Mercedes SL LegendsPOSTED BY admin ON 09 April 2012
Having an opportunity to meet a bona fide legend face-to-face is a rarity very few individuals can boast of. So you can imagine how meeting five on a single occasion would bring about fits of delirious glee.
Such an opportunity presented itself when Mercedes-Benz had its world debut of its new SL Roadster in Spain earlier this year. Unveiled in conjunction with the 60th anniversary of its SL luxury class of cars, the German marque saw fit to roll out its entire range of classic roadsters to remind us all why the acronym for “Sports Leicht” has become as venerated as it is.
A ruthless tactic that was tremendously effective… we were all aptly star struck.
Rich in history, the SL name can trace its roots back to the early 1950s when the model W 194 (1952) made a marked impact on several racing circuits – garnering a triple victory at the Bern Prize for Sports Cars, a double victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and a quadruple victory at the Great Jubilee for Sports Cars at the Nurburgring.
The low weight, refined performance and devilish looks of this in-line six-cylinder speedster soon had car enthusiasts clamouring for a production car with similar looks and attitude. In 1954, Mercedes-Benz granted the masses their wish and the SL legend was born.
Perhaps the most celebrated of them all, the first 300 SL sees the light of day as the renowned “Gullwing”. Not exactly a roadster by modern definition, the W 198 was a hardtop with upward swinging doors, which made it look like a gull in flight, and it required a spectacular mode of car entry – diagonally from above.
It was the world’s first series-production four-stroke engine car with gasoline direct injection. With 215hp, the 300 SL was capable of reaching a top speed of 260km/h, which made the star of the 1950s era.
In 1999, a first-class jury of automotive experts voted the racy Gullwing as the “Sports Car of the Century”.
Though it wasn’t Mercedes-Benz’s first open-top roadster, oddly enough, it was the Gullwing’s difficult mode of entry that sparked the first SL open-top variant.
Despite offering the first open-top variant of the 300 SL, and a more comfortable mode of entry, the 1957 roadster was just as powerful and fast as the original Coupe.
It created a new class of open-top high-performance sports cars and was the first series production car to offer seat belts. In 1958 a removable coupe roof was offered as special equipment and as early as 1961, this model was already offered with disc brakes.
The 1963 230 SL was affectionately dubbed the “Pagoda” because of its characteristic hardtop which evoked images of oriental temple architecture. The avant-garde design may have been unusual and aesthetically “unique”, but it was also functionally beneficial as it offered more headroom and larger side windows for improved visibility.
It also came with a soft top that was judged to be the fastest to put up for its time (by hand, of course), and it was the first sports car in the world that had a safety bodyshell. It was the first in Europe to offer power steering and automatic transmission.
It was a trendsetting car that broke hearts on the road as well as on the TV sets the world over. The R 107 didn’t just turn heads with its irresistible classically elegant design, it also made a big impact as a TV star, being part of the cast in the hit series Dallas as Bobby Ewing’s ride of choice. It has hence also been unofficially dubbed the “Bobby Ewing car”.
From a technical standpoint, it was way ahead of its time. Its many firsts included the four-spoke steering wheel, large surface headlights, dirt resistant rear clusters and many new safety features.
Perhaps that is why it had a longer shelf life than any of Mercedes-Benz’s passenger cars, being in production for an astounding 18 years.
After almost a two-decade hiatus, a new generation of SL hits the streets with more power, safety and comfort to offer. Carrying the motto “the best bodyguards are invisible”, the R 129 SL had the world’s first automatically deployed rollover bar, which locks into position in less than 0.3 seconds.
Additionally, it boasted a hydraulic soft top that could be opened in 30 seconds and introduced a unique wind deflector that reduced draft and noise when the top was down.
The 1989 Mercedes SL base model was the 228 hp 3-litre in-line 6 300SL version in the US. But it was the 322hp 500SL with a 5-litre V8 engine which made the most headlines. In 1992, it was available for the first time with a 12-cylinder engine.
Though it doesn’t have the kind of classic appeal as its predecessors – because not enough time has passed – it nonetheless makes its way into the history books because it broke new ground where design, performance and luxury is concerned.
Read CBT’s first impression drive of the SL500 here.