Immortalized by the famous pop artist, this Gullwing has now been freshly restored.
• This 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing was the subject of a commissioned artwork by Andy Warhol.
• The exact car depicted in Warhol’s piece was recently found and restored by Brabus.
• The car is now
being auctioned by RM Sotheby’s through Thursday, November 17.
Andy Warhol’s final commission was, bizarrely, for Mercedes-Benz. The famous pop artist was hired to create a series of portraits of Mercedes-Benz cars, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the company’s founding. Originally intended as 80 portraits of 20 cars from Mercedes’s century-long heritage, Warhol only completed 49 of these pieces before he died in 1987.
The first of these portraits—the prototype as it were—was of a Mercedes-Benz 300SL. After being lost for decades, the actual car in the Warhol painting was recently discovered, and refurbished, by Brabus Germany, a noted restorer (and questionable customizer) of Mercedes vehicles. It is currently up for auction by RM Sotheby’s in New York City.
Intriguingly, neither Warhol nor Mercedes initiated the portrait project. It was the brainchild of Hans Mayer, Warhol’s German dealer. Recognizing the milestone of Benz’s centenary, Mayer personally commissioned two Benz paintings from Andy, with the hope of selling-in the concept to the Mercedes brass. Thinking that the iconic Gullwing would make the most convincing template, he insisted that this be the subject. But since these were already 30-year-old collectible classics at the time, a car wasn’t handy. Knowing Warhol’s affection for appropriation, Mayer found a solution.
"There was a book called SportWagen, German for sports cars, and a photo of the 300SL was depicted in it," said Constantin Buschmann, CEO and owner of Brabus. "Warhol took that picture straightaway, without further research, and made it the one in that painting."
Fortunately for future collectors, Warhol depicted the car with its license plate, EI-DR1, attached. Also fortunately, the long-term owner of the car retained this plate over the intervening decades, even as the car deteriorated in condition. This allowed the Brabus team to eventually locate the vehicle. It also allowed the car to be authenticated, with the cooperation of the German DMV and the archives of Mayer’s gallery, Mercedes-Benz, as well as the Andy Warhol Foundation.
Gullwings are blue-chip collectibles, with prices for average examples running in the low-seven-figure range and climbing to double or quadruple that for concours-level vehicles like this, especially with celebrity ownership. RM Sotheby’s is hoping that this particular car’s known provenance, and direct connection to Warhol’s superstar status, will help juice the hammer price even further with collectors of cars and/or contemporary art.
"If you take a can of Campbell’s soup, you don’t know which ones Warhol painted," said Buschmann. "The only object that Andy painted that you actually can own is this particular Gullwing."
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