The two letters SL are the world-famous hallmark and distinction of a unique Mercedes-Benz sports car tradition: for 70 years, the abbreviation has stood for “super-light” and thus for sporty motoring – from the 300 SL racing sports car (W 194) from 1952 to the latest SL in the 232 model series from the sports car and performance brand Mercedes-AMG. The forefather W 194 remains reserved for motorsport, but in doing so it conveys an important Mercedes-Benz brand value: as the oldest luxury car manufacturer in the world, the brand has been involved in motorsport for many eras – and has been highly successful. From the 300 SL Coupé (W 198) onwards, sportiness, luxury and lifestyle have been the attributes of every SL.
Each generation in this illustrious line of ancestors writes its own chapter in the uninterrupted success story. The Mercedes-Benz Museum tells this unique history with the special exhibition “Fascination SL – A Dream Car for 70 Years”: www.mercedes-benz.com/sl-special-exhibition. The exhibition can be seen in Collection Room 5 until 9 October 2022 and includes ten SL sports cars from seven decades, from the oldest preserved 300 SL racing sports car (W 194) to the new Mercedes-AMG SL of the 232 model series.
Sportiness in the genes
On 12 March 1952, Mercedes-Benz presented the 300 SL (W 194), a pure motorsport car. With it, the brand won four out of five races in the season: the sports car races in Bern (triple victory) and at the Nürburgring (quadruple victory), the 24 Hours of Le Mans (double victory) and the III Carrera Panamericana in Mexico (double victory). At the Mille Miglia, which was the first race at the time, it finished second and fourth. For the 1953 season, the W 194/11 racing sports car prototype was built. It was not used again due to preparations for entry into Formula One, but it represented an important technical step on the way to the racing cars (W 196 R) and racing sports cars (W 196 S) in 1954 and 1955.
Calls for a production version of the successful racing car quickly became loud. Mercedes-Benz reacted and presented the 300 SL Coupé (W 198), the legendary “Gullwing” sports car, as early as 1954. Only 1,400 units of the coveted sports car, with the characteristic doors hinged on the roof due to the roll cage, were built. Today, these classics achieve prices well beyond one million euros.
In 1954, at the same time as the “Gullwing”, the brand presented the Mercedes-Benz 190 SL, designed as an elegant, open-top sports car. Alongside the 300 SL super sports car, the Roadster, which also looked very sporty on the outside, was a vehicle offering comprehensive comfort even for long journeys at high cruising speeds.
In 1957, the 300 SL Roadster (W 198) followed the “Gullwing” Coupé. Like its predecessor, this car was created on the initiative of Maximilian E. Hoffmann. In technical terms, the Roadster largely corresponds to the Coupé. However, by modifying the side parts of the roll cage, the entry could now be reduced to such an extent that normal, front-hinged doors could be realised.
In 1963, the 230 SL (W 113) replaced both the 300 SL Roadster and the 190 SL. It impressed with sportiness, comfort and safety and has since been a trailblazer for the SL tradition. The optional hardtop with its high windows and the concave shaped roof supported by narrow pillars was reminiscent of Asian temple buildings, which quickly earned the W 113 the nickname “Pagoda”.
The SL models in the R 107 model series made their debut in the spring of 1971. For the first time in the history of the Mercedes-Benz SL, eight-cylinder engines were used in the 350 SL and 450 SL models. In 1974, the 280 SL followed with a six-cylinder engine, making three engines part of the range for the first time. The model series exuded elegance and solidity. The crash performance of this open-top two-seater car was way ahead of its time. The R 107 was built for 18 years – a record.
Seven decades of the SL – An equally comprehensive history of technology
At the Geneva Motor Show in 1989, Mercedes-Benz presented the next generation, the SL of the R 129 model series. The automatic roll bar, which pops out in just 0.3 seconds even with the hardtop closed, was a hallmark of the industry. With this vehicle, the brand hit a bullseye: production capacity was soon fully booked. Some customers accepted delivery periods of several years. The twelve-cylinder top-of-the-range models, the 600 SL/SL 600 (290 kW/394 hp) and SL 73 AMG with a 7.3-litre V12 engine and 386 kW (525 hp), are legendary.
In 2001, the next SL generation with the internal code R 230 made its debut. Its most striking innovation was the folding Vario roof made of steel: for the first time in the history of the Mercedes-Benz SL, it enabled both an open car and a coupé in one. The design of the R 230 model series combined tradition and the future by means of striking details. The AMG share grew significantly in this SL generation: almost a third of all R 230s had AMG engines. The top of the range was the SL 65 AMG Black Series rated at 493 kW (670 hp).
In January 2012, to mark the SLʼs 60th birthday, the R 231 model series was unveiled at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit. One focus of the new design was on reducing the weight of the sports car via numerous measures. Available on request: MAGIC SKY CONTROL, the glass roof with adjustable tint and transparency.
The new Mercedes-AMG SL (R 232) is the latest reissue of an icon. The sports car and performance brand unveiled it in 2021. With a classic soft top and sporty character, it fits seamlessly into the brilliant history. At the same time, the luxurious Roadster as a 2+2 seater is particularly suitable for everyday use and puts its power down on the road with all-wheel drive for the first time. The comprehensive technology equipment includes highlights such as the AMG ACTIVE RIDE CONTROL suspension with active roll stabilisation, rear-axle steering, the optionally available AMG ceramic high-performance compound brake system or the standard-fit DIGITAL LIGHT with projection function. Mercedes-AMG in Affalterbach has developed the SL completely independently as a consistent Performance Luxury model. The market launch is kicked off with two models featuring AMG V8 biturbo engines.