These days when a Hollywood celebrity or a famous singers buys him- or herself a new car, they go to the local Mercedes or Bentley dealer and buy themselves a 150.000 dollar car. But that’s not all. For a celebrity a new car is like a new house, without furniture and wallpaper: It needs to decorated!!
So the car will be brought to a specialized company which equip the car with new 20” chrome wheels, new bumpers, an expensive stereo and an even more expensive DVD system which has LCD-displays in the headrests. The celebrity goes home with his new 300.000 dollar home-cinema-set-on-wheels, thinking he has bought something very rare and exclusive, just to find out at home that Busta Rhymes has bought himself an even more expensive Mercedes, with an even bigger wheels, more expensive stereo and a Playstation II for the passengers…….ahhhh nuts!!!
In the 1980’s that wasn’t so much different, except for the fact things were a bit more low-tech (for today’s standards of course) and the “decorating” of cars went from very subtle to very, very extreme.
As most of you might know, the tuning-business boomed in the late 1970’s and throughout the 1980’s. Suddenly there were tuning companies in every village, especially in the tuning- homeland, Germany.
There were companies which were specialized in new bumpers, new wheels, spoilers, wider wheelarches and of course an SEC-style bonnet for every Mercedes-type.
On top of that were the second type of tuning-companies. They could give you a new leather interior, new suspension, engine-tuning and new brakes to handle the speed.
The whole tuning-cake is topped off with a cherry named Extreme tuning.
Extreme-tuning companies could offer you anything you like. You want your Mercedes in same color as your dogs eyes? Then that’s what you’ll get! You want 24-carat gold rims? Just pay and that’s what you’ll get! You want to have an off-road-stretch-pickup-truck-SEC? No problem! If you have the money…….
These companies were nothing less than dream-factories. Loads of very wealthy sheiks made very many trips to Europe to see their dreams come true.
In those early 80’s there must have been quite a need for such cars, and there were probably a lot of customers who were willing to buy more than just one car, because by 1984 there were some twenty companies, most of them offering more or less the same. It was obvious that when one company had an original concept, and showed it to the public at the Geneva Motorshow, the next year, five more companies had the same “original concept” in their program. A very good example of this is the 500 SEC with Gullwingdoors. Although this was a very unique idea, there were half a dozen companies who did this conversion, and it must have started somewhere…
A Mercedes can’t fly
One of the most famous Mercedes roadcars ever made is without any doubt the Mercedes 300SL which was made from 1953 till 1957. The feature that made this car so famous were obviously his doors. They wouldn’t open in a normal way, they opened like gullwings. This is of course was a spectacular feature and would be copied many times by other car-manufacturers.
No further production Mercedes cars would ever have these doors again and only the record-breaking prototype C111 from the 1970’s would.
By 1981 Mercedes had introduced their new SEC luxury coupe. This very elegant car had was voted “car of the year” and many people loved it. There were however some people who were convinced that they could improve this already fantastic car even more…..
The first conversion did to the SEC was the obvious one, a convertible. Soon after that the most spectacular conversion followed: the SEC 500 Gullwing. Probably the first company to do this conversion was SGS, a.k.a. Styling Garage founded by Chris Hahn. Soon after that a truckload of other companies followed: Benny-S, Carat by Duchatelet, GFG, Grandprix Metalcraft, Sbarro and Trasco. Although the basic concept of the cars was the same at every manufacturer, in detail there were many differences between them.
At first it has to be told that converting a Coupe into a Gullwing is more than just to cut out the doors and replace them with wing-like substitutes. Because a normal roof isn’t made to bear the load of the doors, and with the doors open there’s only a very small strip of roof left to bear the doors, the roof needs strengthening. This is a very time consuming operation and costs a lot of money.
Sbarro and Carat by Duchatelet
Sbarro was, and still is, an Italian car designer, who resides in Switzerland. Over the years he has built many strange looking prototype cars, and he even has a car-designing school. The 500 SEC Gullwing, or “Sbarro Sahin” as it officially is called is the second-most extreme looking Gullwing. Not just the doors have been modified. The front-end of the car has received a complete makeover, with louvers which cover the headlamps completely.
Except for the strange looking front, the sidepanels have been modified with wider wheelarches and grooves that continue in the rear bumper.
On demand the car could be fitted with a 6.9 litre engine, video-recorder, Clarion HiFi and aircondition. At least some cars were fitted with an hydraulic jacking-system, in case you needed to replace a tire (or would let someone else do it for you). The car was available at a price starting at 185.000 Swiss Francs.
Sbarro made an improved version of his first Gullwing SEC, the Bi-Turbo. This car looked very different from the Sahin. The Bi-Turbo had, as the name suggests, a more powerfull engine which delivered 350 BHP. Furthermore the rear-window of the car is heavily modified and the roof appears to be lowered.
This same car was also sold by the famous Belgian tuner Carat by Duchatelet as “Carat Albatross”.
Last but not least Sbarro made an SEL Gullwing (Sbarro is the only company ever to do this). It must have been quite a spectacular site to see a car with no less than four doors that swing in the air!
SGS, Styling Garage
SGS was probably one of the first tuning-companies to make an SEC-gullwing. They actually made three different versions. The first one was a regular looking SEC with little modifications to the body, except for the doors.
The second version was one which was fitted with a widebody kit. This car was in some cases also fitted with a huge spoiler on the boot lid.
The third version of the SGS Gullwing was the most extreme and is without any the most extreme Gullwing on the basis of the SEC, and was called the “Arrow”. This car was almost unrecognizable as an SEC. The front was replaced by something that was supposed to look like the front of the C111 record-car, with pop-up headlights. The whole tailgate of the car was mutilated too and in conclusion only the roof+A,C-columns were the originals from the SEC. Let’s hope they haven’t made too many of these conversions…..
As said in the first part of this article there were half a dozen companies making a Gullwing. Apart from Sbarro and SGS there were at least the Benny-S, GFG,
Grand Prix Metalcraft and Trasco Gullwings. Only slight differences can tell them apart.
The GFG one has slightly widened wheelarches, the brochure from Grandprix Metalcraft shows a car fitted with sets of two round headlights (see picture). The Trasco car has doors that go open “all the way” while the GFG car has doors that look like they’re hanging much lower when open.
Fact is however, that whatever Gullwing you wanted, there was much to choose from in the 80’s. But none of them reached the status and fame of the original, the 300SL from the 50’s. In fact, most people have forgotten about the 80’s Gullwings, while the 300SL legend lives on…….