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Mercedes 300SL

With its highly distinctive “Gullwing” doors, the Mercedes-Benz 300SL was the fastest production car in the world at its launch in 1954. Its name, Sport Leicht (“Sport Light”), denoted a sincere attempt by its creators to produce and sell a genuine racing car for the road. The decision to unveil the car at the International Motor Sports Show in New York emphasized the company’s desire to win sales in the affluent American market.

THE “GULLWING” was based on the Mercedes W194 sports-racer. This legendary track car had won nearly every race it entered and secured an impressive second place at its first outing, the 1952 Mille Miglia.

The new road-going car was very similar, but came with a number of important innovations that included fuel injection, and a skeleton chassis constructed of welded aluminum tubes. This innovative “spaceframe” ruled out the use of conventional doors, so the company turned to Hans Trippel, who perfected the upswinging “Gullwing” design using hinges fitted to the car’s roof.

The metal spaceframe was immensely strong and lightweight, but was so expensive to produce it was likely Mercedes-Benz lost money on it—despite selling 1,400 coupes and a further 1,858 convertibles.


The dramatic styling of the coupe closely followed the lines of its illustrious racing predecessor. Its sleek, low shape required the engine to be cleverly canted over to 45 degrees.

Mercedes Benz badge

Among the world’s most famous emblems, the three-pointed star represented the fledgling company’s ambition to succeed “on land, on water and in the air.” The name Mercedes was taken from the daughter of Emil Jellinek, an important backer of the company that became Daimler-Benz.



ModelMercedes Benz 300SL, 1954-63
ConstructionSpace-frame with steel and alloy body
Engine2,996 cc, straight-six
Power output240 bhp
Transmission4-speed manual
SuspensionFront and rear coil springs
BrakesAll-round drums
Maximum speed129 mph (208 km/h)


Not to be confused with successive generations of SL sports cars—the latest iterations of which are still in production today—the original 300SL was a true technical tour de force, and one of the most outstanding machines of its day.

For the collector and enthusiast this car has everything, from a race-winning heritage, to the sort of breathtaking performance and head-turning exclusivity that only the most exceptional Italian thoroughbreds can rival. Its innovative construction, ferocious pace, superb engineering, and elegant shape have simply never lost their allure. That the car requires an expert driver to get the most out of it serves only to make it even more desirable, and those who know them well don’t even blink when one of the precious survivors sells for a small fortune.

Iconic star emblem

Subtle chrome decoration

Strong pressed-steel wheels

Distinctive gills cool engine bay

Concealed door handles

Rear lights provide a rare flash of color

Restrained badge detail

Comprehensive instruments

Interior door handle

Sculpted heater controls

Engine, featuring the world’s first fuel-injection system


It is a quote. The Classic Car Book – The Definitive Visual History 2016

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