MERCEDES-BENZ 300 SL 1952 - 1963
The original 300 SL appeared in
1952 and was introduced as a contender for the famous road races of those days like the
Mille Miglia, the Targa Florio, the Carrera Pan-Americana etcetera. Its first outing was
in the 1952 Mille Miglia where three 300 SLs took part. The results were impressive as one
of the cars took 2nd place and another 4th. The 300 SL only had to bow to a Ferrari with a
gap of a mere 5 minutes after 1000 miles of racing. Many racing successes followed.
The 300 in its name stood for the 3 litre engine capacity and SL for "Sport Leicht", meaning lightweight sportscar. The last designation may seem a bit odd looking at this car because you would expect a true sportscar to be light. But the 300 SL was in essence a derivative of the "ordinary" Mercedes 300 series, which were big luxurious limousines (built from 1951 to 1957 in original form). Following an established Mercedes tradition also 2-door convertible and coupé versions of the limousine model were available, named 300 S. These were very conventionally styled grand tourers with a body built on a separate chassis, and were introduced in the same year as the SL. So the letter L was added to make the distinction between the nimble racer and its bulky brother. (picture kindly supplied by Verner Johnsen)
Streamliner was not a roadcar at all, it was a true Grand Prix car. Juan Manuel Fangio
amassed 41 World Championship points driving the W196 between 1954 and 1955. The W196 was
introduced in 1954 with unusual full-width bodywork in an attempt to minimize drag. Later
on also more traditional open-wheel bodied versions were used, and by then the Streamliner
was only raced on the fastest tracks.
Though the technical concept of the W196 was different, it had some similarities with the 300 SL, like for example a tubular space frame construction and a rear swing axle suspension. The design of the bodywork showed more than a hint of what the 300 SL was to become and it was the first car to have the characteristic "eyebrows" over the front wheels. It also featured a tilted engine mounting to minimize frontal area, a concept that was transferred to the SL(R) models as well. Without the W196 Streamliner the 300 SL bloodline would be incomplete.
The real successor to
the original 300 SL was the 300 SLR, again a full-blooded racing car that appeared in all
sorts of sportscar races from 1954 till 1955. Here you see it in one of those grueling
road races of the 1950s and by the looks of it it had quite a hard time. The added R in
its designation stands for Racing, a distinction that became necessary because of the
introduction of the 300 SL normal roadcar version.
The 300 SLR was dominant in its two years of competition, and most legendary is its Mille Miglia victory in the hands of Stirling Moss. In contrast to the 6-cylinder 300 SL it had a straight 8-cylinder 3 litre engine, developed out of the 2.5 litre W196 Grand Prix car engine.
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