This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Mercedes-Benz SL and to celebrate the occasion, Mercedes has completely restored the oldest surviving example to its original condition. The restored car’s unveiling coincides with the introduction of latest versions of the SL for 2013: The SL 500 and the SL 350.
By 1951, Mercedes-Benz had resumed post-war production for five years and was keen to get back into the racing circuit that had done so much for the company’s public image before the war. On 12 March 1952, on the autobahn between Stuttgart and Heilbronn, Mercedes-Benz introduced its sports car prototype to the press: The 300 SL. With a 94.5-inch (240 cm) wheelbase and an overall length of 166-inches (423 cm), the 300 SL was designed to weigh as little as possible. "SL" stands for "Super Lightweight" and to achieve this, Mercedes built the car around a tubular steel frame that looked less like a car chassis than it did one of Buckminster Fuller’s nightmares, but it weighed only 110 lbs (50 kg). Further weight savings came from using aluminum body panels and aluminum and magnesium components where possible. This kept the overall weight down to 2,300 lbs (1060 kg).
The car was powered by a 3-liter, six-cylinder in-line engine canted at 50 degrees with an overhead camshaft, three Solex twin carburetors and dry sump lubrication, which put out 170 bhp for a maximum speed of 143 mph (230 kph). Not bad for 1952.
But what most people noticed first thing about the SL was the doors. They didn’t swing out like conventional car doors. They swung up. Soon dubbed "gullwings" these were not the result of some car designer’s fancy. They were, in fact, the answer to a problem that kept cropping up in the car design: How do you get into the blasted thing? The brilliant tubular steel frame may have cut down the weight, but it didn’t leave any room for a door. So, the engineers put in a sort of access hatch for the driver that evolved into a proper, and very cool-looking door that swung up instead of out.
Happy Birthday Mercedes SL!