The craggy mountains are menacingly dark silhouettes by the time we start stowing the camera gear. The steel body is a snug fit so the boot is dominated by spare wheel, fuel filler and tools yet it’s surprising what can be stashed in gaps and crannies – and we’re now late to meet Mercedes specialist Erich Pichler whose modern dealership is combined with a factory-approved classic centre.
Because the engine hasn’t started for several hours, and the temperature has dropped dramatically with the sun, we sit for several minutes eagerly watching for the oil temperature needle to move. Warming the deep reservoir of lubricant for the Gullwing’s dry sump requires patience but is essential. Short winter shopping trips are not recommended for this ’50s supercar. Thanks to its bright Bosch lights, the sinuous route down the Col de la Croix and through the lower valley forest is no challenge. The only concern is that deer might leap out into this valuable machine’s path.
Great cars are often even more special at night and the Gullwing’s charms are only enhanced as we cut from corner to corner down to Les Diablerets. The glow of the bold VDO gauges adds to the allure of the interior, and there’s no need to tune the prized Becker Mexico radio because that lusty six plays its own strident song. Working the slender mushroom-topped gearlever through the precise gate is a joy, the snick-snack action allowing you to keep in the power band where the engine sounds its magnificent best.
You never tire of that gruff bark which, in the dark, as in a long tunnel, sounds harder and fiercer. In the dark too, an appreciative driver can soak up the coupé’s mechanical feel and sounds. Some owners prefer the later, more refined roadster, but I’m smitten by the Gullwing’s intensity. Like favourite music on long-playing vinyl, it’s richer for hearing the engineering working. At night, the warm, claustrophobic cabin is much more comfortable.
Once in the valley and heading for a night stop at Gstaad, the smoother and wider roads give the confidence to push that damped throttle deeper. The engine feels unburstable and you appreciate the belief Hermann Lang and Karl Kling must have had in endurance road races. The standard Merc doesn’t have the instant pick-up of a tuned Jaguar six but the seamless way the power is delivered is mighty.
Top-gear acceleration from 70mph is strong, so you don’t need to use the gears on these faster stretches other than for extra confidence under braking. On one long straight we easily reach the ton with much in reserve. Let the tacho needle swing to 6000rpm and the Gullwing will sweep along at 130mph with rock-solid poise – but you’ll be sweating about those wide, finned drums. Earlier in the day on the motorway I’d had cause to push hard on the servo-assisted anchors when a truck had slowed suddenly and my heart missed several beats. With such limited stopping power, it pays to know the road if you want to go fast.
After another succession of hairpins down the Col du Pillon, we’re close to the secret underground hideaways of several mega car collections. Ferrari connoisseur Albert O’Brist and Bernie Ecclestone used to store classics in this beautiful valley just south of Gstaad. Thankfully Pichler is patient and happily greets us when the sinister black Gullwing roared on to his forecourt.