Mercedes Benz 190 SL

This article was inspired after seeing a red Mercedes Benz 190 SL used as a display in a shop window! The bodywork is perfect and at some point, I may pop in (it is a shop selling fashion items for twenty somethings so I would be like a fish out of water!) and ask if it is as good under the bonnet or if it is just a model.

The Mercedes Benz 190 SL was first shown in 1954 at the motor show in New York in the States. It is a 2 door roadster with a soft top and there was also a hard top available. Needless to say, when it was released for sale to the public in 1955, it was fairly expensive, about 4 or 5 times the price of a family car at the time. It had a definite rock and roll look, or at least the red version did, with the long thin stretched ‘mini-mudguards’ (sometimes appropriately referred to as ‘eyebrows’) above the wheel arches. The design team worked under the supervision of Karl Wilfert and was inspired/based on the design of the 300SL, but with proper doors instead of the silly ‘gull wing’ things. The ‘eyebrows’ were described as splash shields by Mercedes but they were more of a decoration than genuinely functional.
I haven’t seen it ever admitted or written anywhere but I wonder if the design team new the splash shields were a waste of time and just added them as a decoration to appeal to the US market given the story behind the design. It was prompted by a chap called Max Hoffmann, an Austrian who moved to the states and made a lot of cash by importing European cars for the States market. He signed up with the Daimler-Benz company to sell the gull-wing Mercedes 300SL. Such was his influence, he demanded that they produce a smaller sports car to be sold alongside. So that is why the prototype was unveiled in New York a year before production began. The response to the prototype convinced Daimler-Benz that there was indeed a market for the Mercedes Benz 190 SL. So they swung into production with a few design modifications. The style of American cars at the time was to have fins and bulges on cars so that is why I think the splash shields were really added. The Mercedes Benz 190 SL was sold until 1963 and was still selling well right up to the time it was superseded by the 230SL.
Under the bonnet was a 1.9 litre engine. This developed a shade over 100 hp giving this classic car a top speed of 106 mph and 0-60 in about 13 seconds. The fuel consumption wasn’t great at around 20 mpg. The engine had beed developed as a 4 cylinder version of the 6 cylinder power plant in the 300SL, the bigger brother of the Mercedes Benz 190 SL. This engine wasn’t really a great one, there were issues with the twin Solex carbs that remained unresolved. The build quality of the car was undeniably superb, perhaps that is why so many survive today.

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