Timeless – the SL and its
For 60 years the sports car family has been synonymous
with athleticism and aesthetic appeal.
At the start of the 1950s, Germany was suffering from the consequences of the Second World War, many of its cities were still in ruins. But the reconstruction had begun and there was a general air that this was a new beginning. In 1952, rather appropriately a very special star was born in Stuttgart: the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL racing car (W 194). Thanks to its tremendous presence and international racing successes, it would restore the brand to its former glory and establish the tradition of a legendary sports car family.
Two years later in 1954, when the automotive manufacturer presented the 300 SL series production sports car (W 198) at the International Motor Sports Show in New York, it caused a sensation among the experts. The general public was as equally enthusiastic about it. The new sports car was both beautiful and innovative. As the world's first series production passenger car with four-stroke engine, it was fitted with petrol injection designed to improve both performance and efficiency.
The gullwing doors became an unmistakable feature of the 300 SL, earning it the nickname "Gullwing". To this day, the 300 SL is still considered an absolute dream car: in December 1999, a panel of trade journalists voted it "sports car of the century".
"Super Light" – and super successful.
The Mercedes-Benz SL has its roots in motorsport: the 300 SL (W 194) of 1952 was the first all-new racing car designed by Mercedes-Benz after the Second World War, and the first vehicle to bear the designation SL (for "Super Light"). It took its basis – engine, transmission and axles – from the Mercedes-Benz 300 representative saloon (the so-called Adenauer Mercedes).
The innovative tubular space frame guaranteed low weight, but made conventional doors impossible, however. The solution came in the guise of top-hinged doors that swung upwards – the legend of the "Gullwing" was born. A spectacular series of victories, including wins at the legendary Nürburgring, Le Mans and the Carrera Panamericana, justified the enthusiasm it had stirred up.
A sports car for all occasions.
Sporting elegance, safety and comfort – with these qualities the 190 SL conquered a whole new circle of enthusiastic fans of dynamic driving. Mercedes-Benz unveiled the prototype of the 190 SL (W 121) at the International Motor Sports Show in New York in February 1954, alongside the production version of the 300 SL "Gullwing".
In March 1955, the production version went on display at the Geneva Motor Show. The handsome sports car for all occasions was particularly popular among female drivers, who appreciated not only the sporting elegance of its design, but also the open-air feeling that came as standard.
Only flying is better.
By the late 1950s, open-top two-seaters were so popular that Mercedes-Benz decided to convert the 300 SL (W 198). In spring 1957 the legendary “Gullwing” was succeeded by the 300 SL Roadster (W 198), thus bringing the thrill of open-top driving to the range of high-performance sports cars.
A slimmed-down version designed for motorsport, the 300 SLS, made a number of headline-grabbing appearances: Paul O’Shea, for example, won Class D of the American Sports Car Championship by a convincing margin in the SLS.
The "Pagodas" – an icon for open-top drivers.
How do you unite refined power delivery and compelling elegance? The engineers at Mercedes-Benz found the answer in 1963, redefining the parameters of dynamic driving pleasure by combining high performance with comfort and optimum active safety.
In March 1963, Mercedes-Benz presented the 230 SL sports car (W 113) at the Geneva Motor Show. This new SL, with its clean, distinctive lines, superseded both the 190 SL and 300 SL Roadster at the same time.
The 230 SL was available in three versions: a roadster with soft top; a hardtop coupé without soft top; and a combination of these variants, available with soft top and hardtop.
With its slightly concave hardtop reminiscent of an oriental temple, the 230 SL soon acquired the nickname "Pagoda". The name was also applied to the outwardly identical successor models, the 250 SL and 280 SL. The 230 SL was impressive proof of the fact that sportiness and comfort were not necessarily mutually exclusive: while some celebrated the victory at the Spa-Sofia-Liège long-distance rally, others delighted in the optional automatic transmission, available for the first time in an SL.
The first SL with eight-cylinder engine.
The transition to a two-seater that offered both comfort and power made a compelling step forward with the Mercedes-Benz 350 SL (R 107) of 1971. For the first time in the history of this spectacular sports car series, the elongated bonnet now concealed an 8-cylinder power unit. This 3.5-litre engine developed 200 hp (147 kW) and took just nine seconds to accelerate the elegant two-seater from 0 – 100 km/h. The still unbeaten record production figure of 237,287 vehicles impressively demonstrates the special popularity of this SL series.
Naturally sporty and totally safe: the R 129 model series.
In 1989 a new SL generation superseded the previous models of the R 107 series. It combined dynamic sportiness with even greater comfort and a particularly harmonious design. At its unveiling at the 1989 Geneva Motor Show, the SL from the new R 129 series immediately became one of the main attractions. The new model generation featured a number of world premieres: motorsport-inspired seats with integrated safety belts, a fully automatic folding soft top and wind deflector for draught-free convertible driving. The car’s exciting lines were not compromised by a visible roll bar, but it was ready to be deployed automatically in just 0.3 seconds if required. Mercedes-Benz went a step further in 1992 with the introduction of the 600 SL: this was the first 12-cylinder to join the SL family.
Like all Mercedes-Benz passenger cars, the SL models were given new model designations in June 1993. The letters representing the vehicle class were now placed first, so the 600 SL became the SL 600. The revolutionary innovation of 1995 was the Electronic Stability Program ESP®, which reduced the risk of skidding in critical driving situations.
Open the way for the vario-roof.
With the switch to a new generation in summer 2001, the SL remained true to its successful tradition of combining power, comfort and safety, and was also significantly enhanced in terms of technology, design and equipment. The world premiere of the new SL (R 230) in Hamburg opened a new and exciting chapter in the history of the SL. Optionally available were innovative assistant systems such as the adaptive cruise control DISTRONIC or the COMAND display and operating system. In contrast to its predecessors, this SL carried its rigid roof with it at all times. The vario-roof – the most striking innovation – could be opened and closed in under 16 seconds at the touch of a button, and whether open or closed it gave the car an extremely elegant appearance.
In 2008 and 2009, the SL 63 AMG went into action as the Official F1TM Safety Car. Even this SL, modified for operation on the racetrack, brought to mind the roots of the SL family in motor racing – totalling befitting of a car bearing the legendary "SL" abbreviation.