The Merecedes-Benz 300SL was a major step forward in sports car design. The technology used came directly from the cutting edge of motor racing and yet it was also comfortable to drive and stylishly appointed. While its performance surpassed anything else in its day, by a considerable margin, it was also equally expensive.
First conceived as a racing car in 1951 it went into production as a road-going Gullwing Coupe in 1954 and finally as the 300SL Roadster in 1957. The 3 litre straight 6-cylinder engine was a highly respected and extremely reliable racing design. It was unusual in that it was slanted to the left by fifty degrees to allow for a low body profile. Most importantly and unlike the carbureted racing cars it was fitted with a revolutionary Bosch mechanical Gasoline direct injection system which doubled its power output. It was the first car to feature direct fuel injection and the innovation resulted in exceptional performance figures although at a cost of high maintenance.
The SL’s chassis was also highly capable with a complex high-silled tubular design and four-wheel independent suspension. The bodyshell focussed on aerodynamic efficiency with clever ‘eyebrows’ over each wheel arch to increase efficiency. It all resulted in beautifully elegant design. Aluminium was used for some body panels including door skins, rocker panels and the bonnet/hood as well as interior sheet metalwork. While the remainder of the bodywork used steel panels for the bodywork, the ready-to-drive car, including spare wheel, tool kit and fuel, weighed just 1,295 kg.
The 300SL Roadster improved on the original coupe’s design in many ways. By this point the flaws of the SL had been identified and the roadster used a revised design to address these. Although it was heavier and slower than the earlier car it was even more attractive and more civilised in use.
The roadster has a revised swing axle rear suspension which made improvements over the coupe’s system that was jointed at the differential only giving potentially treacherous handling on uneven roads or high speeds. Larger headlights with integrated foglights were also fitted as well as larger tail light clusters. The fuel tank was smaller allowing for a larger luggage space despite the addition of a fabric convertible roof. A one piece detachable hardtop was available as an optional extra.
Today the Mercedes 300SL Roadster is a much sort after classic convertible car. 1858 roadsters were built over a 6 year period and because of their scarcity and value many still exists to this day.