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60 years of the Mercedes-Benz SL: SL six-pack on the track

Hans-Dieter Seufert
60 years of Mercedes-Benz SL
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But who is actually the ancestor of the SL movement - the charismatic super sports car Mercedes-Benz 300 SL or not the more down-to-earth 190 SL after all? At least the development department at Daimler-Benz AG hurried to show the 190 SL in New York in addition to the gullwing.

Visited I in September 1953 the US importer Maxie Hoffman again the Daimler-Benz headquarters. The businessman from Austria successfully persuaded the board of management to develop a high-performance street sports car from the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL racing car. But with the planned 1000 copies alone, no state could be made. To put the brand in the spotlight in the US, its salespeople needed a smaller, open sports car that could be sold in larger numbers. On the spur of the moment, the star grandees converted the project of a Mercedes-Benz 180 Cabriolet based on the pontoon limousine: the developers built the prototype of an open two-seater sports car within a few weeks. It differed significantly from the production model, which was only presented a year later in Geneva - but the joint appearance in New York and the borrowings in the design were intended to demonstrate family affiliation.

The Mercedes-Benz 300 SL was created under High pressure

Contemporary sources provide an insight into the development department headed by Dr. Fritz Nallinger: The engineers worked under high pressure as if in piecework - there was a lot of catching up to do in the post-war period. The unforeseen founding of the new SL sports car family created additional time pressure. That Daimler-Benz got involved underlines the great importance of the US car market. Early body drawings are known from September 1953, it was not until January 16, 1954 that the Board of Management gave its approval for the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL gullwing coupé, which was to adorn the Mercedes stand in New York only 20 days later.

The Mercedes 300 SL itself gives no indication of the tight deadlines under which it was created. The tubular space frame from the racing car flowed into the series car development, and the gasoline direct injection developed with Bosch for the three-liter six-cylinder compared to the competition car from 1952 with 215 hp even provided an increase in performance and a sensational innovation in passenger car construction. “One of the most amazing cars everwas built in series somewhere in the world ”, judged Heinz-Ulrich Wieselmann, who had covered around 3000 kilometers with a silver-gray gullwing for his test in auto motor und sport .

Wieselmann went also on the driving behavior of the Mercedes 300 SL, which was equipped with a two-joint swing axle, criticized by some SL drivers - when cornering quickly, the rear could suddenly break away. Wieselmann knew advice: “The right way of driving with him means: not going into a bend quite as quickly, but out of it very quickly with the high excess power.” --beta '> Even professionals struggled

Not only inexperienced drivers struggled with the stubborn rear axle, but also professionals like Stirling Moss. The Brit trained with a gullwing for the Targa Florio in Sicily and noticed the foul behavior of the outwardly elegant and solid-looking sportsman from Stuttgart-Untertürkheim. Incidentally, after the factory withdrew from motorsport in 1955, Moss himself bought one of a total of 29 gullwing, which had a lighter aluminum body, and used it in competitions such as the Tour de France in 1956.
The developers listened carefully to the factory driver and his colleagues. The single-joint pendulum axle with a horizontal compensating spring was built into the 300 SL Roadster, which was available from 1957, a significant improvement in driving behavior that is still noticeable today.

However, the open Mercedes 300 SL also had a problem that the internal sports car designated as W 198 since 1954 - the relatively high weight. While the ready-to-drive coupé weighed 1310 kilograms, the roadster even weighed 1420 kilograms with a full tank: 'Not a competition sports car, but a touring vehicle for two people with superior performance and roadholding,' said the editor Wieselmann in Motor-Revue 1958 To underline the travel character, the roadster had more space in the trunk thanks to a smaller tank.

The American importer Hoffman was again behind the construction of the roadster. For his chic store on Park Avenue in New York and its branches, he asked for an open-top supercar - and got one. The bare figures spoke for his quality as a seller - by the end of 1955 996 of the ultimately 1,400 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Coupés had been sold, of which a total of 850 were shipped to the USA. “Hoffman is the typical individual seller,” characterized Arnold Wychodil, Head of Export at Daimler-Benz AG, in an interview with the news magazine “Der Spiegel” and added: “But when it came to setting up a customer service organization across the country, it failed he. ”In 1957 the Stuttgart-based company terminated the contract and went their own way in the USA.

But Maxie Hoffman's ideascontinued to inspire the Stuttgart. In addition to the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Roadster offered in Germany for 32,500 marks, the Mercedes-Benz 190 SL also remained in the range. The shape was skilfully based on the lines of its big brother, the 1.9 liter in-line engine, which was the first Mercedes four-cylinder to be equipped with an overhead camshaft, delivers a decent 105 hp. For the top speed of 200 km /h desired during the conception, a few more horses would have been necessary. The Mercedes-Benz 190-SL machine cannot score in the discipline of smooth running either because the design engineers only approved a triple-bearing crankshaft.

Mercedes-Benz SL with mass-produced parts

Nevertheless The Mercedes-Benz 190 SL, for which there was a hardtop as a factory accessory like the big SL, sold well: a total of exactly 25,881 had been built by the end of production in February 1963, around 20 percent of which were rolling on German roads - about the same Share as in the 300 SL Roadster, which was refined in 1961 with disc brakes instead of drum brakes on all four wheels. For 1963 the development department worked on the offspring for the SL family and combined the successful ingredients of the predecessors. A drilled 2.3-liter six-cylinder from the large sedan 220 SEb was now mounted in a self-supporting body with a frame floor system. As many high-volume parts as possible should keep the purchase price within an affordable range.

The presentation of the Mercedes-Benz W 113 in Geneva in 1963 caused astonishment because of the modern shape, which with its smooth surfaces and the inwardly curved hardtop, the pagoda roof, met with divided opinions and was considered purer by critics Fashion gag was felt. But the new body, developed under the direction of Karl Wilfert, had to meet important requirements: with almost the same length as the Mercedes-Benz 190 SL, it should offer significantly more space for passengers and luggage and also the safety ideas of Béla Bárenyi such as crumple zones in front and at the rear as well as a safety steering column.

The safety plans have been implemented furthest with the Mercedes-Benz 280 SL, which was offered from 1968 and inherited both the 230 SL and the 250 SL, which was only offered for one year. With the 170 hp in-line six-cylinder, the top model of the W 113 brothers also provides the greatest driving pleasure, which unfolds most effectively with the roof open. The seats, with additional headrests, are comfortable and offer good lateral support. The attention to detail, which is shown in the flattened horn ring in the steering wheel, is inspiring - this makes the instruments easier to read. The rather large steering wheel is also equipped with a padded impact absorber, the results of the efforts ofSecurity Pope Bárenyi.

Mercedes SL bestseller in the USA

The four-speed automatic transmission, available for 1,445 marks, invites you to a leisurely weekend trip rather than a sporty journey of discovery on winding roads. In addition, our driven Pagoden-SL is equipped with a power steering (surcharge 570 marks). When you step on the accelerator, the silky barrel of the six-cylinder engine impresses, the crankshaft of which, like the Mercedes-Benz 250 SL, is guided in seven bearings for smoother running. However, the driver of the top-of-the-range model does not have to fear an exuberant temper. This is ensured by the relatively high weight for a sports car, which with an automatic transmission almost reaches the value of the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Roadster from 1957, but without the engine derived from the racing unit. In return, the Mercedes-Benz 280 SL with the four-speed automatic represents the strongest group in this SL line, which also achieved the best sales of all models with a total of 23,885 units: More than three quarters of the 280 SL were exported, 54 percent to the UNITED STATES.

The great market success of the Pagoda put the already developed successor R 107 under great pressure to succeed, which it countered casually. It followed the ideal line of its predecessor, improving its engine technology and comfort. In addition to the open roadster, there was also a real coupé for the first time in the Mercedes-Benz SL career, although it had a wheelbase that was almost 40 centimeters longer. The closed sports car, however, has more the characteristics of a sporty, elegant offshoot of the large sedan. That is why we are continuing our anniversary drive with an open roadster and are climbing into the top European model Mercedes-Benz 500 SL, which came onto the market in 1980, nine years after the world premiere of the R 107. Unbelievable: The series represented the SL family for another nine Years and remained in office for a total of 18 years.

Mercedes-Benz 500 SL with strong dynamics

The first glance into the interior reveals that the safety philosophy has been consistently continued with the R 107. The steering wheel has a mighty impact absorber, the bare sheet metal has given way to foamed plastic, which is loosened up by noble wood applications. The A-pillar has also gained muscle mass for improved occupant protection. On the other hand, with the SL, Mercedes still offered uncompromising open-top driving without a roll bar in the 1980s, which is particularly great fun with the powerful Mercedes-Benz 500 SL. A V8 whispers in front of the occupants, whose initially almost noiseless appearance cleverly hides its true capabilities. Rather, the small rear spoiler gives an idea of ​​the dynamism that the Mercedes-Benz 500 SL can spark.

223 hp push the Mercedes-Benz SL steadily forward, the brawny torque of over 400 Newton meters promises power in all situations, that of the four-speed automatic transmission without jerksis implemented. Thanks to the good chassis and excellent brakes with ABS, driving is playfully easy. The R 107 looks like the perfect implementation of the SL idea: a powerful and reliable two-seater with solid charm, sophisticated down to the last detail. That is probably why it stayed in the program for so long, albeit continuously adapted to the needs of the time. But how did Mercedes manage to develop another worthy ancestor for the famous model family in these great footsteps?

The technicians in Stuttgart-Untertürkheim responded with a completely new concept. When the R 107 we drove was built, the engineers were already deeply involved in developing the Mercedes-Benz SL 500, which was presented in Geneva in 1989: “The new SL is more than just a new model. It is a technology carrier and a universally applicable sports car in one and, by the way, a fascinating car, ”said Gert Hack in the first test report by auto, motor und sport about the fourth generation SL.

Next SL generation with many innovations

In addition to the numerous innovations, these included the patented roof technology and the The roll bar that automatically extends in the event of an accident was also delighted by the shape drawn by Bruno Sacco. The Mercedes-Benz SL 500 from 2000, which is equipped with the 300 hp three-valve engine, in the Formula 1 edition still looks like a modern high-performance sports car. In contrast to the legendary ancestor, only one gene is missing: that of the racing car. In return, the Mercedes sports car of the nineties easily turns into the path that all SL vintages have taken so far - towards the classic. For the 60th anniversary of the family, the dream car career of the Mercedes-Benz SL is being expanded by a new rung. Again the question is: How does Mercedes do it?


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