In the 1950s, Mercedes-Benz was quickly establishing itself as a dominant force in the automotive market. Mercedes Grand Prix cars and sports-racing machines were sweeping the racetracks of the world and the sensational 300SL sports car had set the world on fire with its exotic spaceframe chassis, race-bred fuel-injected engine and stunning bodywork. At the opposite end of the spectrum, their famously robust buses, trucks and taxi cabs were filling the streets of Europe – and strong sales were filling the coffers back in Stuttgart. While Mercedes had a fairly well-rounded lineup with everything from small sedans to luxury limousines and a super car, their presence in the US was still somewhat tenuous.
Americans were still hesitant to buy German cars, but Max Hoffman, the chief importer of Mercedes-Benz cars to the all-important US market, knew just how to get buyers to into his showrooms. When Mr. Hoffman suggested a stylish, affordable and reliable sports car based on the standard production W121 sedan at a significantly reduced price compared to the 300SL, the factory was on board. This new car, called “190SL” for its 1.9 liter engine and “Sports Leicht” designation, didn’t share the 300SL’s exotic tubular space frame and fuel injection system, instead using a shortened W121-sedan unibody platform and a twin-carb version of the sedan’s overhead cam four-cylinder engine. It did, however share some of its big brother’s styling cues as well as a similar layout of independent front suspension with a swing axle out back. With its generous boot, optional removable hard top and easy-going nature, the 190SL was less of a hardcore sports car and more of a fine boulevard cruiser. With the 190SL, Mercedes hit the sweet spot with a comfortable, fun and practical sporty car with a surplus of style. After its unveiling at the New York Auto Show in 1954, Robert Nitske of Speed Age declared it “… a car suited for all purposes, the perfect synthesis of touring and sporting characteristics.” That adage holds true for today’s enthusiasts who admire the 190SL for its versatility, quality, and unmistakable style.
This gorgeous 1957 190SL roadster is a fully restored and beautifully-presented example fitted with numerous extra-cost factory options. Finished in a striking period correct shade of DB534 feuerwehrrot (fire-engine red) over a gray leather interior, this 190SL is an exquisite example ready for concours or the road. Recently out of a collection that included numerous important sports cars and three generations of Mercedes SLs, it has seen limited use since the exquisite restoration was completed and it remains in remarkably fresh condition. The body exhibits excellent quality paintwork and detailing, with straight, properly aligned panels. Even the body-color wheel wells and correct satin black undercarriage are exceptionally clean, revealing the level of detail that went into this restoration. Factory options include front and rear bumper guards, fog lights, and a locking fuel cap. Correct 13” steel wheels are dressed with fresh Firestone whitewall tires, and the original color-keyed hubcaps to complete the simple yet elegant look.
Similar attention to detail was paid to the interior, which has been fully restored using correct-type gray leather and square weave carpeting. The seats are excellent, showing little in the way of use and remaining taut, with supple leather and excellent quality stitching and fit. Factory correct fluted rubber mats and textured transmission covering are fitted, important details that are often overlooked on lesser restorations. Other important fittings include the correct Plexiglas sun visors (leather trimmed visors were fitted just a few cars later), glovebox-mounted clock, an optional side-facing jump seat, original Becker Europa Hi-Fi radio and a very rare set of matching fitted luggage in the boot. Inspired by the 300 SL, the 190 SL fascia contains intricate chrome switchgear and trim, all of which has been restored to the same high level as the rest of the cabin.
The 1.9 liter overhead cam four-cylinder engine has been highly detailed with correct labels and decals used throughout the engine bay. The presentation is excellent, and importantly, the engine retains the original twin Solex 44 PHH carburetors, which are too often sacrificed for Webers. In addition, the original airbox and air filter housing remain in place. The engine runs well and road manners are very good, with the car feeling ready for enjoyment on the road.
While the big-brother 300SL may have stolen the headlines in the day, it was the stylish little 190 SL that truly established the template for all futures SL-series cars with its exceptional build quality, relaxed performance and timeless good looks. This car’s high quality restoration has been very well preserved, and it presents in excellent order throughout. Highly optioned, beautifully presented and ready to enjoy to the fullest, this 190SL is an exquisite example of Mercedes’ landmark junior sports car.