Juan Manuel Fangio’s 300 SL Roadster: Where the stories of two legends collide
July 24, 2023
Juan Manuel Fangio is a name revered on race tracks all over the world. But nowhere more so than in Argentina, the country that ‘El Maestro’ (The Master) called home. Breaking racing records as often as he broke expectations, Fangio’s humble beginnings as the son of a housekeeper and stonemason could not have foretold the place he would take in Formula One’s legacy.
"You must always strive to be the best, but you must never believe that you are."
Juan Manuel Fangio
Juan Manuel Fangio, whose passion for cars began when he became an assistant mechanic at 16, dominated the first decade of F1 racing as a five-time World Drivers Champion. This record stood unmatched for 46 years until Michael Schumacher won his 6th and 7th title in 2003 and 2004 respectively. Yet to this day, Fangio holds the highest winning percentage in F1 history at 46.15%, which converts to 24 wins out of 52 races entered. Fangio is also the only Argentine driver to have won the Argentine Grand Prix, having won pole position not just once or twice, but four times on home ground throughout his entire career. That’s why it’s no surprise that Juan Manuel Fangio was considered the greatest racing driver of his era – and is contested to be the best there ever was.
Fangio achieved his championship wins with four different car marques and teams. One win for Ferrari, Alpha Romeo and Maserati each, and twice with Mercedes-Benz.
The Fangio and Mercedes W196 pairing dominated at both the 1954 and 1955 Formula One seasons. And as a result of such an accomplishment, Mercedes-Benz gifted Fangio a 300 SL Roadster in 1957, at the peak of his career. This was how the iconic vehicle became the physical embodiment of Fangio’s outstanding achievements for Mercedes motorsports and for Formula One racing as a whole.
Finished in a dreamy metallic blue with a rich cream interior, Fangio first set eyes on his new tourer while it was on display at the British International Auto Exhibition in London. The car was delivered just in time for his 47th birthday and a few weeks after receiving it, he retired from full-time racing for a more leisurely driving career. From mid-1958 until early 1960, Fangio toured Europe as an ambassador for Mercedes with the 300 SL as his daily driver. And after contributing to the already established Mercedes name in Europe, Fangio then set his sights on developing the South American market for Mercedes-Benz in the coming decades. He moved back to Argentina in 1960, registering his favourite Roadster as a ‘trophy’ so that he could circumvent the strict automobile importation blockages in the country.
With his ‘trophy’ safely home, Fangio hired one of the top Argentine mechanics and sent them to the Mercedes-Benz factory in Stuttgart, Germany so that they could acquire the skills and knowledge necessary to support the upkeep of his prized possession. Throughout the 1960s and 70s, Fangio used the car to tour Argentina while opening Mercedes-Benz dealerships and YPF service stations throughout the country. The car was also featured frequently as a national showpiece, parading Miss World Argentina in 1978 and appeared twice at the Mil Millas (1,000 Miles) Argentine endurance race.
“Throughout its years of personal ownership as one of Fangio’s most treasured cars, the 300 SL was known to follow the driver around the world.”
The 300 SL Roadster quickly became synonymous with the racing champion himself, who clocked up over 72,000 miles on the car while touring Europe and Argentina. But perhaps the Roadster’s most important role in Fangio’s life remained in private, becoming a significant part of the Fangio family and their heritage. Fangio’s nephew, Juan Manueli Fangio II, who would go on to continue the family’s racing lineage, recalls the car playing a huge part in his childhood, saying, “I remember that on the weekends we would go to Mar del Plata to play soccer on the beach, and since I was the youngest I would travel in the trunk.”
In 1986, Fangio donated the car to the museum that bears his name, in his hometown of Balcarce, just a few blocks from where he was born. That same car went up for private auction at RM Sotheby’s in March 2022, just one careful and devoted owner from new. No other car in motorsport comes with such significant and unequivocal provenance as Juan Miguel Fangio’s 300 SL, which is why the next custodian of this car that bonded two legends will be uniquely privileged to become forever part of motor racing history.
“That car identified my uncle after his retirement. It occupied a preferential place among all the vehicles he had, not only because of the characteristics it had, but also because of the importance it gave for having been a gift from Mercedes Benz.”