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Mercedes-Benz 300SL

This article is about the 1954-1963 model. For the 1989-1993 300SL, see Mercedes-Benz R129.
Mercedes-Benz 300SL
File:Mercedes 300SL Coupe vr silver EMS.jpg
Manufacturer Mercedes-Benz
Production 1952–1953 (racing car)
1954–1963 (production car)
3,258 built[1]
Coupé: 1,400
Roadster: 1,858
Assembly Stuttgart-Untertürkheim, Germany
Body and chassis
Class Sports car, GT
Body style 2 door coupé, roadster
Layout FR layout
Platform Mercedes-Benz W198
Related Mercedes-Benz W121 BII (190SL)
Engine 2996 cc M198 SOHC I6
212-222 hp
Transmission 4-speed manual
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Predecessor Mercedes-Benz W194
(racing car)
Successor by name:
Mercedes-Benz W113 (230SL)
Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG

The Mercedes-Benz 300SL (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 cam straight 6 1952 racer, the W194.

The idea of a toned-down Gran Prix car tailored to affluent performance enthusiasts in the booming post-war American market was suggested by Max Hoffman. 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 300SL 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 notably smaller, lighter, and less luxurious 1.9 liter roadster was introduced in 1955 as the 190SL. Both the 300SL and the 190SL were followed in the Mercedes line by the 230SL. Today's Script error: No such module "convert"., nearly Script error: No such module "convert"., gull-winged Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG is regarded as the 300SL's spiritual successor.[2]


A race car for the street

New York Mercedes distributor Max Hoffman, Daimler-Benz's official importer in the USA, suggested to Daimler-Benz AG management in Stuttgart that a street version of the W194 Gran Prix racer would be a commercial success, especially in America.

The racing W194 300SL was built around a welded aluminum tube spaceframe chassis to offset its relatively underpowered carbureted engine. 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 300SL 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 300SL's main body was steel, with aluminum hood, doors and trunk lid. It could also be ordered with an 80 kg (176 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 300SL 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.

First direct injection

File:1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing Coupe 34.jpg
1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing Coupé

Like the W194, the 300SL borrowed its 3.0 litre overhead cam straight-6 from the regular four-door 300 (W189 "Adenauer") luxury tourer introduced in 1951. 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 carburators, a groundbreaking Bosch mechanical direct fuel injection was installed, boosting power almost 25% over the Gran Prix car's. Derived from the DB 601 V12 used on the high-powered Messerschmitt Bf 109E fighter of World War II, it raised output from Script error: No such module "convert". to Script error: No such module "convert"., almost double that of the original Type 300 sedan's Script error: No such module "convert"..

The result was a top speed of up to 260 km/h (161 mph) depending on gear ratio and drag, making the 300SL the fastest production car of its time. 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.[citation needed]

Exacerbating the problem was the engine's large racing-oriented oil cooler and enormous 10 liter 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 Script error: No such module "convert". recommended oil change interval. 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.[3]

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 300SL. The car also had a victory in the Rali Vinho da Madeira in 1960.

The legacy

Today, the 300SL 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.[4] Sports Car International magazine ranked the 300SL as the number 5 sports car of all time. A pair of 300SLs 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.[4] Given the stratospheric prices that a 300SL commands, many car enthusiast have turned towards the smaller 190SL, often referred as the "poor man's 300SL" as its acquisition costs are a tenth that of the 300SL's.

Subsequent generations of the Mercedes-Benz SL-Class have been continually produced, not always in the same sporting spirit of the original 300SL, 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 300SL. The R230 (2002-2011) and the R231 (2012-present) have air inlets in the front fenders which are inspired by the 300SL Gullwing.[5] 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.[6] 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.[7]

The first huge step away from this trend towards luxury and comfort over performance was the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren, a Mercedes-Benz-McLaren Automotive joint venture that featured a hand-built 5.4-litre, supercharged Script error: No such module "convert". all-aluminum V8 engine. The Script error: No such module "convert". Script error: No such module "convert". V8 powered Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG made its debut in 2009. Described by Mercedes as a spiritual successor to the 300SL Gullwing,[2] it was geared to out-and-out performance while still maintaining expected Mercedes luxury, peaking at Script error: No such module "convert". in the Script error: No such module "convert". Coupé Black Series introduced in 2013. SLS AMG production was brought to a close at the end of 2014.[8]

The SLS AMG has now been replaced by a substantially less costly tourer called the AMG GT with traditional doors and a much smaller forced induction engine, designed to compete against the Porsche 911 and Audi R8.[9]

As part of a partnership between Mercedes-Benz and Nintendo, the Wii U game Mario Kart 8 features a 300SL Roadster as a playable in-game vehicle, added as part of a post-launch downloadable game update on August 27, 2014.[10]

Mercedes-Benz Classic Center

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.[11]

Technical data

See also


  1. ^ a b Oswald, Werner (2001). Deutsche Autos 1945-1990, Band 4. Stuttgart: Motorbuch Verlag. ISBN 3-613-02131-5. 
  2. ^ a b "Mercedes 300SL Gullwing". Retrieved 16 December 2007. 
  3. ^ Rohde, Michael; Koch, Detlev (2000). Typenkompass Mercedes-Benz. Stuttgart: Motorbuch Verlag. p. 41. ISBN 3-613-02019-X. 
  4. ^ a b "Rare 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Alloy sells for record $4.62 million". Autoblog. Retrieved 8 May 2012. 
  5. ^ "2006 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class". AOL Autos. 
  6. ^ Schultz, Jonathan (2012-03-20). "2013 SL65 AMG Muscles In on SLS AMG Roadster -". Retrieved 2012-05-11. 
  7. ^ Michael Bettencourt (2012-04-03). "2013 Mercedes-Benz SL 550: A luxury retreat". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 2012-05-11. 
  8. ^ Damon Lowney. "Mercedes SLS AMG GT Final Edition marks end of AMG's first sports car". Autoblog. 
  9. ^ Autoweek, 11/11/2013;, 3/25/2014;, 11/12/2013
  10. ^ Pitcher, Jenna (August 6, 2014). "Mario Kart 8 Mercedes Car DLC Hits This Month With Update". IGN. Retrieved August 6, 2014. 
  11. ^ "Jay Leno Restores a Vintage Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing". Popular Mechanics. Retrieved 8 May 2012. 
  12. ^ 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