Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Roadster

As with many of the most important sports cars, the development of the road-going Mercedes-Benz 300SL and its subsequent importation into the United States would not have been possible without Mercedes’ American distributor, Max Hoffman. While attending a 1954 meeting of the Daimler-Benz Board of Directors, Hoffman argued passionately for a production version of the 300SL racing car. Despite initial objections, the determined Hoffman prevailed and left Germany with a commitment for 1,000 SLs.

Introduced in 1954 to thrilled crowds in New York, the Mercedes-Benz 300SL was essentially a supercar with a price tag well in excess of $7,000. Despite the high price, the immediate and long-term success of the 300SL was due in large part to the growing American fascination with smaller, more nimble European sports cars, an interest expressed by many GIs returning from service on the Continent during the early 1950s.

Notably, the production 300SL capably incorporated the technological advancements that resulted from Mercedes-Benz’s racing program. Regarding the car’s nomenclature, the 300, of course, represented the engine’s displacement of three litres, while SL denoted “Sport und Leicht” (light). A key factor in the car’s sparkling performance was the car’s light tubular frame, designed by Rudolf Uhlenhaut, which was truly an engineering triumph. Based upon an intricate network of many thin tubes, Uhlenhaut’s frame design provided incredible strength yet weighed a mere 82 kilograms!

The body design was a classic case of form following function. While believed to be merely decorative, the distinctive bulges over the wheel openings actually improved high-speed stability, and the two longitudinal hood bulges and distinctive grillwork on both front fenders removed excessive heat from the engine bay while reducing interior noise. In addition, lightweight aluminium was used extensively for the bodywork, particularly for the doors, hood, trunk lid and interior sheet metal.

Compared to competitive sports cars of its time, the 300SL gained an immediate reputation for not only high performance but also for exceptional build quality and advanced design. Where contemporary sports cars featured carburettors, solid rear axles and pushrod engines, the 300SL offered Bosch direct fuel injection, independent rear suspension and an overhead camshaft.

When the 300SL roadster was introduced at the London Motor Show in October of 1957, Daimler-Benz proudly stated, “the dynamic flow lines of its sprawling body are the outward promise of the pent-up power which the Type 300SL roadster can release within the second, in response to your command.” As the roadster was based on the coupé, there were many similarities between the two; the roadster featured larger fenders, different headlights, a smaller grille and a chrome strip down the side of the car that distinguished it from its brother. The heritage, however, remained unquestionable.

Since the 300SL Roadster lacked the strength and rigidity offered by the coupé’s roof, Mercedes-Benz engineers thoroughly redesigned the car’s chassis to maintain its structural integrity. Consequently, the roadster was a slightly heavier automobile, yet the engineers were also able to coax an additional 10 horsepower from the robust engine by including a sports camshaft and raising the compression ratio to 9.5:1. While the roadster’s aerodynamics were not as favourable as for the coupé, the roadster could still approach 155 mph with the right gearing and remained one of the fastest road cars in the world.

This car was auctioned off by RM Auctions in October of 2010 at the Battersea Evolution, London and in October of 2011 at the Battersea Evolution, London.

225 bhp, 2,996 cc overhead camshaft six-cylinder engine with Bosch mechanical fuel injection, four-speed manual gearbox, independent front suspension with coil springs and rear swing axle with coil springs. Wheelbase: 2,400 mm.

Source: RM Auctions
Photo Credit: Copyright Benson Chiu

Gallery: Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Roadster