Let’s commemorate the anniversary of one of the most beautiful cars of all time with a selection of highlights.
Reams of paper have already been written about the iconic German supercar from the 1950s – rightfully so. To this day, it is among the best that the automotive industry has been able to create in its entire history, which is true of its design, performance, rarity and collector value.
It was presented to the world at the New York Auto Show on February 6, 1954, taking the entire motoring world by surprise. It was placed on a round pedestal on the stand, and when the tarpaulin was removed from it, its “wings” – doors that opened upwards – could be fully seen. The new roadster 190 SL was also displayed next to it without a pedestal. The German automaker did not choose the location of the premiere by chance, both cars were primarily aimed at the American market. There, the 300 SL earned the nickname “gullwing.” Interestingly, in France they called it “papillon,” i.e. butterfly. But there is much more to it that is interesting:
“How do you get into it?”, you may be thinking. A low sports car with unusual doors really required a little more effort. It all started with the door handles, which were embedded in the doors – this aerodynamic gadget is starting to be rediscovered by car companies in droves in the era of electric cars. You had to push them lightly, then they would swing outwards and then just pull. The thresholds are quite high for the coupe, so you had to swing over them. After that, an interesting gadget helped you get on it – a folding steering wheel rim (you can find it in the gallery). It was unlocked with a lever, after which it was easier to stretch the legs to the pedals.
The upward-hinging door was not a design finesse but a technical necessity. The basis of the car was a tubular frame (weighing only 82 kilograms) and in order to maintain the smallest possible frontal area and sufficient rigidity of this racing structure, they had to be fixed in this way. So it was a necessity. Two telescopic dampers on each side, hidden in chrome housings, served to open and hold the doors up. The windows could not be opened – but you could take them out and carry them in the pockets behind the seats. By the way, Car & Driver magazine noted in its period test of the 300 SL that there is a warning on the inside of the doors to keep them locked while driving. There was a danger that they would open on their own when driving really fast.
The sporty Mercedes did have a rear trunk, but it was actually completely filled by the spare wheel. So you had to carry your luggage (your own and customized) in the space behind the seats. By the way, it was basically fabric with a checkered pattern, but many owners opted for additional leather upholstery.
Friend of the stars
The extremely fast and very charming car naturally attracted the attention of a select clientele. The list of its famous owners is truly impressive: Jordanian King Ibn Talal Hussein, actresses Sophia Loren or Romy Schneider, Iranian Shah Mohamed Reza Pahlavi, racers Juan Manuel Fangio, Rob Walker or Luigi Chinetti, famous Austrian conductor Herbert von Karajan, actors Clark Gable, Horst Bucholz and Tony Curtis, Greek shipowner Stavros Niarchos, German publisher Henri Nannen, Argentine President Juan Perón and many others.
How was the roadster?
The 300 SL coupe was produced between 1954 and 1957 in the number of 1,400 units, after which the cabriolet took over. It was presented for the first time at the Geneva Motor Show. It also used a tubular lattice frame, but it was modified in the area of the doors and the rear (look at the differences in the gallery), where a larger luggage compartment was created, under the floor of which the reserve could be stored and it could also accommodate luggage. It could no longer logically be behind the seats, where the roof folded. The tank neck has also moved out of the trunk.
Changes also affected the bow, the lights were now different with headlights and turn signals under one cover. The doors opened in the classic way, and this time the roll-up windows fit into them. From the autumn of 1958, it was possible to get an elegant hardtop for the car, which was very popular with the owners. The roadster was 125 kilograms heavier than the coupe.