The word Gullwing, was entirely new interpreted in the 50’s. Ever since then, Mercedes-Benz fans turn their heads with admiration as soon as the word flies through the air. The 300 SL is a 1950’s dream car and one of the most famous vehicles from the brand with the star.
The roots of the legendary sports car lay in USA, as Maximilian Hoffman, an influential American automotive importer, claimed “what we need over here is a great Mercedes-Benz sports car”, and assured to have customers for the first 100 cars. By September 1953 he convinced the Board of Management to build a sports car of the successful W196 300SL racing sports car, the W198 300SL was born and made its debut at the International Motor Sports Show in New York, early 1954.
The 300SL made it to the top with its breath-taking engine output of 158kW (215hp), it provided 250km/h and therefore was the fastest series production car of its time. The top-hinged, up swinging world famous “Gullwing” doors, are constructed that way due to its extremely lightweight design and spaceframe structure which left no room for conventional doors. Approximately 1400 cars were built with 80% originally exported to the US, which makes the 300SL one of the most successful products of Mercedes-Benz outside of its home market. Hoffmann predicted such a success prior to its production and was later rewarded for his convincing act from Mercedes-Benz.
Similar to the W196, the customers could choose a fully aluminium body, saving around 80kg in weight, at a very high cost, which is the reason why only 29 cars were produced. Needless to say, that these cars validity is beyond the average steel body.
The 1952 300 SL racing car featured a light space-frame chassis beneath a body made of aluminium and magnesium and the stiff frame sat quite high on the sides which made conventional doors impossible. This created a need for what has become legendary, the Gullwing doors, which became a market ably detail on the 1954 road going 300 SL.
Also bringing the world the first production four-stroke engine with petrol injection, which enhanced output from the previous 175bhp to 215bhp in the 3.0 litre straight six. With a top speed of 260kph it made it the fastest car in the road in 1954.
High end aerodynamics aided this speed as the Mercedes Benz engineers discovered when they put the 300SL in a wind tunnel in 2012 where it scored a drag coefficient CD of 0.376, making the sixty year old 20% better than the 300S.
While we take such readings for granted today where all high-end vehicles look at aerodynamics as part of a template check, at the time it was as revolutionary as the gull wing design and proves that even that Mercedes were far ahead in the race.