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Discovered in Cuba, a rare Mercedes bird

(December 2012 note: See update link, below.)


    GUESS I'LL have to set aside my search for the younger Batista’s 1956 Corvette. An even tastier trophy has emerged – a Mercedes-Benz 300SL, better known as the Gullwing.
   Even on the Island of Surprises, I’d be astounded to come across one of these rare beauties. But in a brief section on Cuba in Automobiles Lost & Found (Haynes Publishing, 2008), I see a photo of a battered 300SL observed by author Michael E. Ware outside a private garage near Havana.
   The Gullwing, unmistakable lift-up doors in place, is dented and rusting and missing its engine, yet still would be prized by collectors the world over . . . if only they could extract it from Cuba. Restored, the Silver Metallic example with Lipstick Red interior might be worth more than $700,000 U.S.
   Reached in England, Mr. Ware tells me he was holidaying in Cuba when an acquaintance brought him to an unnamed community to see the car.
   “I never asked where it was – I was just taken there,” he reports. “All I can add is that I believe it’s now been moved to another ‘collector.’”
   The author, a noted motor historian, kindly provided the photos of the Gullwing you see here.
   Tony Robertson, a Toronto-based location scout for TV commercials who visits Cuba frequently, says he has actually heard about two Gullwings on the island. He visited a garage in Havana’s Marianao district that was said to be housing one, but it wasn’t there. His goal? Not to buy it – he couldn’t, anyway – but simply to see it and take pictures.
   Marianao would make sense. It is home to the Columbia military airport, site of several races in Cuba’s active motorsports scene in the late 1950s and even in the early ’60s, after Castro took power.
Just 1,400 or so Gullwing coupes were produced from 1954 to 1957, and 80 per cent of them went to the United States, where some, as in Europe, became track cars. Evidently, some reached Cuba.
   Albert Quiroga recalls a Gullwing driven by Modesto Bolanos competing in races leading up to the 1957 Grand Prix of Cuba. A scale model of that car, complete to the markings of its sponsor, tobacco maker Trinidad Y Hermano, was later produced by diecast specialist Bang of Italy, Mr. Quiroga writes here.
   And the photo volume I Was Cuba (Chronicle Books, 2007) offers a picture of another Gullwing in those 1957 races in Havana, this one driven by Santiago “Chaquito” González.
   The Gullwing in Mr. Ware’s photos could be either of those cars, or perhaps another 300SL entirely. I’m glad he found it, and now, like Tony Robertson, I too want to see it, and photograph it, and marvel at how such a rare bird could have been roosting all these years in Cuba.


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Comments

really really odd that I came across this blog, but if you wanted to see more of this or the OTHER 300sl that is also diminished of anything of any value, please found a copy of Jeremy Clarson's Motorworld, Cuba. There is some good video footage, probably shot as early as the late 80's that have quite a few good glimpses of the shell of a silver 300sl.
cheers
mapochano said…
The Mercedes that Mr. Bolanos in the Havana Grand Prix in 1957 belonged to my friend's father Mr. D Trinidad he was the owner of Trinidad y hermanos a manufacturer of cigarrets and cigars. They lived in Ranchuelo in the province of Las Villas. His daughter would love to retrieve tne car left behind when they left Cuba in 1960. All his children live in Miami at this time.
Caristas said…
Thank you for filling us in on the history of the Trinidad Y Hermanos car, Mapochano. I didn't realize that this Mercedes remained in Cuba after the race, and I can understand why the family would want it back. Does the family have any photographs of the car? I'd love to see them.

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