The Mercedes-Benz factories sustained massive damage from Allied bombing during World War II. Utility vehicles were the first post-war product, and helped the company toward recovery. But something more spectacular needed to be done to attract the world's interest. In 1951, it was decided to re-enter the racing circuit. In order to do so with the least financial strain, a sports car was developed using the existing 300 engine. Because of the relatively heavy weight of that engine and drivetrain, an unusually light body needed to be constructed. And so, the tubular steel framed, aluminum bodied 300SL (Sport Light) was born. Approximately fifteen of these race cars were made, winning many events and earning the world sports car championship.
In 1952, the 300SL caught the interest of racing fans in the United States. New Yorker Max Hoffman was one such enthusiast, who used his car dealership to bring many of the European makes into this country. One might even say that he is responsible for the creation of the 300SL, as his order for 1,000 cars convinced the Mercedes-Benz officials to go ahead with the production of a street car based upon the 300SL racing sports car. The prototype 300SL was shown at the International Motor Sports Show in New York City in February 1954.
The first production car with a fuel-injected gasoline engine, the 300SL was one of the most reliable sports cars of the '50s and '60s. The proven 300 engine was tilted to the left to accommodate a lower hood line. The body style was designated Sport Leicht (Light) due to its aluminum doors, hood, decklid, rocker panels and belly pans, though the main body shell was constructed from steel. Unusual for the period, 300SLs came equipped with dependable heat, defrosters, and wiper motors.
Ultimately, three different versions of the 300SL were offered. The 300SL Coupe was produced from August 1954 to May 1957, during which time twenty-nine all-aluminum bodied cars were made as well. Production of the Roadster version was between February 1957 and February 1963. Whichever style is your preference, they are now highly valued for their pure driving pleasure in the Mille Miglia, Colorado Grand, and other vintage events.
Factory photos courtesy of Mercedes-Benz Archives.