Considering all conversions tuning- and coachbuilding companies could offer in the 1980s, the Gullwing-doored Mercedes-Benz SEC must have been one of the most spectacular. A Sheik's dream this car was and without these Middle-Eastern richmen there would have never been such a car. There's no doubt where the inspiration for such crazyness came from, because Mercedes-Benz had fitted the Gullwing-doors to the legendary Mercedes-Benz 300SL from the 1950s and later to the Mercedes-Benz C111 prototypes. It was obvious that when the 1980s came and cars were modified to great length for Middle-Eastern Sheiks there would have been a demand for a modern Gullwing and what other car to convert than the then very popular Mercedes-Benz SEC (W126)?
ABC Exclusive owner Wolfgang Fraedrich, seen sitting at his desk with a artist-impression of an Mercedes SEC Gullwing hanging on the wall. Ironically ABC was one of the companies that never made one.
The pioneers: Styling-Garage
German engineer and coachbuilder / tuner Chris Hahn's Styling-Garage (SGS) was the first to make an attempt at the concept of fitting Gullwing doors to an SEC. In 1982 Styling-Garage made big news when they introduced their Gullwing-doored 500SEC Merecdes, named 500SGS Gullwing. This car was based on the 500SEC Mercedes and had undergone major work to make the Gullwing-doors possible. Styling-Garage had strengthened the roof and they also added steel beams in the doorsils so the car wouldn't bend as a result of cutting away parts of the original SEC roof. As you can imagine this was a very costly operation and so Styling-Garage would charge you with a bill of 83.000 DM in 1985 for converting a standard Mercedes SEC into a Gullwing, all extras not included. Just to put into perspective. 83.000 DM was about the same as the price of a new Mercedes-Benz 500SEC at the time. Styling-Garage is rumoured to have made 57 of these cars over the years, some of them used by other tuners and coachbuilders for further modification.
The 500SGS Gullwing by Styling-Garage as seen at the 1983 Geneva Motorshow. This is by far the most famous Gullwing ever made with it's very extreme appearance in candy apple red with a golden interior.
Styling-Garage reinvented the 500SGS Gullwing when they unveiled the Mercedes-Benz C111-inspired SGS Arrow C1 in 1985, again at the Geneva Motorshow. The Arrow C1 basically was a 500SGS Gullwing with a new nose which incorporated pop-up headlights and a new rear end. The entire car was barely recognizable as a Mercedes 500SEC. In the last year of the original Styling-Garage's existence the company built less than 10 of these crazy Arrows, at least one without the Gullwing doors.
Soon to follow: Franco Sbarro
Styling-Garage might have been the first, but as with all things that are succesful they soon weren't the only ones. At the 1983 Geneva Motorshow Franco Sbarro introduced the 500SEC based Sbarro Shahin 1000. There were some differences between the cars made by Styling-Garage and Sbarro, mainly when it comes to construction of the doors and the amount of plastic involved. Sbarro's favorite material was glassfibre so the doors and many other parts were made from this material. The Sbarro car was also a bit more extreme when it came to styling since Sbarro had redesigned the front end of the car, which also made it harder to recognize it as a Mercedes.
The Sbarro Gullwing, named Shahin 1000. This car was introduced one year after the SGS introduced their 500SEC Gullwing.
In 1984 Sbarro introduced another Gullwing-doored Mercedes, again at the Geneva Motorshow. This time it looked like a converted SEC, but it was in fact a 500SE based Gullwing named "Sbarro Al-Ajda BiTurbo". Although it looked like an SEC with chopped roof the complete body of the car was made out of glassfibre, only the chassis and engine being true Mercedes-Benz. One of these Sbarro Gullwings was later bought by a customer and then brought to Carat by Duchatelet in Belgium to become the "Duchatelet Albatross", a one-off that had a beautiful trade-mark Duchatelet D'Arrow interior, much better than anything Sbarro could offer.
Another Sbarro creation, but enhanced by Belgian coachbuilder Frederic Duchatelet: the Duchatelet Albatross.
Faust-Design was a small coachbuilding company from Köln (Cologne). In contrary to most other companies who borrowed Styling-Garage Gullwings to convert, Faust-Design built their own car. One can see from the differences in the details, especially when it comes to the doors that this car wasn't an SGS-built. Faust-Design ever only built one car, built from a wrecked SEC. The car was fitted with Faust-Design widebody kit (which seems to be inspired by the Koenig-Specials body kit for the Mercedes SEC). The car was displayed at the 1986 Essen Motorshow.
Uwe Gemballa was no stranger in the tuning-world of the 1980s and his Mercedes conversions are rather legendary. It's no suprise Gemballa has worked on several Gullwings. The Gullwing-conversions were never carried out by Gemballa himself, but were done by other companies and then fitted with new interior, special paint, widebody conversions and high-tech gadgets. Cars Gemballa used were Gullwings made by both Styling-Garage (one made for the Sultan of Brunei and one for the Royal family of Saudi-Arabia) and Sbarro (one which was fitted with the same camera-system seen on the Gemballa Mirage and Avalanche).
A Gemballa 500SEC Gullwing, most likely based on a Styling-Garage built 500SGS Gullwing. Gemballa have added the widebody conversion, that was also done on regular doored SECs, the interior with the Recaro C-model seats and special paintwork. Note the very dark tinted windows on this car, which was commissioned by the Sultan of Brunei.
GFG, another German company best known for stretching S-classes and their Mercedes 500SK replicas, also did an attempt at making a Gullwing. It is very likely the Gullwing was actually built by Styling-Garage or one of the subcontractors that supplied Styling-Garage with the Gullwings. The interior of the 5000GFG Gullwing did show some very distinct Styling-Garage features like the typical dashboard with the TV mounted next to the speedo.
Also from Germany, the 5000GFG Gullwing. Note the widened wheel arches.
The German company SCAR, also known as "Michael Hoffberger Styling Car", bought one of the SGS Arrow C1 Gullwings when Styling-Garage went bankrupt in 1986. This car was unfinished when the company got hold of it and they tried to finish. It is very unlikely the car was ever finished, but the car was photographed with German wannabe Royal Frederic von Anhalt, in the late 1980s. The car was then unpianted and unfinished.
German coachbuilder and armourer Trasco Bremen also made some noise with a 500SEC Gullwing which was displayed in Geneva in 1986 (?). This car is a 100% Styling-Garage 500SGS Gullwing, which was bought by Trasco and then modified. It's very likely this blue car was the only Gullwing ever touched by Trasco.
Bought from Styling-Garage, the Trasco Gullwing.
From the UK: Panther Cars and Grand Prix Metalcraft
In the UK there were two companies that have built or rebuilt Mercedes (500)SEC Gullwings. One of them being Panther Cars, who made a 1000SEC badged 500SEC Gullwing which was never sold and apperantly even shipped to Korea when the company moved it's bussiness to Asia.
Another company named Grand Prix Metalcraft have built (or rebuilt) at least two 500SEC Gullwings, one of which was called the "Sky Hawk" which was a rebuild of a 500SEC Gullwing made in Germany, probably by Styling-Garage and modified by Grand Prix Metalcraft to the customers liking. The other car made by Grand Prix Metalcraft was a 500SEC Gullwing with a Typhoon bodykit, the bodykit that Grand Prix Metalcraft originally made for a London-based company called Chameleon Cars. Whether the Gullwing conversion itself was carried out by Grand Prix Metalcraft is unknown (anybody?).
From the UK, this Grand Prix Metalcraft Mercedes 500SEC Gullwing. The bodykit is the Typhoon-type.
Gullwing's to the max: Sbarro's (500SEL-based) four-door Gullwing
Although all the previous Gullwings I mentioned were based on the Mercedes SEC or at least had the coupe bodyshape there was one exception when it comes to Mercedes-Benz S-class (W126) based Gullwings: the 1986 Geneva Motorshow saw Franco Sbarro present the "Sbarro Berlina Gullwing 4", a 500SEL Mercedes based car with not two but four Gullwing-type doors! This car was a one-off and again made for the Sultan of Brunei.
Text: copyright Bram Corts 2013