Mercedes-Benz 300SL: The Original Supercar
The term “supercar” gets batted around more these days than a baseball at spring training. But, well before there were dual-clutch transmissions or electronic stability control, there was the Mercedes Benz 300SL. It gave everyday motorists a taste of the power and excitement normally reserved for professional racers, all in a very cool package. The 300SL was a slightly more civilized version of the legendary W194. It was first unveiled at the 1954 New York Auto Show, where it instantly made heads turn and eyes pop. Under the hood was a 222 hp 2996 cc (182 ci) inline six-cylinder powerplant tied to a four-speed manual gearbox. Its name was inspired by its three liter engine displacement along with the designation “Sport Leicht,” or “Sports Light” in English. PHOTOS: See More of the 1952 Mercedes-Benz 300SL
The 300SL made up for its relatively small engine with a featherlight frame. Aluminum was used for the hood, trunk lid, and doors, with the rest of the body made of steel. Buyers has the option of ordering an all-aluminum version that shaved 176 lbs. off the total weight. The front end dropped low to reduce wind resistance, and in place of the racing version’s carburetor was a Bosch system that injected fuel directly into the cylinders. Top speed was an impressive 161 mph.
The 300SL offered more than speed, though. Its steering was extremely tight for a car of its era, with four-wheel independent suspension that allowed for a comfortable ride and precise handling. The 55-57 versions featured gullwing doors, which were as much of a necessity due to the car’s unique design as stylistic touch. The wheelbase was 94.5” and overall length 178.”
PHOTOS: See More of the 1954 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing
Despite its impressive capabilities, the car suffered from what can only be described as blunders in its design. A flaw in the mechanical fuel pump caused it to keep pumping fuel into the cylinders, from the time the ignition was turned off till the engine stopped completely. This excess gas diluted the oil, casing a host of problems including reduced engine life. The oil itself rarely reached high enough temperatures to effectively lubricate internal components.
The gullwing doors were followed by a more conventional roadster layout that sold until 1963. In total 3.258 units were built, with the majority selling to American buyers. It was replaced by the Mercedes 230SL, but not before it transformed Mercedes’ image from a seller of boring vehicles to a manufacturer of world-class sorts racers, a reputation it enjoys to this day.
PHOTOS: See More of the 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing
PHOTOS: See More of the 1956 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing