The 1954 Mercedes 300SL: The child of a 24 Hour of Le Mans winner

The 1954 Mercedes 300SL: The child of a 24 Hour of Le Mans winner

I’m sure if you’re a car fanatic you’ve probably seen this iconic beast repeatedly and it’s easily identifiable by it’s Gulwing doors. In recent years even Tesla has taken some inspiration from these with their Falcon wing doors which are far more modern, open differently and fulfill a different purpose, however there is no doubt the designer took some liberties from the 300SL. Let me know in the poll at the bottom which you prefer!

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Another interesting fact about the Mercedes 300SL that you may or may not be aware of is that it was born from the W194 300SL car which won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1952, driven by Hermann Lang and Fritz Riess. It also won in Bern-Bremgarten, in the sportscar race of the Eifelrennen at the Nürburgring, and in Mexico’s Carrera Panamericana.

In the 1920’s Daimler-Benz (which would become Mercedes-Benz) had a racing heritage and was known as a serious competitor in many different fields even including Rally racing. However in the late 1930’s the team took a hiatus due to some…let’s call them “difficulties”…in the German political sphere of the time. During World War Zwei their factories were tasked with producing trucks and aircraft engines to help with the German war effort against the Allied forces.

In the early 1950’s, Mercedes decided it was time to get back into the racing scene and decided to design an all new car which would become the Mercedes W194 300SL. This car had an all new aluminium space-frame which only weighed 140lbs. This was ideal as the engine they would fit into this new age aerodynamic creation was under powered for racing, as it was only a 3.0 liter straight six and produced 175 bhp and 207 lb-ft of torque. This didn’t matter as it had precise steering and was one of the first cars to have independent suspension on all four wheels and it went on to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1952. Mercedes would take another hiatus from racing in 1955 when one of these cars crashed and hit the grand stand, killing 80 spectators.

Initial plans for mass production of the 300SL were not planned but after Max Hoffman, who imported Mercedes to New York, placed an order for 1000 units it was bound to happen. Apparently, Mercedes new General Director saw this order and said “oh ja, das ist gut ja”, which I’m not sure is a direct quote, awaiting sources. Thus it was put into production although with some changes, enter German Industrial Designer Hans Tripple, who invented the Amphicar, who designed its signature Gulwings. You can read that article below if you like, ah go on.

They managed to do what I’ve called a reverse-AMG and tuned the same engine from the race car from 175 bhp to 150bhp. It didn’t matter, this car would top out at 163 mph, making it the fastest production car of it’s time and it also did 0-62 mph in 9.3 seconds. These figures don’t seem much these days but at the time it was seriously fast.

The car went on sale for $6,995 after the reveal at the 1954 New York Auto Show and if you wanted a drop top instead of those Gulwing doors, because you were crazy, you could get the roadster for only an extra $4,000. In total 3,400 were sold and it was deemed a success, to this day, the 300SL is one of the best looking Mercedes ever created.

Fun Extra Fact: The SL on Mercedes cars stands for Super Leicht, which is Super Light in English and originated with this 300SL