We took another look at the 190 SL in 1960, five years after its market launch. Reinhard Seiffert wrote the original test.
Almost five years have passed since the Mercedes-Benz 190 SL was tested in 1955 in our sister magazine MOTOR-REVUE. Although it hasn't changed much since then, after a period of half a decade it seemed interesting to us to take a look at it again - especially since many of our readers have repeatedly expressed the desire for a 190 SL test.
Anyone who read the MOTOR REVUE test from 1955 will know that the 190 SL was not given undivided applause. Today it has become even more difficult to judge this car fairly, because it still has almost all the weaknesses of the past, but on the other hand it is so popular that it will probably continue to be built for a long time, as demand tends to increase. than decreases. ,
Although not exactly cheap, the 190 SL has achieved a popularity that puts it in line with other well-known sports cars such as MG, Triumph, Jaguar, Alfa Romeo Giulietta or the Porsche types. Over 18,000 190 SLs have been sold all over the world since 1955.
However, there seems to be a very specific audience that prefers the 190 SL. Its popularity as a film prop, as a background in fashion journals, its frequency in the hands of stars of all shades point the way – by no means always to the undivided delight of its creators. But there is probably no doubt that the 190 SL is more at home on boulevards than on racetracks. That is part of his nature.
The 190 SL meets our innate need for bragging rights in a particularly pronounced way, because it is an unusually elegant car, and it still does today, just as it did when it was created. A lot of nice sports cars have been built all over the world in the last five years, but the 190 SL can be seen next to any of them. Its wide, richly rounded and well-balanced forms reveal that its creators had a great deal of feeling for the outward appearance of a sporty automobile. Especially when it's open, the 190 SL still attracts attention today – envious and admiring, coquettish and wanting to be invited, depending on temperament and gender.
It is probably not wrong to assume that these external advantages account for a large part of the popularity of the 190 SL, and quite rightly so.You shouldn't feel lofty about it - who wouldn't like to drive around in a pretty, open car and, from this vantage point, adorned with a sporty cap or a colorful headscarf, let the world around you glide by? The 190 SL conveys the indisputable advantages of such an existence in a perfect way, effectively supported by the emblem on the front, rear and hubcaps: the Mercedes star. No arguments about this either - the Untertürkheimer trident enjoys an unusual reputation among the trademarks of the world. It's not uncommon for cars to be bought unseen because of him, and many other automakers would give a lot for a symbol of such appeal. Neiders tend to overlook the fact that this reputation has been built up over many years through quality. But there is no question that it also represents a commitment to quality. ,
The 190 SL has an unusually large number of external properties with which a car can win over both itself and its owner. In addition, there are other positives that emerge in use. The 190 SL is known for being unbreakable, so its owners almost never have to fret over it. He is not one of those sports cars that constantly need a gentle hand and a good repair shop. They let him look through now and then - that's all. This may not seem sensational for owners of normal passenger cars. For sports car buyers in a country like the United States, where the manufacturer and usually also the nearest authorized workshop are far away, it is by no means a matter of course and of great value. That's why the Americans protect the 190 SL.
We drove the 190 SL Roadster, which we would definitely prefer to the coupé version without a roadster top. Firstly, the 190 SL is much nicer to drive open than closed, but secondly, the roadster top is of a quality that, apart from Sindelfingen, is only made in a few places in the world. Not only is it completely wind and waterproof, but you can open or close it in half a minute, and once you've got it out you don't even have to get out. This quick change between open and closed driving, which is possible at any time, is another great advantage of the 190 SL. Fitting the interchangeable coupé roof is quite a hassle, and you can do without it even in winter, especially since the heating system is very efficient. When installing the coupé roof, the roadster top must be removed and stored in a special box. The coupé version – also with a removable roof – has the advantage that there is no partition to accommodate the roadster top, which means more space is available, but in our opinion that doesn't make up for the lack of a quick change option.A rear transverse jump seat can be installed on the Roadster and Coupé. The body itself is not only pretty, but also of excellent quality. You can tell by the precise closing of the doors and windows or the front and rear hood, as well as by the little things, such as the solidly designed lockable flap of the glove compartment and the excellently finished interior. The structure and external appearance of the 190 SL still deserve the grade 1 today.
People who make an excellent impression in detail often have a hard time living up to the expectations placed in them. It's the same with the 190 SL, because with this car more attention was paid to its appearance than to its technical design. In this respect it is something completely different from its bigger brother, the 300 SL, with which it has little in common apart from the shapes and the two letters SL. While the 300 SL is a highly qualified special design with equally highly qualified properties, the 190 SL remained close to series production with four cylinders. The engine of the 190 SL is a more powerful version of the 1.9 liter four-cylinder with an overhead camshaft used in the 180 and 190, its chassis is based on the "frame-floor system" of these models with a front "subframe".
Although the OHC motor and the chassis with rear single-joint swing axle are ideal for sporty use, the result is still not entirely satisfactory. The engine, which is not particularly refined and smooth-running in the 190, shows itself from a rather rough side in the 190 SL, and the chassis design does not seem to be particularly well suited for an open roadster either. ,
If we couldn't get used to the engine, it wasn't because it didn't have enough power. With 105 hp at 5,700 rpm, it can definitely meet sporting demands in terms of numbers. In practice, however, it is not very enjoyable to use this power, since the engine makes a noise inside and outside even at low revs, which in our opinion is unnecessary. Even at a harmless 3,000 rpm it emits such a toxic noise that everyone thinks it's who knows what's going on - and there's still nothing going on, because in this speed range the acceleration performance is still quite civil and is driven by normal mid-size car achieved with less scandal. Since you don't want to attract attention and get the smell of a speeder, you automatically get used to keeping the speed below 4,500 rpm. You make quite good progress, but a large part of the 105 horses stays in the stable for the rare occasions when you have to overcome your own desire for peace and quiet in the wild and put the needle on the tachometer to 5.500 rpm mark or above. The engine proves to be extraordinarily revving, it can still be revved over the permitted 6,000 to around 6,400 rpm.
On the other hand - as is to be expected with a four-cylinder with 55 hp per liter - the temperament in the lower speed range is not particularly impressive; you don't like to go below 60 km/h (corresponding to approx. 2,000 rpm) in fourth gear. One finds oneself in the strange position of having a motor with high torque and power at one's disposal, which, however, is usually only used in a relatively narrow speed range because of its noise level. It is noteworthy, however, that the engine is no longer very powerful below 2,000 rpm, but is still flexible. You can in the III. gear down to under 20 km/h, in 2nd to under 10 km/h and only rarely needs to shift down to 1st gear (which is of course synchronized).
How to drive
The noise development of the engine in higher speed ranges, which is also accompanied by vibrations in the clutch pedal, accelerator pedal and gear lever, is certainly one of the reasons why it is very rare to come across a spirited 190 SL. Another reason is the properties of the chassis. The 190 SL has a thoroughly comfortable suspension, which is softer than most sports cars in this class. However, the front end in particular is extraordinarily sensitive to bumps in the road and is always slightly uneasy on any road that is not quite flat, which turns into a really annoying hesitation in the event of stronger bumps. The impact sensitivity of the chassis is probably due to the fact that the body of the open 190 SL could not be used as a supporting element to the same extent as in the sedans. This difficulty, which basically exists with every open car, seems to have a particular effect on the frame-floor system. In any case, there are no such phenomena in the 300 SL with its completely different frame construction. Eliminating them would presumably require a complete change in the design of the 190 SL, and this probably explains why nothing has changed in this respect despite five years of construction.
These things do not affect the road holding. The 190 SL may not be sensationally good by today's standards, but it has clean and safe driving characteristics. It usually behaves understeer and only goes into slight oversteer at extreme cornering speeds, while being easy to control. Even on bad roads, this behavior remains unchanged - an advantage of the independent wheel suspension of the 190 SL compared to the rigid axles of the British sports car competition.The driving behavior is also good on wet roads, which is certainly also due to the excellent and very smooth-running Dunlop B7 tires.
Apart from these tyres, we also drove the same car with Michelin X tyres, which are available on request, in the version with longitudinal grooves. Despite the necessary high air pressure (2.3/2.4 Atü), the 190 SL with X tires drives softer and more comfortably than with normal sports tires, the road holding in curves is excellent. On the other hand, the directional stability is worse, at high speeds and cross winds the car does not drive very comfortably with X tires, so we preferred normal tires for the 190 SL, even though they are harder. ,
Despite the good road holding, fast cornering with the 190 SL is quite exhausting. We attribute this to three different causes: firstly, the steering is not stiff, but it has a very high restoring force, and the steering wheel therefore has to be held tightly. Secondly, on bad roads, the bumps from the road are also transmitted to the steering column and steering wheel, so that your hands do not rest. Third, finally, the seats offer too little lateral support, so that you cannot support yourself with your body when steering, but even have to hold on to the steering wheel. The 190 SL behaves more awkwardly than one is used to from a sports car, and one feels little incentive to drive it with force for a longer period of time. When driving with the top down - we had plenty of opportunity to do so during testing in the warm summer weather - you don't feel this so much; Driving with the top down is always fun - even if there is a little self-deception involved, because you always feel faster than you are.
High motorway travel speed in an open car is not for everyone, if you want to enjoy the fresh air - as far as you can talk about it on busy motorways - you don't drive too fast yourself. But even with the top down, we stayed at an average speed, because wind and engine noise increase sharply above 130 km/h. It is a well-known fact that different cars and drivers adapt to a certain speed, provided the route is clear, and for us, with the 190 SL, this speed was around 130 km/h and therefore quite a bit lower than with fast sedans such as the 220 S. But of course you can also be faster with the 190 SL – with a top speed of 170 to 175 km/h it is no slower than a 220 SE. When it comes to acceleration, however, the SE lets it go: the 35.0 seconds that we measured with the 190 SL over the stationary kilometer we got out of it in a pretty brutal way that would hurt any SL owner. A 220 SE, however, only needs 34.2 seconds.
The handling at high speeds is good, and there is nothing wrong with the driving safety of the 190 SL here either.In view of the fact that hardly anyone will drive this car constantly between 150 and 170 km/h, the brakes are sufficient, but when braking from the top speed, the braking distance is noticeably longer after an initially good effect, repeated braking from high Speed results in significantly longer braking distances - even the good drum brakes on the 13-inch wheel have limits that cannot be overcome even with the best pads. Here you only feel them under extreme conditions, in normal driving the brakes make an excellent impression, work evenly, softly and effectively and, thanks to the built-in brake booster, require little foot pressure.
How to sit
We already said that the seats offer too little lateral guidance for forced driving. Otherwise they are comfortable, we were once again able to study the advantages of genuine leather over plastic as a cover material - even in the hottest weather there was no unpleasant perspiration. For the leather upholstery, however, you have to pay a surcharge of DM 780 for the Roadster. The seating position is such that even tall people have enough freedom of movement, the seat backs can be adjusted slightly. The large steering wheel is quite high and interferes with some forward vision, visibility is limited when the top is down, the windshield is quite low, and obstruction to the right from somewhat acute-angled road junctions is a common disadvantage of most two-seater roadsters and convertibles. ,
In front of the driver is a highly impressive collection of instruments: the speedometer and tachometer, both clearly in view, and – less clearly visible – the fuel gauge, coolant thermometer and oil pressure gauge. The 190 SL still has the somewhat antiquated, non-self-resetting turn signal activation by the signal ring. The clock in the glove box lid kept going wrong, so we didn't wind it up. We would prefer an electric clock. On the other hand, the two-stage windscreen wipers, the foot-operated windscreen washer system combined with the wipers, the reading lamp (also interior lighting), the switchable parking lights, the padded sun visors (on the right with mirror) and the heating and ventilation system with many possible variations are pleasing. It's worth noting that there's hardly any drag when you roll down a window all the way with the top down. When you crank the windows, you come into conflict with the armrests, which are designed as storage boxes; the armrests are not very comfortable, but that is tolerable because the boxes are very practical. Below the buttons on the dashboard are a cold and a warm starter cable. We didn't need both of them because the engine started cold immediately and warmed up with a not too long delay - with the accelerator pedal fully depressed.The central tunnel is remarkably flat, there is a lot of space in terms of width and, if necessary, three people can drive. Entry is quite easy for a sports car, and there are plenty of luggage storage options behind the seats and in the trunk, which is not even small.
The center shift lever is conveniently at hand. It is strangely soft to the touch, and in addition to the engine vibrations already mentioned, it also transmits the engine's own movements and is constantly in motion. Nevertheless, you can switch up very quickly, the synchronization works reliably. Downhill, on the other hand, it's not easy to get into second gear. One misses the precision of the shifting, which is actually the most important advantage of the center shift lever compared to the steering wheel shifter.
The 190 SL is difficult to judge because it is certainly not a bad car. It has survived thousands of times and its owners are satisfied. Driving safety, road holding, performance are impeccable, bodywork and workmanship are excellent.
From that point of view, there is actually nothing wrong with him. But is that all you would expect from a Daimler-Benz sports car in 1960? Certainly not, because with all its qualities, the 190 SL as a whole may be the same as it was five years ago, but not today. It is a well-behaved and robust automobile, but with the best will in the world it is no longer able to arouse enthusiasm. The fact that it was bought anyway is due to the reasons already outlined: its good reputation as a reliable vehicle, its elegant exterior and the credit of the Mercedes-Benz manufacturer brand.
It cannot be assumed that people in Untertürkheim have misconceptions about the properties of the 190 SL. They don't tend to lag behind progress there. If you do it anyway with the 190 SL, it's probably mainly for economic reasons: in the past few years, the changeover to the new six-cylinder had more important things to do than launching a new mid-range sports car to replace the well-performing 190 SL. But a good reputation is an obligation, and so we wish for an improved or new 190 SL, which need not be less elegant and effective, but which also corresponds to today's level in terms of its inner qualities - not least thanks to the involvement of Daimler Benz raised level. It doesn't necessarily have to be more expensive.