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50 years of SL

In 2004, Mercedes Benz celebrated one of the most important anniversaries in its existence : the SL class turned 50. So a little review :

1952: Dominance of the 300 SL (W194) in sports car racing

For the first official racing competitions, the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL (Sport Leight) was developed, derived from the 300 saloon and cabriolet models. The six-cylinder in-line engine in the production cars developed 115 hp from a displacement of three litres - not enough for motor racing. Its output was therefore boosted to 175 hp.

The car had been developed by the experienced design engineer Rudolf Uhlenhaut and was first entered in the classic Italian long-distance race, the Mille Miglia

The double Mercedes victory in the classic long-distance race in Le Mans attracted enormous public acclaim. After 24 hours, the team of Hermann Lang/Fritz Rieß was the first to cross the finishing line, followed by their team mates Theo Helfrich/Helmut Niedermayr. The 300 SL again occupied the first three places in the sports car race on the Nürburgring.

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300 SL # 21 Le Mans by CMC
Pictures courtesy of Ivan Delgado - MercedesBenzDiecastModels

Mercedes-Benz also faced the competition in the Carrera Panamericana: the 3,300 kilometre race on Mexican roads, part of them unmetalled, at icy-cold altitudes and through muggy lowlands, was an acid test for both man and machineWith the victorious 300 SL, Mercedes-Benz proved that the company was able to continue its magnificent pre-war successes.

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300 SL Panamericana # 4 by Ricko

1954 300 SL (W198 I)

In Februari 1954, at the New York Auto Show , the ancestors of todays SL and SLK were presented : the 300 SL Coupé Gullwing (or butterfly wing) and 190 SL.The legendary gullwing coupe was the first thoroughbred sports car to be developed by Daimler-Benz after the war. It was available as a two-seat closed sportscar and later as open roadster.

Maximilian Edwin Hoffman, a US citizen and main importer of European cars (Daimler Benz) since 1946, saw the victory of the 300SL in the Carrera Panamericana as a potential commercial success. He urged Daimler-Benz to produce the SL as a ‘streetversion’. To Daimler-Benz this was a great opportunity to get settled in the USA without a big investment. At the same time they were going to develop a less expensive version : the 190SL….

Today, the 300SL with its unique doors and technological firsts is considered one of the most collectable Mercedes-Benzes of all time, with prices reaching well past the 400,000 USD mark. In addition, Sports Car International magazine ranked the 300SL as the number 5 sports car of all time. About 1,400 of these cars were produced from 1954 until 1957.

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1954 300 SL Gullwing by Minichamps/PMA

1955 190 SL (W121)

The principle of creating a new car with already existing assemblies was applied not only to the 300 SL ; a sporty model – the 190 SL – was developed in the same way, on the basis of the 180.(105 hp and 5700 t/m). The max speed was 170 km/h (106 mph) and it was fitted with a four cylinder engine with a capacity of 1897 cubic centimeters (= ‘190’ SL or 1.9 liters). This car could be bought as a roadster with a convertible soft top or a coupé with removable hard top. The 190 SL was the ‘popular’ version of the 300 SL. The cost of it was only half of the 300 SL. 25,881 cars were produced until 1963 …

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1955 190 SL by Maisto

1957 300 SL Roadster (W198 II)

The roadster replacing the gullwing was launched in March 1957 and it had the same engine as the coupé. Four years later, this model was equipped with Dunlop disc brakes on the front and rear wheels. The roadster had conventional doors and was a soft top convertible with a removable hard top as an option. Only 1,900 cars were made. (price today over 100,000 USD)

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1957 300 SL Roadster and Roadster Touring by Bburago

1963 230 SL (W113)

Successor to the 190 SL. A new roadster with a more powerful, re-bored version of the 220 SE's six-cylinder injection engine. This car caused a lot of commotion because of the removable roof which resembled to a Japanese pagoda, a completely new design with a low waistline and big curved greenhouse windows. The roof center is slightly lower than the sides, which were raised a little to allow easier entry and exit. Nickname : 230 SL Pagoda….This SL was build until 1971.

Engines : 230 SL (1963 to 1966 ; 19,831 cars)
250 SL (150 hp) (5,196 cars)
and later on the 280 SL (170 hp) (23,885 cars)

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1968 280 SL with Pagoda top by Anson

1971 Mercedes-Benz 350 SL (W107 or R107)

In the spring of 1971, a new sports car for large-scale production – the 350 SL – was launched, replacing the 280 SL which had been produced since January 1968. During a period of 18 years (237,387 cars). This car would compete with its rivals with a better quality, safety systems and most of all : elegance. With a powersource of 200 hp, the car raced from 0 to 100 km/h in less than 10 seconds, with topspeed of 212 km/h. But the car wasn’t ‘light’ anymore (1,560 kg). In the US the only version available was a 4.5 liter with 230hp, but it was also called a 350 SL. This changed in 1973 when MB changed the names of the American R107 to 450SL and 450SLC.

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1971 350 SL by Sunstar

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1973 450 SL by CMC

1978 Mercedes-Benz 450 SLC 5.0

A new top model in the 107 series – the 450 SLC 5.0 – was presented at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September 1977, its most important new feature being its 5.0 liter light-alloy engine and a four-seater. This car was manufactured by Mercedes Benz to homologate the 450 SLC for road rally purposes. These were the rarest post-war models ever produced by MB. In 1990 the SLC was replaced by the SEC.

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1977 (1981) 500 SLC Streetversion and Rally by Ricko

1989 Mercedes-Benz 500 SL (W129 or R129)

At the car expo in Genève in 1989, the fourth generation of the SL was presented. In this car security was very important with a dynamic roll bar, activated in 0.3 seconds in a car accident, electronic stability control, front airbags… The roof top was activated to lower and raise itself by a simple push on a button. The base model was the 228 hp 300 SL version. But it was the 322 hp 500 SL which made the most headlines. In 1994 the 300 SL was replaced in Europe by the 280 and the 320. At that time the model designations were changed to SL300, SL500 and SL600). Topmodel : the SL600 6.0 V12 and 389 hp/V12 (1993).Over 180.000 were build until 2001.

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1989 SL 500-32 by Revell



SL600 by AutoArt

2001 Mercedes Benz SL500 (R230)

This car is using a folding hardtop (like the SLK’s). It’s only available with V8 or V12 engines. The safety package includes multiple airbags, Active Body Control, Sensotronic electronic braking control etc…A few month after the SL500 was introduced, Mercedes released the SL55 (493 hp) and later on the SL600. Both are the fastest SL’s ever (0-60 mph in 4.5 seconds)

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2001 SL500 Dealer edition by Minichamps

2009 Mercedes Benz SL facelift (R231)

Redesigned in 2009, the SL-Class remains the most premium Mercedes roadster. The two available models for the U.S. market are the SL550 and SL600, while Europeans shoppers can also opt for the lesser SL350 and SL280.
A new shape isn't the only thing the SL's new headlights have going for them. The units are equipped as standard with powerful bi-xenon bulbs that are purportedly more powerful and more energy-efficient than comparable LED headlamps


SL facelift by Minichamps

Some technical terms :

W113 : Wagen of the 113 series

SL : German for ‘Sehr Leight’, what became ‘Sport Leight’ later on

SLC : Sport Light Coupé

Roadster : car with soft top

Coupé : car with removable or fixed hard top

Photos :

300 SL # 21 by CMC : Ivan Delgado - MercedesBenzDiecastModels

other : own collection...

Text :

Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia ; 300SL

Mercedez Benz ‘Emotion’ (Momentum) magazine ; Nr 22, 09/2004

Illustrated Buyer's Guide Mercedes Benz, 2nd Edition, Frank Barrett, MBI Publishing, 1998; Mercedes -Benz SL, John Heilig, MBI Publishing, 1997; Essential Mercedes SL 190SL & Pagoda Models, Laurence Meredith, Bay View Books, 1997, road test results from various car magazines.