60th Anniversary of the Mercedes Benz SL

2012 marks the 60th anniversary of the Mercedes Benz SL model. TVG deemed it an appropriate opportunity to have a quick look back at the most iconic Mercedes model of all time, the model and the movie star.

If you said to me right now, what is the one car you would choose if you could have any car in the world, there wouldn’t be a moment of hesitation? Mercedes Benz 1958 300SL. Don’t try and tell me you’d go the Gullwing, I’ve sat in one, it’s the most difficult thing you’ve ever tried to get into, not to mention your lady friend in her tight dress – no chance. Then once you’re in it and the door is closed claustrophobia is instantaneous.

In saying that, it’s absolutely stunning and may be the most innovative and breathtaking car of all time. But many would argue that about many of the SL’s, they were all ahead of their time, distinctive and desirable, effortlessly empowering.
For me the SL is the quintessential vintage car, I’m not so fussed with the new models however there is one that baffles me. It’s been 60 years since the ‘Super Light’ hit the road and it’s produced some fabulous models, here is my pick of the bunch.

1952 300SL (W194)

The very first Mercedes to wear the Super Light badge. Only one still remains, owned and cared for by Mercedes Benz. This car has a fascinating story, created with virtually no budget and adapted from the six-cylinder engine, which powered the type 300 official government cars. It was transformed into a racing engine with a new cylinder head and triple Solex downdraft carburetors. A tubular frame was designed and clad in aluminium bodywork, and ended up coming in at an astonishingly light 50kgs. The car achieved podiums in its first 4 races. The engineers had demonstrated their inventive spirit with the first SL, a spirit that would thrive in years to come.

1955 300SL Gullwing Alloy

Every man has seen the Gullwing, it’s the ultimate dream car. However, it was the ultra rare alloy bodied models that stole the show. With it’s limited production numbers it has become a true collectors piece, one model selling in Scotsdale, Arizona last year for $4.62 million US. The story behind the Gullwing hinges on one man, a New York Benz dealer named Max Hoffman. He noticed the success of the race bred 300SL was having a positive effect on the brand’s sales in the US, however without a car clearly related to the race-winning machines, the marketing advantage of the immensely costly racing effort was limited. So he commited to purchase 1000 Gullwings and the production was approved.

Integral to the marketing plan for the groundbreaking new sports car was the expectation that private owners would use the cars in competition. As a result, the production Gullwing could be ordered with an all-aluminum body and with it many additional competition upgrades including a competition camshaft along with stiffer, shorter springs that lowered the car and enhanced peak performance. In all, just 29 of the alloy models were ordered and built – approximately 2% of the total Gullwing production.

 1970 280SL Pagoda

Perhaps its the love for the 70s but I think the Pagoda was one of the coolest classic cars of all time – a thought that was shared with thousands of men from 1967-71. In my opinion the Pagoda became more ‘male’ as it edged away from a sports car into more of a Grand Tourer with the introduction of the larger engine. The 280 was introduced in late 1967 and over half the models produced were purchased in North America where the car featured heavily in hills of Hollywood.

2010 SL65 AMG Black

If you’ve seen one of these in the flesh, you’ll understand why it’s on my list. It’s simply the most ferocious automobile I’ve ever laid eyes on. Onto the already savage AMG setup is a pair of massive new turbos, larger air intakes and exhausts which boost power to 500kW – a full 40kW more than the McMerc SLR, 51kW more than the Ferrari 599. The flared wheel arches are so wide the car looks like its prowling, low and sleek ready to pounce on its prey, it reminds me of the race bred CLK-GTR. This car was always going to turn heads after it was announced and I can tell you it certainly turned mine one day on New South Head Rd. To cap the whole experience off it comes with a warning letter, a disclaimer of sorts from AMG which outlines that by choosing to drive the car you are doing so at your own risk, brilliant.

2012 SLS Roadster

After sitting in both the Gullwing and the Roadster I’ve decided I’d prefer the Roadster, it’s just a whole lot more ‘liveable’. This may upset the purists so I’m going to leave that comment open for discussion. The Gullwing is immense and has been one of, if not the most anticipated automobile releases of our time and it’s gorgeous.

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James is the Founder and Editor of The Versatile Gent.

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