Mercedes 190 SL: the Peaceful Roadster (1955 – 1963)

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Mercedes 190 SL wears the “SL” indicative and many of it’s styling elements seem to come from the famous 300 SL but, technically, it’s a completely different car. Nevertheless, a successful concept.

First half of the fifties: the rather skeptical attitude of the Daimler-Benz management regarding the serial production of any kind of sportscars began to melt as the racing automobiles Mercedes 300 SL became rapidly worldwide famous. After the american importer Max Hoffman expressly requested a street-version of the Mercedes 300 SL racing car, aiming the top of this exquisite market share, a serious exploration of the sportscars theme began inside the offices from Stuttgart.

Merc 190 SL 111954, New York Auto Show: the crowds were magnetized by the premiere of the Mercedes 300 SL “Gullwing”, a street version of the, by then, well-known race car 300 SL. Nearby, a nice roadster prototype could be seen but, definitely, the show was stolen by the 300 SL “Gullwing”.

It would be easy to visually mistake the Mercedes 190 SL for a kind of convertible version of the 300 SL “Gullwing” coupes. Nice image! Yet, underneath this attractive look, there was no “straight-six” engine and no lightweight structural frame. No impressive performance, either. Yet, don’t forget these words of wisdom: be careful what you wish for, cause it might come true. So, by the mid-fifties, why would any of the targeted rich american clients had chosen a lazy 190 SL (105 PS) instead of the terribly fast 300 SL Gullwing (215 PS)? First reason, the price: 29.000 DM for the 300 SL, 16.500 DM for the 190 SL. Second reason: maybe it’s better to have a refreshing drive in a convertible instead of getting baked inside the aluminium body of the coupe. And, of course, getting inside the 190 SL, via classic doors, was significantly easier.

Merc 190 SL 14

Impossible to tell this at the first sight, yet underneath the distinctive design of the 190 SL, there was the technical platform of the Mercedes W 120/W 121 “Ponton” sedans with a shortened wheelbase. The internal indicative of the project – R 121 (“R” for Roadster) – tells enough about the origin of the Mercedes 190 SL. Even if the car was not based on a lightweight structural frame like the 300 SL, the meaning of the “SL” letters (Sport Leicht/ Sport Light) was not coming straight against the concept of the R 121, since it’s weight was only 1160 kg. Thanks to this, the 1,9 litre engine (105 PS), mated with a 4 gears transmission , was able to offer decent performance (maximum speed of 170 km/h, 0-100 km/h in 14,3 s).

Caption orig.: Mercedes-Benz 190 SL Roadster, 1955

Driving the roadster in cold weather conditions was not at all a problem, since a metallic hardtop (provided by Mercedes) could be fitted above the car’s body. This hardtop was made of aluminium during the first production year, but this light and somewhat expensive metal was replaced by steel in 1956. In 1958, the design of this hardtop was modified and a panoramic rear window was adopted.

Max Hoffman, the american importer (known for his decisive attitude favoring the serial production of the 300 SL) insisted about a higher performance version of the 190 SL, something able to be used in some less demanding competition classes.

At the Unterturkheim offices, Hoffman’s request led to the creation of the R 121 II. The car was weighing only 1000 kg and it’s engine was pushed to 115 PS. Far from being impressive, the competitional record of these cars, however, has some interesting points. Worthy to be mentioned: 1st place in the Grand Prix of Macao 1956, 1st place in the Grand Prix of Casablanca – class of 2,0 litre engines and 1st place in the Hong Kong Rally 1958.

Mercedes-Benz 190 SL (W 121, 1955 bis 1963).

25.881 examples of the Mercedes 190 SL were assembled from 1955 to 1963. Today, as during it’s early years, the Mercedes 190 SL remains a lor more attractive than the 300 SL in terms of price. An 190 SL in very good contition might be bought nowadays for about 50.000 euros, while the price of a 300 SL “Gullwing” may reach to some 170.000 euros.

Technical data Mercedes 190 SL

Mercedes R 121
Model190 SL
Engine configurationL4 petrol
Engine capacity (cmc)1897
Maximum power (PS/rpm)105/5700
Maximum torque (Nm/rpm)142/3200
Unladen weight (kg)1160
Consumption (l/100 km)12,5
Maximum speed (km/h)170