The two letters SL are the world-famous brand and the distinction of a unique Mercedes-Benz sports car tradition. For 70 years, the abbreviation “sport-leicht” has stood for sport driving – from the 1952 300 SL race car (W 194) to the latest SL of the Mercedes-AMG 232 series. The W 194 ancestor is reserved for motorsport, but in this way it conveys an important value of the Mercedes-Benz brand: as the oldest luxury car manufacturer in the world, the brand has been involved in motorsport for a long time and has enjoyed great success. Since the Coupé 300 SL (W 198), sportiness, luxury and lifestyle are the attributes of each SL.
Each generation of this illustrious lineage of ancestors writes its own chapter in the non-stop success story. The Mercedes-Benz Museum tells this unique story with the special exhibition “Fascination SL – A dream car for 70 years”: www.mercedes-benz.com/sl-special-exhibition. The exhibition is on display in Collector’s Room 5 until October 9, 2022 and features ten SL sports cars spanning seven decades, from the oldest 300 SL race car (W 194) to the new Mercedes-AMG SL series. 232.
Sportsmanship in the genes
On March 12, 1952, Mercedes-Benz presented the 300 SL (W 194), pure motorsport. With him, the brand won four of the five races of the season: the sports car races in Bern (triple win) and Nürburgring (quadruple win), the 24 Hours of Le Mans (double win) and the III Carrera Panamericana in Mexico (win pair). At Mille Miglia, which was the main race at the time, she finished second and fourth. For the 1953 season, the prototype W 194/11 race car was built. It was not used again due to preparations for entry into Formula 1, but it represented an important technical step on the way to racing cars (W 196 R) and racing cars (W 196 S) in 1954 and 1955.
Calls for a production version of the successful race car are quickly heard. Mercedes-Benz reacted and in 1954 presented the 300 SL Coupé (W 198), the legendary sports car “Gull Wing”. Only 1,400 examples of the coveted sports car, with the characteristic hinged doors due to the roll bar, were built. Today, these classics fetch prices well over a million euros.
In 1954, together with the “Gullwing”, the brand presented the Mercedes-Benz 190 SL, conceived as an elegant convertible sports car. Alongside the super sports 300 SL, the Roadster, whose external appearance is also very sporty, is a vehicle that offers total comfort, even for long journeys at high speed.
In 1957, the 300 SL Roadster (W 198) succeeded the “Gullwing” Coupé. Like its predecessor, this car was created on the initiative of Maximilian E. Hoffmann. Technically, the Roadster largely corresponds to the Coupé. However, by modifying the sides of the safety bar, the entry height can be reduced in such a way that normal front hinged doors can be made.
In 1963, the 230 SL (W 113) replaced the 300 SL Roadster and 190 SL. It impressed by its sportiness, comfort and safety and since then it has been a precursor of the SL tradition. The optional hardtop, with its tall windows and concave roof supported by narrow pillars, was reminiscent of Asian temple buildings, which soon earned the W 113 the nickname “Pagoda”.
The R 107 series SL models were released 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 lineup for the first time. This series of models exuded elegance and solidity. The crash performance of this open two-seater was way ahead of its time. AR 107 was built for 18 years – a record.
Seven Decades of SL – An Equally Comprehensive History of Technology
At the 1989 Geneva Motor Show, Mercedes-Benz presented the next generation, the SL R 129 series. The automatic safety bar, which activates in just 0.3 seconds even when the hard top is closed, was a hallmark industry registered. With this vehicle, the brand hit the nail on the head: production capacities were quickly exhausted. Some customers have accepted delivery times of several years. The top twelve-cylinder models, the 600 SL/SL 600 (394 hp/290 kW) and the SL 73 AMG with a 7.3-litre V12 engine and 525 hp (386 kW), are legendary.
In 2001, the next generation of the SL, with the internal code R 230, was released. Its most striking innovation was the Vario steel folding roof: for the first time in the history of the Mercedes-Benz SL, it was possible to create both a convertible and a coupé. The design of the R 230 series combines tradition and the future with striking details. AMG share has increased significantly in this SL generation: almost a third of all R 230s were equipped with AMG engines. The top of the range was represented by the SL 65 AMG Black Series with an output of 670 hp (493 kW).
In January 2012, to mark the SL’s 60th anniversary, the R 231 models were presented at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit. One of the axes of the new design was to reduce the weight of the sports car through 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. Mercedes-AMG presents it in 2021. With its classic top and sporty character, it fits perfectly into its brilliant history. At the same time, the luxurious Roadster as a 2+2 seater is particularly suitable for everyday use and puts its power on the road for the first time with all-wheel drive. The extensive technological equipment includes highlights such as the AMG ACTIVE RIDE CONTROL suspension with active roll stabilization, rear axle steering, the optional AMG high-performance ceramic composite brake system or the standard DIGITAL LIGHT with pitch function. Mercedes-AMG in Affalterbach developed the SL completely independently as a consistent Performance Luxury model. The market launch starts with two models equipped with AMG V8 biturbo engines.