The Mercedes-Benz 300 SL (chassis code W 198) is a two-seat sports car which was produced by Mercedes-Benz as a gullwinged coupe (1954–1957) and roadster (1957–1963). It was based on the company's 1952 racer, the W194, with mechanical direct fuel injection which boosted power almost 50 percent in its three-liter overhead camshaft straight-six engine. Capable of reaching a top speed of up to 263 km/h (163 mph), it was a sports car racing champion and the fastest production car of its time.
Max Hoffman, Mercedes-Benz's United States importer at the time, inspired the 300 SL and saw an American market for such a car. The company introduced the 300 SL in February 1954 at the International Motor Sports Show in New York City (instead of Europe) to get it into U.S. buyers' hands sooner.
SL is the short form for "super-light" in German (super-leicht) – Mercedes' first use of the designation, referring to the car's racing-bred light tubular-frame construction. The 300 SL was voted the "sports car of the century" in 1999.
The 300 SL traces its origin back to a racing sports car, the Mercedes-Benz W194. Daimler-Benz decided to race in 1951, and built a sports car for this purpose. Mercedes' largest engine was developed: the M186, shared by the 300 "Adenauer" saloon (W186) and the luxury 300 S two-seat tourer (W188).
Racing successes in 1952 were somewhat surprising as the W194 engine was fitted only with carburetors, producing 175 hp (130 kW) – less than competing cars by Ferrari and Jaguar and the 300 SL road car introduced in 1954. Low weight and low aerodynamic drag made the W194 fast enough to be competitive in endurance races. Mercedes-Benz developed a new version for the 1953 racing season by adding fuel injection and 16-inch wheels; the gearbox was installed on its rear axle. Its body was made of Elektron, a magnesium alloy, which reduced its weight by 85 kilograms (187 pounds). Mercedes-Benz decided not to race this alloy car, choosing instead to begin participating in Formula One in 1954. Later versions revised the body to lower air resistance, and did not continue the transmission arrangement.
Mass production of the 300 SL was not initially planned. The idea of a toned-down Grand Prix car for affluent performance enthusiasts in the booming post-war American market was suggested by Max Hoffman at a 1953 directors' meeting in Stuttgart. Mercedes' new general director, Fritz Konecke, agreed to Hoffman's order for 1,000 cars; the 300 SL was introduced at the February 1954 New York International Auto Show instead of the Frankfurt or Geneva shows, where company models usually debuted. Production of a smaller roadster, the Mercedes-Benz 190 SL, was announced after Hoffman ordered another 1,000 of the roadsters. The 300 SL and the 190 SL premiered at the 1954 New York show; Mercedes-Benz experienced a positive visitor response to both, and production began at the Sindelfingen plant in August of that year.
The price for the 300 SL coupe in Germany was DM 29,000, and $6,820 in the US. The roadster was DM 32,500 in Germany, and $10,950 in the US – 10 percent more expensive than the coupe in Europe, and over 60 percent more in the US.
|2||Engine||2,996 cc (182.8 cu in) M198|
|3||Class||Sports car / Grand tourer|
|4||Assembly||West Germany: Stuttgart Sindelfingen|
|5||Body Style||2-door coupe, roadster|
|6||Body Layout||FR layout|
|8||Wheelbase||2,400 mm (94.5 in)|
|9||Length||4,335 mm (170.7 in)|
|10||Width||1,760 mm (69.3 in)|
|11||Height||1,305 mm (51.4 in)|
|12||Curb weight||1,300 kg (2,866 lb)|