Red carpet rolled out
for the “birthday child”.
Sixty years of the SL: the legendary
sports car celebrated its anniversary
at the Techno Classica.
“Number two lives on.”
Legendary engineer Rudolf Uhlenhaut would have been proud of the achievement: the first SL sports car was created back in 1952 in the Mercedes-Benz Untertürkheim racing workshop, under his leadership. Almost 60 years later to the day, Mercedes-Benz presented its oldest surviving SL: the restored 300 SL (W 194) with the chassis number 2 made its European trade fair debut at the Techno Classica in Essen.
Klaus Reichert, head of the Mercedes-Benz Classic Center in Fellbach, which coordinated the project, proudly explained how the original body was restored. He said that one of the biggest challenges his team had faced was the low strength of the aluminium/magnesium sheet metal. The original engine was completely overhauled, the interior restored, and the historic paintwork was recreated to match the original as closely as possible – “a technical masterpiece”.
It took a full nine months before Michael Bock, head of Mercedes-Benz Classic, was able to announce: “Number two lives on.” Visitors to the Mercedes-Benz stand at the world’s biggest classic car show were then able to admire the results of this particular “Phoenix rising from the ashes” project.
Princess Diana was also an SL fan – to the displeasure of her compatriots.
Whether as a restored model, disassembled into its individual parts, or as a 1:43-scale model car at the Mercedes-Benz Museum stand, the SL “birthday child” dominated the Mercedes-Benz Classic display over an area of 4,500 square metres in Hall 1. The eight very special representatives of the SL model series held centre stage, ranging from “Number 2” to the very latest SL, which is sure to become a classic car of the future.
The selection included the following: a 500 SL from the R107 model series from 1980 in a rally version that was never raced, an SL 63 AMG (model series R230) that was operated as a Formula 1 Safety Car, and the 500 SL from model series R129 from 1991, which was once also owned by Princess Diana. She was the first member of the British royal family to use a foreign car for private use – owing to public pressure, however, she was forced to change to a domestic make after three months.
“SL stands for quality.”
The 60 years of unbroken fascination elicited by this legendary sports
car become directly tangible from the exhibited models. A large measure
of the devotion to the car comes from the officially recognised
Mercedes-Benz brand clubs. For example, almost all of the 17 German
clubs were represented at the 24th classic car show, incorporated in the
overall exhibits by Mercedes-Benz Classic. What is the vehicle’s
special attraction for club members? “SL stands for quality”, is the
pragmatic response of Frank Erbeck, the second chairman of the 190 SL
Club. “The cars are so sought after because they are reliable and
achieve high added value over a period of years.”
However, the car enthusiast becomes noticeably more emotional when talking about excursions in his open red 190 SL (year of construction 1957) and the excited reactions of the people he meets.
“A love of cars” is what drives Jürgen Kotzlowski from the R/C 107 SL Club. This enthusiast from Düsseldorf believes that the 350 SL was the “last classic car”, since it was the model series that was produced over the longest period, from 1971 to 1989. The club was founded one year after production was discontinued and, with 3,300 members, it has become the largest brand club in Germany.
Red carpet for the SL:
the prized models from
took centre stage.
all your senses.
Whether classic cars or more recent models, SUVs or Unimog, all the vehicles exhibited in Essen are capable of bringing to life the diverse history of the automobile, a history that is inextricably linked with the Mercedes-Benz brand. As well as the brand clubs, the longstanding partners of Mercedes-Benz Classic also help in this regard. At their stands, visitors were able to admire treasures such as the 540 K Cabriolet B, year of construction 1939.
“One of the most legendary classic cars ever – for kings, maharajahs, leading industrialists and film stars”, a sign informed them. And: “Only 190 units ever built.” An unmistakeable smell of rubber, leather and polished wood hangs over everything – automotive fascination that you can perceive with all your senses.
“We’re deadly earnest
when it comes to replicas.”
But back to the 300 SL: the sports car was first deployed at the Mille Miglia race in 1952 – it was to be the start of an extremely successful year’s racing. It is hoped to repeat this success 60 years on, with models appearing at the Mille Miglia, and also at Goodwood.
For one alleged member of the sports car family, however, the end of the road was to be the crusher: some months ago, customs officials confiscated an unofficial replica of the 300 SL produced in Germany that was intended for export aboard. Since, under EU law, the body of the sports car is considered a work of applied art and enjoys copyright and utility model protection for another few decades, there was only one thing to do: the body was separated from the chassis and destroyed under legal supervision. “We’re deadly earnest when it comes to replicas”, explains Jürgen Wittmann, head of Archive and
Collections, illustrating Mercedes-Benz’s clearly defined claim to the originality of its vehicles. The fact that the oldest surviving 300 SL 60 is about to take another victory lap, 60 years after its legendary premiere, while its illegitimate “sibling” ended up in the crusher, is a story that Rudolf Uhlenhaut, who was well known for his unconventional sense of humour, would no doubt have enjoyed.