Mercedes 300 SLS: the Discrete Conqueror
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Mercedes 300 SLS: the Discrete Conqueror

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The fingers of one hand are more than enough to count all of the factory Mercedes 300 SLS examples ever assembled. Their story, somewhat paradoxically, blends glory and oblivion, exclusivity and discretion.

1955: the sportscars Grand Prix and the long-range rally scene are under the “heavy fire” of the Mercedes 300 SLR (W 196 S), in fact a Formula 1 race car disguised as roadster. Atfer all the victories of the Mercedes 300 SL (W 194 and W 198) between 1952 and 1954, Mercedes has thrown another magnificent racing car in the arena. The factory racing team was collecting outstanding results in a systematic manner. Yet, somewhere nearby this epic motorpsort story, Max Hoffman (the US-importer, the one who asked earlier for a commercial version of the 300 SL/W 194) knocks once more at Stuttgart’s door and asks for a roadster version of the commercial version (W 198) of the original racing car 300 SL/W 194. Come on! Again, 300 SL? Why not, after all? In theory, it was not so difficult to make it. Yet, promoting a new sportscar without some motorsport-action, it just couldn’t work like this.

Mercedes 300 SLS proto 1

That’s why a motorsport-targeted Mercedes 300 SL roadster had, also, to be created. And Rudolf Uhlenhaut – the creative mind and engineer behind the W 194, W 198, W196 and W 196 S – took good care of it. And it proved to be an inspired way to take further the competitional involvement of the Mercedes automobiles, since the Daimler-Beny factory team withdrew from motorsport the same year, after an deadly accident at Le Mans.

1956: by the end of this year, two examples of the motorsport-dedicated Mercedes 300 SL Roadster (W 198 II) were assmebled under the supervision of Rudolf Uhlenhaut. Their specific name: Mercedes 300 SLS – and “SLS” stands for “Super Leicht Sport”.

Important details concerning the Mercedes 300 SLS: the completely redesigned rear axle (no more swinging arms, like in the case of the 300 SL/W 198) and the lighweight-approach of the car’s philosophy (the 300 SLS was weighing only 970 kg).

Another Mercedes 300 SLS was built upon the chassis of a racing 300 SL (W 194) roadster (it’s case will make the subject of another article). The M189 engine (straight-six, 2996 cc) implanted under the bonnet of the Mercedes 300 SLS was pushed to 235 PS. Also, the necessary parts for putting together one more Mercedes 300 SLS, if needed, were manufactured at Stuttgart.

Mercedes 300 SLS Paul 2

1957: the Mercedes 300 SLS reached into the experienced hands of Paul O’Shea. This pilot had already won the 1955 and 1956 editions of the SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) at the wheel of a standard Mercedes 300 SL “Gullwing” coupe (W 198). The racing team was coordinated by George Tilp, with a certain contribution from Daimler-Benz. Coming back to the car, it’s exact specifications remain largely unkonwn, excepting the power (235 PS), the maximum speed (264 km/h) and the weight (970 kg). The team did a great work during the 1957 SCCA season, finishing in the top position of the D Production Cars class. This remarkable achievement of Paul O’Shea widely opened the gate for the commercial debut of the “normal” Mercedes 300 SL Roadster (W 198 II).

Mercedes 300 SLS race 4

In Europe, the 1957 Mercedes 300 SLS is hardly remembered nowadays. After all, how many Mercedes 300 SLS were made? Officially, two. The training car of Paul O’Shea might be added (made out of a ’52 Mercedes 300 SL/W 194 roadster) and it’s hard to tell what happened to the spare parts from the factory – it is not excluded that a fourth Mercedes 300 SLS was assembled… Hard to tell. However, be careful: if you see a Mercedes 300 SLS at any classic car event, it might be a replica. Some 300 SL Roadster (W 198 II) owners turned their cars into Mercedes 300 SLS replicas. One of the details that tells if you are facing a genuine Mercedes 300 SLS is the double exhaust pipe coming out just under the lateral air vent, on the right-side front fender. Anyway, all our pictures here show only genuine examples of Mercedes 300 SLS, guaranteed.

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