Mercedes-Benz 300 SL

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Mercedes-Benz 300 SL
Red Mercedes Benz 300SL.jpg
1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing coupé
Production1952–1953 (racing car)
1954–1963 (production car)
3,258 built[1]
Coupé: 1,400
Roadster: 1,858
AssemblyStuttgart-Untertürkheim, Germany
Body and chassis
ClassSports car / Grand tourer
Body style2 door coupé, roadster
LayoutFR layout
PlatformMercedes-Benz W198
DoorsGull-wing doors
RelatedMercedes-Benz W121 BII (190 SL)
Engine2,996 cc (3.0 L) M198 I6
Transmission4-speed manual
Wheelbase2,400 mm (94.5 in)
Length4,520 mm (178.0 in)
Width1,790 mm (70.5 in)
Height1,300 mm (51.2 in)
Curb weight1,310 kg (2,888 lb)
PredecessorMercedes-Benz W194
(racing car)
Successorby name:
Mercedes-Benz W113 (230SL)
Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG
Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing
Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Roadster

The Mercedes-Benz 300 SL (W198) was the first iteration of the SL-Class grand tourer and fastest production car of its day. Introduced in 1954 as a two-seat coupé with distinctive gull-wing doors, it was later offered as an open roadster.

Built by Daimler-Benz AG, the direct fuel injected production model was based on the company's highly successful yet somewhat less powerful carbureted overhead camshaft straight-6 engine 1952 racer, the W194.

The idea of a toned-down Grand Prix car tailored to affluent performance enthusiasts in the booming post-war American market was suggested by Max Hoffman.[2] Mercedes accepted the gamble and the new 300 SL – 300 for its 3.0 litre engine displacement and SL for Sport Leicht (Sport Light) – was introduced at the 1954 New York Auto Show rather than the Frankfurt or Geneva gatherings company models made their usual debuts.

Immediately successful and today iconic, the 300 SL stood alone with its distinctive doors, first-ever production fuel injection, and world's fastest top speed. The original coupé was available from March 1955 to 1957, the roadster from 1957 to 1963.

A smaller, slightly heavier, less luxurious and much cheaper 1.9 liter roadster using the Ponton class 4-cylinder engine was introduced in 1955 as the 190 SL. Both the 300 SL and the 190 SL were followed in the Mercedes line by the 230 SL. The more modern 426 kW; 579 PS (571 hp), nearly 320 km/h (200 mph), gull-winged Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG is regarded as the 300 SL's spiritual successor.[3]


A race car for the street[edit]

New York Mercedes distributor Max Hoffman, Daimler-Benz's official importer in the U.S., suggested to Daimler-Benz AG management in Stuttgart that a street version of the W194 sports racing car would be a commercial success, especially in America.[2]

The racing W194 300 SL was built around a welded aluminum tube spaceframe chassis to offset its relatively underpowered carbureted straight-6 engine.[2] Designed by Daimler-Benz's chief developing engineer, Rudolf Uhlenhaut, the metal skeleton saved weight while still providing a high level of strength. Since it enveloped the passenger compartment traditional doors were impossible, giving birth to the model's distinctive gull-wing arrangement.

Even with the upward opening doors, the 300 SL had an unusually high sill, making entry and exit from the car's cockpit problematic. A steering wheel with a tilt-away column was added to improve driver access.

The 300 SL's main body was steel, with aluminum hood, doors and trunk lid. It could also be ordered with an 80 kg (180 lb) saving all-aluminium outer skin at tremendous added cost; just 29 were made.

More than 80% of the vehicle's total production of approximately 1400 units were sold in the US, making the Gullwing the first Mercedes-Benz widely successful outside its home market and thoroughly validating Hoffman's prediction. The 300 SL is credited with changing the company's image in America from a manufacturer of solid but staid luxury automobiles to one capable of rendering high-performance sports cars.

It should be noted initial sales were sluggish due to many things. First of all the price. While initial prices were about $6,400, a new Chevrolet Bel-Air could be purchased for $1,700 in the same year. Then there were few mechanics, even at the dealers, who understood the fuel injection system enough to do repairs. One price instance was a 1955 Gullwing that was removed from the showroom to a warehouse as unsellable. It was finally sold at dealer cost, just to move it. This was at the Hollywood dealership in 1958. Another, was a used 1954 that was sold for $3,000 with a down payment of $75 in the San Francisco bay area(Alameda)by a private party in 1960. The owner was just tired of having it for sale for several years with little interest. Situations like these brought the cars price down so a whole new group of people, who for years had admired them from afar, could now afford them.

First direct injection[edit]

1956 Gullwing open
1956 Roadster
1956 dashboard

Like the W194, the 300 SL borrowed its 3.0 litre overhead cam straight-6 from the regular four-door 300 (W186 "Adenauer") luxury tourer introduced in 1951.[2]

Featuring an innovative diagonal aluminum head that allowed for larger intake and exhaust valves, it was canted to the right at forty-five-degrees to fit under the SL's considerably lower hoodline.

In place of the W194's triple two-barrel Solex carburetors, a groundbreaking Bosch mechanical direct fuel injection was installed, boosting power almost 25% over the Gran Prix car's.[2] Derived from the DB 601 V12 used on the Messerschmitt Bf 109E fighter of World War II, it raised output from 130 kW; 177 PS (175 hp) to 160 kW; 218 PS (215 hp), almost double that of the original Type 300 sedan's 86 kW; 117 PS (115 hp). An optional, even more powerful version, with radical camshaft developed 240 hp (243 PS; 179 kW) @ 6100 rpm and a maximum torque of 294 N⋅m (217 lb⋅ft; 30 kg⋅m) @ 4800 rpm [4] [5], but was rough for city use. The result was a top speed of up to 260 km/h (160 mph) depending on gear ratio and drag, making the 300 SL the fastest production car of its time.[2]

However, unlike today's electrically powered fuel injection systems, the 300 SL's mechanical fuel pump would continue to inject gasoline into the engine during the interval between shutting off the ignition and the engine's coming to a stop; this unburned gasoline washed lubricating oil from the cylinder walls, which not only left them unprotected in affected areas during start-up but would dilute the engine's entire oil supply if the car was not driven hard or long enough to reach a sufficient temperature to evaporate the gas out of the oil. To reduce this dilution by gasoline when stopping the engine, the owner's manual advised

Turn the ignition key to the left while idling. Do not on any account try to stop the engine at a higher speed.

Exacerbating the problem was the engine's large racing-oriented oil cooler and enormous 10 liters (2.2 imp gal; 2.6 U.S. gal) oil capacity, which virtually guaranteed the oil would not get hot enough. In practice, many owners would block off airflow through the oil cooler and stick rigidly to the appropriately low 1,600 km (1,000 mi) recommended oil change interval. An auxiliary fuel pump provided additional fuel for extended high speed operation or cold starts; overuse would also lead to dilution of the oil.,[6][7]

Clutch operation was initially very heavy, remedied by an improved clutch arm helper spring which reduced pedal force. From March 1963 to the end of production later that year, a light alloy crankcase was used on a total of 209 vehicles.[8]

Aerodynamics played an important role in the car's speed, with Mercedes-Benz engineers placing horizontal "eyebrows" over the wheel openings to reduce drag. Unlike many cars of the 1950s, steering was relatively precise and the four-wheel independent suspension allowed for a reasonably comfortable ride and markedly better overall handling. However, the rear swing axle, jointed only at the differential, not at the wheels themselves, could be treacherous at high speeds or on imperfect roads due to extreme changes in camber. The enormous fuel tank capacity also caused a considerable difference in handling depending on the quantity of fuel on board.


Werner Engel won the 1955 European Rally Championship driving a 300 SL. The car also had a victory in the Rali Vinho da Madeira in 1960.


300 SL beside the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG, its spiritual successor

Today, the 300 SL with its gull wing doors, technological firsts, and low production numbers is considered one of the most collectible Mercedes-Benz models, with prices generally in the US$1,000,000–2,500,000 range.[9] Sports Car International magazine ranked the 300 SL as the number 5 sports car of all time. A pair of 300 SLs for sale in 2009 were offered at over $1.3M USD from the Foxwood Collection. In 2012, an ultra rare 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL with an all-aluminum body was sold for US$4.62 million at the Scottsdale Auctions in Arizona.[9] Such stratospheric prices have driven many car enthusiast towards the smaller, less powerful, less luxurious, and immeasurably less exclusive 190 SL. Acquisition costs of the so-called "poor man's 300 SL" are a tenth that of the 300 SL's.

Subsequent generations of the Mercedes-Benz SL-Class have been continually produced, not always in the same sporting spirit of the original 300 SL, such as the Mercedes-Benz W113 (1963–71) and the Mercedes-Benz R129 (1989–2001). In the 2000s Mercedes oriented its SL series back towards performance, and included styling nods to the 300 SL. The R230 (2002–2011) and the R231 (2012–present) have air inlets in the front fenders which are inspired by the 300 SL Gullwing.[10] However, the SL has since evolved to become a more autobahn-focused grand tourer due to increasing weight, especially with its optional V12 engine in later iterations.[11] The last two generations of the SL are hardtop convertibles with technological and comfort amenities, and it also has available heated and cooled seats with a massage function.[12]

The first huge step away from this trend towards luxury and comfort over performance was the limited edition 2003 Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren, a Mercedes-Benz-McLaren Automotive joint venture that featured a hand-built all-aluminum 5.4 l (330 cu in), 626 PS (460 kW; 617 hp) supercharged V8. The equally exclusive 571 PS (420 kW; 563 hp) 6.2 l (380 cu in) V8 powered Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG made its debut in 2009. Described by Mercedes as a spiritual successor to the 300 SL Gullwing,[3] it was geared to out-and-out performance while still maintaining expected Mercedes luxury, peaking at 631 PS (464 kW; 622 hp) in the 6,208 cc (378.8 cu in) Coupé Black Series introduced in 2013. SLS AMG production was brought to a close at the end of 2014.[13]

The SLS AMG has now been replaced by a substantially less costly tourer called the AMG GT with traditional doors and a much smaller twin-turbo V8 engine, designed to compete against the Porsche 911 and Audi R8.[14]

Mercedes-Benz Classic Center[edit]

Mercedes-Benz also operates the Mercedes-Benz Classic Center that focuses on classic Mercedes-Benz restorations and is recognized as the central authority on 300 SL parts, service, restoration and vehicle trading as they have unique access to original build sheets and factory documentation which enables them to confirm a car's authenticity – a critical factor determining a collector car's true value.[15]

Technical data[edit]

See also[edit]

  • Mercedes-Benz W196
  • Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR
  • Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren
  • Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG
  • Mercedes-Benz SL Class
  • 1952 24 Hours of Le Mans
  • 1949 Lincoln Cosmopolitan
  • References[edit]

    1. ^ a b Oswald, Werner (2001). Deutsche Autos 1945–1990, Band 4. Stuttgart: Motorbuch Verlag. ISBN 3-613-02131-5.
    2. ^ a b c d e f The Most Important Postwar Benz of Them All[permanent dead link], Motortrend
    3. ^ a b "Mercedes 300SL Gullwing". Retrieved 16 December 2007.
    4. ^ "Detailed technical specifications". Automobile-catalog.
    5. ^ "1954→1957 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Coupe".
    6. ^ "Driving the Awesome Mercedes 300 SL 'Gullwing'", Sam Smith, Wired, Jan. 20, 2011
    7. ^ "Mercedes-Benz 300 SL", Jonny Lieberman, Jalopnik, October 10, 2007
    8. ^ Rohde, Michael; Koch, Detlev (2000). Typenkompass Mercedes-Benz. Stuttgart: Motorbuch Verlag. p. 41. ISBN 3-613-02019-X.
    9. ^ a b "Rare 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Alloy sells for record $4.62 million". Autoblog. Retrieved 8 May 2012.
    10. ^ "2006 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class".
    11. ^ Schultz, Jonathan (2012-03-20). "2013 SL65 AMG Muscles In on SLS AMG Roadster -". Retrieved 2012-05-11.
    12. ^ Michael Bettencourt (2012-04-03). "2013 Mercedes-Benz SL 550: A luxury retreat". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 2012-05-11.
    13. ^ Damon Lowney. "Mercedes SLS AMG GT Final Edition marks end of AMG's first sports car". Autoblog.
    14. ^ Autoweek, 11/11/2013;, 3/25/2014;, 11/12/2013
    15. ^ "Jay Leno Restores a Vintage Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing". Popular Mechanics. Retrieved 8 May 2012.
    16. ^ US prices: Mike Covello: Standard Catalog of Imported Cars 1946–2002, Krause Publication, Iola 2002, ISBN 0-87341-605-8, p. 527-31

    External links[edit]