Bonneville Classics: 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL

1955 Mercedes Benz 300 SL


In 2003 Bob Sirna brought a stunning 300 SL to Bonneville to challenge the F/GT record. That would require a run of 170 mph (273 kph) or better. All that from a fuel-injected three liter inline six. Pretty stout requirement.

Inspection line at Bonneville-Bob Sirna with the umbrella

But more than that, Sirna hired John Fitch to drive the car. For those of you who don’t know who John Fitch is, here is a short CV: born in 1917 in Indianapolis; his stepfather worked for Stutz; he flew a P-51 Mustang for the US Army in WWII when he actually shot down a Messerschmitt Me 262; he too was shot down over Germany and became a prisoner of war. Following the war he hooked up with Briggs Cunningham and raced the 1951 Le Mans 24 Hrs. In 1955 he won the production class in the Mille Miglia driving a factory Mercedes-Benz 300 SL. That year he was teamed with Pierre Levegh at Le Mans on the factory Mercedes team. Levegh drove the first (and  last) stint in the race, running into an Austin Healey and launching himself into the crowd, killing himself and 80 spectators. In 1960 Fitch drove a Corvette for Cunningham at Le Mans and won the GT class placing 8th overall.

This is what fuel injection looked like in 1955


In spite of impeccable preparation and John Fitch, at the age of 87, the car was not able to break any records in 2003. Bad fuel pump. The car ran again in 2005 with Fitch driving, but again ran into mechanical problems.


John Fitch and his wife Elizabeth-photo from the John Fitch Collection


John Fitch died on October 31, 2012, at the age of 95.

For those of you desirous of more info on John Fitch, his work in automotive safety, and his 2003 run at Bonneville, check out the PBS documentary entitled “A Gullwing At Twilight” produced and directed by Chris Szwedo.


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