donor car was in near perfect condition and it drove great. I even used the car for a bit while the body buck design was being finalised.” Once the buck was made it was delivered to a local coachbuilding outfit called OSI Custom Cars.

At OSI they started to meticulously form the evocative shape of the Gullwing. The artisans there use an English wheel to bend metal and then hand form the various shapes over a wooden buck, just as coachbuilders have for decades. “I didn’t want an exact replica of the 300SL, I wanted my own take on it, something with a few bespoke touches, such as an altered boot line and new facia.” After over four years of painstakingly getting every curve and angle just right, the body was ready, including a set of “gull-wing” doors. Once the body was complete it was covered in several coats of silver paint.

While that was taking place the SLK32 AMG was rolled into the workshop for a meeting with an angry angle-grinder. During the car’s haircut, Kevin removed all the interior trim from the SLK and sent it off to a local specialist for recovering in Nappa leather in a shade reminiscent of the original, called Rust Red. When the cutting disc eventually stopped screaming, all that was left of the SLK32 AMG was a rolling platform. Every body panel, including the folding roof section was cut away. OSI then welded in a steel roll cage for added safety and to replace some of the lost torsional rigidity. The new body and chassis were then welded together.

With the bulk of the work complete, Kevin, no slouch in a workshop himself, decided that he’d finish off the final bits and pieces of trim himself. There are small touches around the car that few would take note of, but each took time and effort. Kevin points them out as we walk around the tiny sportscar at the photo location.

“I made the slats alongside the three-pointed star on the grille, as well as the door handles. Incidentally, the handles are almost identical to the original items. I had this (300SL) badge on the boot 3D printed. I used original Mercedes hubcaps that I then polished to this high-gloss to make them look period. They are bolted onto 17-inch alloys.” As I followed the car to our photo location and while shooting these pics, I can’t help but notice that those fatter wheels do give the car a bit of a restomod look

“I estimate the car to be about 880 pounds lighter than the SLK (which puts it at roughly 2,200 pounds) and the SLK has 350 hp/332 lb-ft as standard, so you can imagine the performance. (For reference, an original Gullwing weighed about 3,100 pounds and had 215 hp). I was on a sportscar breakfast run and a new generation 911 came up alongside. Just for fun we both floored it after take-off and I was fractionally ahead until just over the speed limit (80 mph). The car really flies.”

From a mechanical perspective, Kevin’s tribute Gullwing is unchanged from the SLK32 underneath. “The car still has all the modern stuff in it, we didn’t take anything out. From the suspension to the ABS and even the air-conditioning, it’s all standard SLK. That’s what makes it so easy to live with. I could take this car on a cross country trip tomorrow without thinking twice.”

Comments for: Just Winging It

comments powered by Disqus

Related Stories You Might Like

Filed Under

German Mercedes