Mercedes-Benz 300 SL

The roots of the SL-Class lie in motor racing: in the early 1950s, Mercedes-Benz developed the 300 SL, W 194 series racing car. It was a unique blend of three ingredients: lightweight construction, aerodynamics and reliability. The original SL was presented to the stunned press on 12 March 1952 on the motorway between Stuttgart and Heilbronn – a surprise coup absolutely in line with the later great sports successes of the W 194.Because the 1952 racing season was exceptionally successful for Mercedes-Benz. These were the results reaped by the 300 SL that year: second and fourth places at the Mille Miglia, a triple victory at the Bern Sports Car Grand Prix, a double win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, a fourfold triumph at the Great Jubilee Prize at Nürburgring and a double victory in the 3rd Carrera Panamericana in Mexico. The brand returned to motor sports – and through the publicity effect, to the international markets – with a great fanfare.

In the Second World War post-era at the beginning of the 1950s, characterised by the reconstruction in Germany, this was a decisively important signal, for great parts of the country still lay in ruins. The production plants and office buildings of the then Daimler-Benz AG were not all fully rebuilt yet, either. However, the incipient “economic miracle”, as the economic revival was to be called, could already be felt. And the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL fitted in perfectly: rising, one could say, like a phoenix from its ashes, it led the way for the brand to return to its erstwhile splendor.

The very looks of the vehicle helped here, for with its slender, elegant matt silver-colored bodywork and its large Mercedes star in the radiator grille, it embodied high speed even while standing perfectly still. And then there were its gullwing doors, in the case of the very first W 194 series, very short indeed, resembling entry hatches more than actual doors: they lent the racing car a very characteristic aspect – and were instrumental in creating the SL myth. The vehicle with chassis number 2 had these short gullwing doors, making it the oldest SL, and at the same time the only one in existence anywhere in the world today with this particular feature.

The 300 SL production sports car presented in 1954 was based on the successful competition version of 1952. Its space frame weighed only 110 lbs. and was particularly sturdy, but did not permit the fitting of normal doors because of the high frame side members. With its characteristic upward-opening doors, the dream car of the 1950s popularly became known as the Gullwing.

Source: Mercedes-Benz press

Gallery: Mercedes-Benz 300 SL