Despite suffering massive losses during World War II, Mercedes-Benz quickly re-established itself as a dominant force in the post-war automotive landscape. Mercedes Their Grand Prix and sports-racing cars swept the racetracks of the world, and the sensational 300SL sports car had set new standards of excellence 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 well-rounded lineup with everything from small sedans to luxury limousines and a super sports 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. Mr. Hoffman suggested a stylish, affordable sports car based on the W121 sedan, offered at a significantly reduced price compared to the 300SL. The factory trusted Hoffman and gave him his new car, called “190SL” for its 1.9-liter engine and sports model designation. The pretty roadster didn’t share the 300SL’s exotic tubular space frame and fuel injection system; instead, it used a shortened W121-sedan unibody platform and a twin-carb version of the sedan’s overhead cam four-cylinder engine. It did share some of its big brother’s styling cues and similar layout of independent front suspension with a swing axle in the rear. With its generous boot, optional removable hardtop and easy-going nature, the 190SL was less of a hardcore sports car and more of a boulevard cruiser. With the 190SL, Mercedes hit the sweet spot with a comfortable, fun, practical, sporty roadster 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 sentiment remains true for today’s enthusiasts, who admire the 190SL for its versatility, vault-like build quality, and unmistakable mid-century style.
Our featured 190SL is an attractive example of Mercedes-Benz’s 1950’s style leader, benefitting from a well-maintained cosmetic restoration. Presented in tidy condition in a striking combination of metallic silver over red leather, this lovely SL is ideal for casual motoring on your favorite back roads. According to the serial number, this is a later-production 1961 model that was likely first titled in 1962. The most recent owner acquired this car in 2010, and he has enjoyed the car as part of his extensive collection ever since. Shortly after purchasing it, the owner commissioned further restoration work, including new paint in 2013, and thorough mechanical service to prepare it for road use. It now presents in very good order, showing crisp detailing, with consistent shut lines and excellent paint. A critical eye may find some very slight imperfections in the bodywork, yet the overall look is sharp and pleasing. Exterior brightwork is also in good order, with the bumpers and moldings displaying excellent plating with only slight polish marks from regular care. Some pieces, such as the windscreen surround appear to be outstanding original items. The car rides on original 13-inch steel wheels shod with black wall radials and correct color-keyed hubcaps and trim rings. A rare factory hardtop is included in the sale, which has been restored and painted to match the body.
The 190SL interior is a charming mix of 1950s style and Teutonic sensibility. Generous seats allow for all-day comfort, and there is plenty of legroom and luggage space for a long weekend of touring. All controls fall easily to hand, and the dash is pleasingly laid out with clear, easy to see instruments. This car’s red cabin is outstanding, trimmed with correct style leather and carpet. The seats show slight creasing from use, yet the material is taut and in fine condition. Red leather repeats on the door cards, interior panels, and dash top, and the floors feature proper square weave carpeting. Notable features include the factory ivory steering wheel and shift knob in addition to the rare original radio. Rounding out the soft trim is a black folding top trimmed in the correct German canvas material.
Under the bonnet sits the 1.9-liter, single-overhead cam inline-four. This car features the correct original Solex carburetors and airbox. The engine is honestly presented, with correct hose clamps and fittings, and signs of moderate use. Undercarriage detailing is similarly honest, with a consistent layer of undercoating on the floors and wheel wells.
In its day, the 190SL was more for winning beauty contests than speed contests, yet their robust drivetrain and exceptionally well-engineered chassis make for a surprisingly rewarding drive. This attractive 190SL is sure to satisfy the enthusiast looking for an excellent example to drive on tours and events, while also being sharp enough for casual shows and club gatherings.
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