History of Mercedes Benz: The 190SL

The 190SL Mercedes (1955 — 1963)

Without Max Hoffman, famous New York based importer of cars, the history of Mercedes would have probably never shown a 190SL Mercedes. But when Hoffman entered into an agreement to sell the 300SL in the United States, he asked the Daimler-Benz management to have in addition a similar car with a smaller engine and a lower price tag. The prototype of the 190SL Mercedes was shown alongside the 300 SL Gullwing at the New York Auto Show in February 1954. As the response was very positive, it was decided to go ahead and prepare the new car for series production. Max Hoffman was right, the smaller SL would find a sufficiently large customer base.

More than a year after its first introduction, the 190SL Mercedes was finally presented in March 1955 at the Geneva Motor Show. Its base price in Germany was 16,500.- DM ($4,125.-). Its starting price in the U.S. was slightly less than $4000.-, making it more expensive than the Jaguar XK140. In memory of the Silver Arrows racing cars the 190SL was in its initial year only available in silver metallic.

Its engine was a fairly advanced four-cylinder 1.9 l (116 cu in) inline version, which was originally developed in its basic concept for the 180 and 190 ponton sedan. It had a chain-driven overhead camshaft with two Solex 44PHH governor downdraft carburetors and developed 105 hp at a relatively high 5.700 rpm. The 190SL Mercedes could accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h or 60mph in 14.4 seconds and gave a respectable top speed of 172 km/h or 108 mph.

Petrol consumption was fairly moderate with an average of close to 9 liters for 100 km, which equaled some 26 mpg. Also the 65-liter or 17 gallons tank proved to be quite adequate. Although never officially advertised, the car could be ordered with four different gear ratios: 3.70:1, 3.89:1, 3.90:1 and 4.10:1. The 3.90:1 was the most common one, as it offered the best balance between acceleration and top speed.

The car has always been compared with the more powerful 300SL, but there never really was a need for that. It did not have the muscles of this pure thoroughbred, but its quality and sophistication was the same. For some its road holding ability was even better. There was broad agreement at the time that the car could do with a more powerful engine to match the «S» for sport in the name of the SL, but resources in Stuttgart had been limited to finish this project. A larger engine had to wait for a successor model.

Throughout its career the 190SL Mercedes had seen minor upgrades, either in form of broader chrome trim at the upper door part in March 1956 or in form of enlarged rear lights in June. Those lights were now shared with the six-cylinder 220 sedans. The previously optional clock at the right side of the dashboard became now standard equipment and an ATE Hydrovac brake booster was added. In 1959 the rear window of the hardtop was redesigned, it looked now similar to the one of the 300SL roadster.

But if it would have been only for the 300SL, the exercise to build a SL would have been a single one. Sales of the 300SL had been relatively slow and it’s a safe assumption that Daimler-Benz had lost money on every car produced. The 190SL Mercedes sold 25,881 units in its career and it was already decided in 1958 to develop a new SL. The «lesser» SL was at the end the more convincing one.


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