Despite suffering massive losses during World War II, Mercedes-Benz wasted little time re-establishing itself as a dominant force in the post-war automotive landscape. Mercedes Grand Prix and sports-racing cars swept the racetracks of the world, and the sensational 300SL raised the bar for production sports cars. At the opposite end of the spectrum, their famously robust buses, trucks, and taxi cabs were filling the streets of Europe – and strong sales filled the coffers in Stuttgart. Despite their growing success, Mercedes’ presence in the US was still tenuous.
In the 1950s, Americans were still hesitant to buy German cars, but Max Hoffman, the chief importer of Mercedes-Benz cars to the USA, knew precisely how to get buyers 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 had such faith in Hoffman that they readily obliged and created the new 190SL, named for its 1.9-liter engine and sports designation. The pretty roadster eschewed the 300SL’s exotic tubular space frame and fuel-injected engine for a shortened W121-sedan unibody platform and a tuned version of the sedan’s overhead cam four-cylinder engine, fitted with twin Solex PHH carburetors. It shared some 300SL styling cues and featured an independent front suspension with a swing axle in the rear. With its generous boot, optional removable hardtop, and easy-going nature, the 190SL was more boulevard cruiser than a hard-edged sports car. Thanks to Hoffman’s input, Mercedes created a comfortable, fun, practical, and 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.
This exceptional 1957 190SL Roadster is one of the finest examples we’ve offered, coming to us from a world-class private collection. According to the factory Data Card on file, this 190SL originally left the factory around July of 1957 and was finished in strawberry red metallic over light grey leather with a black soft-top. It was purchased new in Germany by an American serviceman who brought it home to Fort Riley, Kansas. It remained in Kansas for several years and was eventually acquired by a Union Pacific Railroad executive from nearby Junction City, KS, who maintained a vast collection of classic cars stashed in warehouses around the West and South. The 190SL remained quietly tucked away in well-preserved, original condition until the man’s death in the late 1980s.
Acting on a tip from a friend, Mr. S. Schley of Corona, California, bought the 190SL from the estate and embarked on a comprehensive restoration, entrusted to Eisenlohr Restorations. Mr. Schley chose an elegant, period-correct shade of Mittleblau (DB 396) over a complementary blue leather interior and dark blue top. After its restoration, he showed the 190SL extensively in club events, winning a prestigious AACA Grand National Award along the way. The car was serviced and maintained through the years by the respected marque specialists Hjeltness Restoration of Escondido, CA.
The most recent owner acquired the SL in 2016. Wishing to freshen the restoration and elevate it even further, he turned it over to the experts at the Mercedes-Benz Classic Center in Irvine, California. The Classic Center specialists carefully evaluated the car for authenticity, confirming that the engine, gearbox, rear axle, steering box, and body numbers matched factory production records. They set to work bringing the car up to the owner’s meticulous standards, including extensive detailing, refinishing of major components, and a comprehensive mechanical service, totaling more than $125,000. Naturally, they used authentically restored or genuine Mercedes-Benz parts throughout the process.
The results are breathtaking, as this 190SL is undoubtedly one of the very best available. The doors open and shut with the precision expected of a 50’s Mercedes-Benz, and the car has a delightful, hewn-from-solid feel. The paint and brightwork are superb, with beautifully straight panels and factory-precise gaps and alignment. Dark blue leather trim complements the paint color. Only period-correct upholstery materials are used, from the correct smooth-finish leather to the gray/blue square-weave carpet and genuine gray rubber floor mats. Instruments and controls are fully restored with beautiful chrome detailing, and fittings include a glovebox-mounted VDO clock and a lovely Becker Europa HiFi radio. A beautiful set of fitted luggage resides in the boot.
The Classic Center restorers paid particular attention to the engine compartment and undercarriage. Not only is the engine bay exceptionally well detailed, but the quality of the finish is beyond reproach. The 1.9-liter inline-four is meticulously detailed with correct paint finishes, decals, and labels. The undercarriage also benefits from the expertise of the Mercedes factory specialists. The floors are properly finished in the correct shade of beige-gray, and every suspension component has been carefully disassembled, refinished, and re-assembled with accurately reproduced factory assembly marks. Even the insides of the wheels are painted the proper shade of olive green, just as they were when new.
Since its meticulous refurbishment, this 190SL has only been shown once at the La Jolla Concours d’Elegance, where it took First in Class, beating out another 190SL restored by the Classic Center. It remains in truly exceptional condition, showing only minimal signs of use. It will surely please the most devoted marque enthusiast and will undoubtedly hold a place of pride in its next caretaker’s stable.
Offers welcome and trades considered