190 SL
190 SL

Mercedes 190 SL — Glamour without cost

The Mercedes 190 SL roadster has always lived in the shadow of its more athletic, faster and famous sibling, the gull-winged 300SL. 

It was released at the same time in 1955 and only more recently has started to emerge as a classic in its own right.

You see, as prices of 300SL climb into the millions, those wanting a stylish Mercedes from the 1950s are turning their attention and wallets to the 190SL.

The 190SL was originally conceived as a cheaper and much less complicated alternative to the expensive 300SL by Mercedes New York importer, the irrepressible Max Hoffman.

Its target market was carefree and wealthy Americans who did not want to be seen in a Thunderbird or Corvette.

Hoffman convinced the Board of Mercedes that he could sell it as a natural competitor to British sports cars of the day, such as the Austin Healey 100, Triumph TR3 and the Daimler SP250. 

What he sold the Board was a vision of a grand luxury sports tourer that would complement the semi-race car 300SL.

1955 Mercedes Benz 190 SL Roadster 6


To fast track development and to keep costs under control, Mercedes engineers did what carmakers do all the time — they dipped into the existing parts bin. 

The chassis came from the 180 sedan, as did the front suspension.

 The independent rear suspension was also an existing Mercedes unit. 

The 1.9-litre four-cylinder engine was derived from the six-cylinder motor found in the 220 and 300 models. 

Pumping out just 78kW, the engine delivered just about half the power of a 300 SL 

Top speed was 170km/h and it reached 100km/h in about 14.5 seconds, which was actually quick for 1955.

But it was the body shape that caught everyone’s eye. 

And it still does. 

This car looks right at home gliding along the twisting roads above Monte Carlo or cruising down California’s Pacific Coast highway near Big Sur or swinging through the curves of the Great Ocean Road with Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” instrumental playing softly in the background.

Ironically, one of the 190SL’s styling motifs was used by General Motors in the 1970s. 

Take a look at the “eyebrows “ which stretch over the 190’s wheel arches. 

They turned up on the 1971 HQ Holden, the 1969 Pontiac Firebird and 1971 GTO.

Both the 190 SL and the 300 SL were replaced by the Mercedes-Benz 230SL in 1963.

David Burrell is the editor of retroautos.com.au


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