MERCEDES-BENZ 300 SL 1952 - 1963
The concept of the 1952
300 SL by chief of construction Nallinger and engineer Uhlenhaut was continuously further
developed. In SLR form it came very close to being a Grand Prix car for the road, adopting
for instance the ultra-thin "Electron" (an aluminum-magnesium alloy) material
for its light-weight skin and the desmodromic operated valves in the engine from the W196
Grand Prix car.
The design of the bodywork was largely dictated by "form follows function" with a for that time remarkable attention for streamlining. As almost by accident a beautiful and elegant shape was created, defining the classic sportscar look from the mid-fifties up to the late the sixties.
For high-speed races like
the Le Mans 24 hours endurance race Mercedes developed a special trick for the 300 SLR. It
had an additional "air-brake" behind the cockpit to reduce wear on the
traditional brakes. At the end of long straights on which a very high top speed was
reached the air-brake was activated. The panel behind the driver was mechanically erected
while braking, increasing drag to a maximum and causing the car to slow down much faster.
After the braking was done the panel folded neatly into place again, and the SLR returned
to its air-cheating slippery shaped self to accelerate out of the corner as fast as
Unfortunately the Le Mans race was also where the SLR found its Waterloo. In the 1955 Le Mans race the 300 SLR of Pierre Levegh crashed into the audience, killing the driver and a number of spectators. The Mercedes racing team finished the 1955 season, but then Mercedes-Benz decided to turn away from autosport for a long time, prompted by the Le Mans tragedy. (picture kindly supplied by Verner Johnsen)
The rarest 300 SLR is
the Coupé, which looks a lot like a regular 300 SL but is quite a different car. Only two
have been built and this is the one that Mercedes engineer Rudolf Uhlenhaut used as a
means of daily transport. Basically it's an open top full-race 300 SLR fitted with a
bulbous closed two-seater cockpit and the "gullwing" doors of the 300 SL. If you
look a bit closer you'll see the many differences with a regular 300 SL Coupé (for
instance no triangular side windows behind the doors, no eyebrows above the rear wheels
and a much more streamlined front).
Since it's in full-race spec it has the straight 8-cylinder 3 litre fuel-injected engine, good for 300 hp and a top speed touching 290 kph. It's said to be one of the loudest cars on earth, producing an ear-shattering engine roar. To make the car acceptable for normal road use a big muffler is attached to the exhaust pipes on the side. It's the big box beneath the door.
Both produced cars are still in existence and are (usually) on display in the Mercedes-museum in Stuttgart, Germany. And they're priceless, if you wondered...
Use this link for some additional 800x600 pictures of this great car!
Continue the tour by clicking the arrows pointing right....