The roots of the Mercedes-Benz SL are in motor racing. After the Second World War, Mercedes-Benz developed the 300 SL racing sports car (W 194, 170 hp/125 kW). This began competing in 1952 and duly dominated the season, claiming second and fourth place in the Mille Miglia, a one-two-three win in the sports car race in Bern, a one-two win in the Le Mans 24-hour race, the first four places in the sports car race at the Nürburgring and a one-two win in the Carrera Panamericana Mexico – an illustrious record indeed. A characteristic feature of the Coupé was its gullwing doors – a direct consequence of the innovative space frame: they were cut deep into the roof, opening upwards to present a spectacle reminiscent of spread wings, which prompted the Americans to refer to the car as the “Gullwing”, while the French opted for “Papillon” (butterfly).
Recognising the car’s market potential, in 1954 Mercedes-Benz presented two series production SLs. The 300 SL (W 198, 1954 to 1957) with an output of 215 hp (158 kW) would be categorised as a super sports car today – the “Gullwing” Coupé won over experts and the public alike. While the technical concept and key components derived from the competition vehicle, the W 198 boasted beautiful body lines and an even more powerful engine with efficiency-enhancing direct petrol injection. This made it unique among the era’s series production sports cars. The 300 SL quickly became an automotive icon of the 1950s, winning major races along the way. In 1957 the Gullwing Coupé was succeeded by the 300 SL Roadster (W 198, 1957 to 1963). Both versions were absolute enthusiasts’ cars from the outset and are among the most sought-after and highest-priced classic vehicles today.