When Mercedes-Benz released the fabulous 300SL coupe in 1954, it was a success, although sales were limited to those who could afford a car that cost three-times what the new Corvette roadster cost. One of the greatest marketing minds in America’s post-war import automotive world was Max Hoffman. In the fall of 1953, at a special board meeting in Stuttgart, he recommended that Daimler-Benz should develop a lightweight, sporty car based on their new and popular 180 series could reflect the styling of the 300SL. Fritz Nallinger was given the task and within five months had produced a working prototype ready for exhibition at the 1954 New York Auto Show. Designated the 190SL, it won rave reviews based on its looks and it was announced production would begin for the 1955 model year.
Mounted on a detachable subframe along with the four-speed manual gearbox, front suspension and steering, the power unit was a 1,897cc overhead-camshaft four, the first such engine ever to feature in a Mercedes-Benz. Breathing through twin Solex downdraft carburetors, this M121 power unit produced 105bhp at 5,700rpm, an output sufficient to propel the 190SL to 100km/h in 14.5 seconds and on to a top speed of 171km/h. The fact that the 190's ride was more boulevard than sporting, and that many contemporary sports cars could outperform it while costing a good deal less, did nothing to deter sales. The model was a big hit in the US, where a good percentage of the slightly fewer than 26,000 produced between 1955 and 1963 found homes.
Several private teams took the 190SL’s racing with mixed results. In Hollywood, a number of famous celebrities loved these little sports cars such as Grace Kelly, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Yul Brenner, Alfred Hitchcock and even Beatle drummer Ringo Starr.
In just the past few years, the beauty of the design of the 190SL has been recognized by collectors from around the world and as a benefit the values of these wonderful roadsters have risen dramatically, especially for as restored example such as the car on offer. The car’s early ownership history remains unknown, but the car appeared in Florida by the 2000s. In 2009 the car was purchased, in somewhat aged condition, by Joe Fahey of John's Island near Vero Beach, Florida, who soon embarked on a comprehensive restoration of the classic Mercedes-Benz. Sadly, Mr. Fahey passed away in 2012, soon after the three-year restoration job had been completed. The previous owner purchased the car from Mr. Fahey's widow, and the 190SL has resided in his air conditioned and climate controlled garage, and was looked after by Bruce Woodson of Woodson and Mercer, Inc.
It is evident upon close inspection that the restoration was done to a very high standard. Finished in a rich dark Moss Green complimented with tan leather seats, the fit and finish of this Mercedes-Benz is at or above the strict specifications from when these cars were new. Under the hood the 1897cc, SOHC in-line four-cylinder engine hums to life fed by a pair of Solex carburetors just as when new. The engine compartment is very well detailed, appearing as it did when it left the factory. Maintained in excellent mechanical condition this car starts easily and the shifting is tight and sure with superb clutch action. Handling is solid and responsive, while delivering a ride that provides just enough feel of the road to maintain control.
As befitting of a car restored just a few years ago, this 190SL presents itself beautifully. With straight and smooth body panels, the paint shows quite well and there is only a slight indication when looking at the soft trim of this car, that it has been used at all. The tan top raises and lowers in a one-person operation with the ease and precision one expects in a finely engineered sports roadster, and the car is fitted with an original VDO clock and a proper Becker Europa multi-band radio. Complete with the original, matching numbers engine, and copies of the factory build sheet, this incredible 190SL offers a great opportunity to purchase an outstanding example of a charming and iconic roadster.
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