Hidden treasure: Classic, all-original, barn find Mercedes-Benz 300SL that popped up for sale on eBay in Canada looked too good to be true
By Alyn Edwards
Originally published: January 5, 2015 (driving.ca)
Ottawa surgeon Hassan Moghadam loves classic foreign sports cars. He already owns a stunning 1969 Aston Martin DB6. Yet even this gorgeous piece of machinery was not enough to satisfy his thirst for special cars. Always looking for the next perfect car, he learned his ultimate dream car was listed on eBay in the spring of 2012. Better yet, the owner was not a world away, but a mere hour from his Ottawa home.
The car, a 1956 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing, is one of the most sought after on earth. Prices range from $500,000 to $2-million. This particular exotic would have been one of the very few 300SL Gullwing coupes delivered to Canada in the second year of production. So valuable and so rare is this car that when the Gullwing showed up for sale on eBay, many thought it was a scam.
“It was my dream car and it was only an hour away,” Dr. Moghadam says. He rushed to see the car with his then seven-year-old son Alexander. When he asked Alexander if he should buy the car, the response was: “No dad. It has lots of bumps and bruises.”
“I told him, that’s what makes the car special. It is a true barn find and a hidden treasure. He then got excited and jumped in the car,” explained Dr. Moghadam.
The deal was made on a handshake and the car was left in the former owner’s care for eight months before it was delivered to Ottawa in early December 2012.
This car is a Canadian time capsule, likely one of the most exotic cars in the country. Original paperwork shows the MB 300SL was ordered on June 19, 1956 and shipped to Montreal six days later. It came with a cold winter package, which meant a curtain blocked cold air going through the radiator and could be opened and closed with a system of pulleys and chains.
“This car was basically stored for years in a barn and never driven,” Dr. Moghadam says. “You’re never going to see one of these cars that is unrestored; it was only painted once in the 1960s and displays a Quickie Oil Change sticker put on at 30,000 miles. The car has only gone 31,000 miles.”
George O’Connell is pleased the exotic sports car he owned for almost all his adult life is now in good hands. “I wasn’t using the Gullwing and it was time to sell it. It went to a young, delightful man. He’s going to take it and enjoy the hell out of it and that’s a good thing.”
The silver 1956 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing formerly owned by O’Connell, who lives in Rigaud, Quebec, 17 kilometres from the Ontario border, was bought in 1960 when O’Connell was 23 years old.
The exotic Gullwing was originally special-ordered by a Montreal dealership for a taxi company owner in the then-remote St. Lawrence River port of Sept. Iles, Quebec. When the Gullwing arrived at the dealership, the taxi company owner sat in it once before deciding it wasn’t for him.
By coincidence, the next owner was also from Sept. Iles and was the manager of the area airport. During the 1950s, Sept. Iles was a remote community only accessible by air or water. The manager already owned a Mercedes-Benz 190 SL sports car and, once a year, he would load his roadster on the boat to Montreal, get the car serviced by the dealer, and then take a trip.
While visiting the dealership, he fell in love with the nearly new, silver 300SL Gullwing. The manager bought it and took it back to Sept. Iles on the ship. Because local roads were gravel, he often raced his German sports car on the airport tarmac.
Within a few years, a wealthy son of a British industrialist who was working in Sept. Iles talked the manager into selling it. But when the industrialist transferred his son to Australia, the car came up for sale. That’s when George O’Connell bought the car for all the money he could come up with — $4,300 — just as the son was about to board a plane.
O’Connell’s father, H.J. O’Connell, was a Canadian road and airport construction magnate with a waterfront mansion in Pierrefonds on the St. Lawrence, an equestrian farm across the street and his own ski hill north of Montreal. He also had a massive collection of 130 collector cars.
George had worked for his father before setting out on his own to manage equipment for giant construction projects all over the world. He left the Gullwing coupe with his father.
Despite a full stable of collector cars, his father would often take guests for drives in the silver Mercedes-Benz Gullwing sports car. They included Conrad Hilton and Jacqueline Kennedy. Before Pierre Elliott Trudeau became Canada’s prime minister, George let him take the Gullwing sports car for a romp through the Gatineau Hills north of Ottawa.
Two years ago, George decided to downsize his own car collection. “I wasn’t using the Mercedes and asked a friend to help me sell it.” That’s how the exotic German-built classic was put on eBay and ended up in Dr. Moghadam’s possession.
Alyn Edwards is a classic car enthusiast and partner in Peak Communicators, a Vancouver-based public relations company.