Mercedes-Benz 300SL
Overview
 
The Mercedes-Benz 300SL was introduced in 1954 as a two-seat, closed sports car
Sports car
A sports car is a small, usually two seat, two door automobile designed for high speed driving and maneuverability....

 with distinctive gull-wing door
Gull-wing door
Gull-wing door is an automotive industry term describing car doors that are hinged at the roof rather than the side, as pioneered by the 1952 Mercedes-Benz 300SL race car and its road-legal version introduced in 1954....

s. Later it was offered as an open roadster
Roadster
A roadster is a two-seat open car with emphasis on sporty handling and without a fixed roof or side weather protection. Strictly speaking a roadster with wind-up windows is a convertible but as true roadsters are no longer made the distinction is now irrelevant...

. It was the fastest production car of its day.

Built by Daimler-Benz
Daimler-Benz
Daimler-Benz AG was a German manufacturer of automobiles, motor vehicles, and internal combustion engines; founded in 1926. An Agreement of Mutual Interest - which was valid until year 2000 - was signed on 1 May 1924 between Karl Benz's Benz & Cie., and Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft, which had...

 AG and internally numbered W198, the fuel-injected road version was based (somewhat loosely) on the company's highly successful competition-only sports car of 1952, the somewhat less powerful carbureted Mercedes-Benz 300SL (W194).

The road model was suggested by Max Hoffman
Max Hoffman
Max Hoffman, , was an Austrian-born importer of automobiles into the United States during the 1950s. Doing business among gentlemen who knew one another well, he was known for his handshake deals that always were upheld without a written contract...

.
Encyclopedia
The Mercedes-Benz 300SL was introduced in 1954 as a two-seat, closed sports car
Sports car
A sports car is a small, usually two seat, two door automobile designed for high speed driving and maneuverability....

 with distinctive gull-wing door
Gull-wing door
Gull-wing door is an automotive industry term describing car doors that are hinged at the roof rather than the side, as pioneered by the 1952 Mercedes-Benz 300SL race car and its road-legal version introduced in 1954....

s. Later it was offered as an open roadster
Roadster
A roadster is a two-seat open car with emphasis on sporty handling and without a fixed roof or side weather protection. Strictly speaking a roadster with wind-up windows is a convertible but as true roadsters are no longer made the distinction is now irrelevant...

. It was the fastest production car of its day.

Built by Daimler-Benz
Daimler-Benz
Daimler-Benz AG was a German manufacturer of automobiles, motor vehicles, and internal combustion engines; founded in 1926. An Agreement of Mutual Interest - which was valid until year 2000 - was signed on 1 May 1924 between Karl Benz's Benz & Cie., and Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft, which had...

 AG and internally numbered W198, the fuel-injected road version was based (somewhat loosely) on the company's highly successful competition-only sports car of 1952, the somewhat less powerful carbureted Mercedes-Benz 300SL (W194).

The road model was suggested by Max Hoffman
Max Hoffman
Max Hoffman, , was an Austrian-born importer of automobiles into the United States during the 1950s. Doing business among gentlemen who knew one another well, he was known for his handshake deals that always were upheld without a written contract...

. Being intended for customers in the booming post-war American market it was introduced at the 1954 New York Auto Show, unlike previous models introduced at either the Frankfurt or Geneva shows. In Mercedes-Benz fashion, the "300" referred to the engine's three litre cylinder displacement. The "SL" stood for "Sport Leicht" (Sport Light).

The 300SL was best known for both its distinctive gull wing doors and being the first-ever four-stroke car equipped with a gasoline direct injection
Gasoline direct injection
In internal combustion engines, gasoline direct injection , also known as petrol direct injection or direct petrol injection, is a variant of fuel injection employed in modern two-stroke and four-stroke gasoline engines...

. The gull wing version was available from March 1955 to 1957. Production of the roadster ended in 1963 with the introduction of the 230SL.

A race car for the street

New York Mercedes distributor Max Hoffman, Daimler-Benz's official importer in the USA, suggested to DBAG management in Stuttgart that a street version of the 300SL would be a commercial success, especially in America.

The racing W194 300SL was built around a tubular chassis to offset its relatively underpowered carbureted engine. Designed by DBAG's chief developing engineer, Rudolf Uhlenhaut
Rudolf Uhlenhaut
Rudolf Uhlenhaut , was an Anglo-German engineer and executive for Mercedes-Benz...

, the metal skeleton saved weight while still providing a high level of strength. Its unique architecture gave birth to the model's distinctive gull wing doors, as part of the chassis passed through what would be the lower half of a standard door.
Even with the upward opening doors, the 300SL had an unusually high sill, making entry and exit from the car's cockpit problematic. A steering wheel with a tilt-away column was added to improve driver access.

The 300SL's body was mainly steel, except for the aluminum hood, doors and trunk lid. It could also be ordered with an all-aluminium outer skin at tremendous added cost, saving 80 kg (176 lb).

More than 80% of the vehicle's total production of approximately 1400 units were sold in the US, making the Gull wing the first Mercedes-Benz which sold in bulk outside its home market and confirming the validity of Hoffman's suggestion. The 300SL is credited for changing the company's image in America from a manufacturer of solid, but staid, automobiles to that of a producer of sporty cars.

First direct injection

The 300SL's engine, canted at a fifty-degree angle to the left to allow for a lower hoodline, was the same 3.0 litre straight-6
Straight-6
The straight-six engine or inline-six engine is a six-cylinder internal combustion engine with all six cylinders mounted in a straight line along the crankcase...

 as the regular four-door 300. Fitted with a Bosch
Robert Bosch GmbH
Robert Bosch GmbH is a multinational engineering and electronics company headquartered in Gerlingen, near Stuttgart, Germany. It is the world's largest supplier of automotive components...

 mechanical Gasoline direct injection
Gasoline direct injection
In internal combustion engines, gasoline direct injection , also known as petrol direct injection or direct petrol injection, is a variant of fuel injection employed in modern two-stroke and four-stroke gasoline engines...

 system it had almost double the power of the original 86 kW (115 hp) carbureted version.

While not the first fuel-injected car - Mercedes engineers who had developed the principle for the DB 601
Daimler-Benz DB 601
|-See also:-Bibliography:* Mankau, Heinz and Peter Petrick. Messerschmitt Bf 110, Me 210, Me 410. Raumfahrt, Germany: Aviatic Verlag, 2001. ISBN 3-92550-562-8.* Neil Gregor Daimler-Benz in the Third Reich. Yale University Press, 1998-External links:...

 fighter aircraft engine had used fuel injection in the tiny 2-stroke Gutbrod
Gutbrod
Gutbrod was a German car manufacturer. The firm was founded by Wilhelm Gutbrod in 1926. It originally built motorcycles, and from 1933 to 1935, Standard Superior cars were built with rear-mounted engines....

 they had designed after the War - it was the first to inject fuel directly into the cylinders. This innovation allowed a top speed of up to 260 km/h (161 mph) depending on gear ratio
Gear ratio
The gear ratio of a gear train is the ratio of the angular velocity of the input gear to the angular velocity of the output gear, also known as the speed ratio of the gear train. The gear ratio can be computed directly from the numbers of teeth of the various gears that engage to form the gear...

 and drag, making the 300SL the fastest production car of its time.

The engine's maintenance requirements were high. Unlike the current electrically powered fuel injection systems, the mechanical fuel pump would continue to inject gasoline into the engine during the interval between shutting off the ignition and the engine's coming to a stop; this gasoline was of course not burned, and washed the oil from the cylinder walls and ended up diluting the engine's lubricating oil, particularly if the engine was not driven hard enough nor long enough to reach a temperature high enough to evaporate it out of the oil.

Exacerbating the problem were the large oil cooler as well as the large volume of oil (10 liters), both oriented more to racing than to street driving, which virtually guaranteed that the oil would not reach a high enough temperature. In practice, many street drivers would block off airflow through the oil cooler, and the recommended oil change interval was 1000 miles (1,609.3 km). Operation of the clutch was initially very heavy, later roadsters having an improved clutch arm helper spring which reduced the pedal force. From March 1963 to the end of production, a light alloy crankcase was used on a total of 209 vehicles.

Aerodynamics
Aerodynamics
Aerodynamics is a branch of dynamics concerned with studying the motion of air, particularly when it interacts with a moving object. Aerodynamics is a subfield of fluid dynamics and gas dynamics, with much theory shared between them. Aerodynamics is often used synonymously with gas dynamics, with...

 played an important role in the car's speed, Mercedes-Benz engineers even placing horizontal "eyebrows" over the wheel openings to reduce drag. Unlike many cars of the 1950s, the steering was relatively precise and the four-wheel independent suspension allowed for a reasonably comfortable ride and markedly better overall handling. However, the rear swing axle
Swing axle
A swing axle is a simple type of independent suspension first used in early aircraft , such as the Sopwith and Fokker, usually with rubber bungee and no damping....

, jointed only at the differential
Differential (mechanics)
A differential is a device, usually, but not necessarily, employing gears, capable of transmitting torque and rotation through three shafts, almost always used in one of two ways: in one way, it receives one input and provides two outputs—this is found in most automobiles—and in the other way, it...

, not at the wheels themselves, could be treacherous at high speeds or on imperfect roads due to extreme changes in camber
Camber angle
thumb|100px|From the front of the car, a right wheel with a negative camber angleCamber angle is the angle made by the wheels of a vehicle; specifically, it is the angle between the vertical axis of the wheels used for steering and the vertical axis of the vehicle when viewed from the front or...

. The enormous fuel tank capacity caused a considerable difference in handling depending on the quantity of fuel on board.

Original racing history

In 1952, the original 300SL (model Mercedes-Benz W194) scored overall wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans
24 Hours of Le Mans
The 24 Hours of Le Mans is the world's oldest sports car race in endurance racing, held annually since near the town of Le Mans, France. Commonly known as the Grand Prix of Endurance and Efficiency, race teams have to balance speed against the cars' ability to run for 24 hours without sustaining...

, in Bern-Bremgarten
Bremgarten bei Bern
Bremgarten bei Bern is a municipality in the Bern-Mittelland administrative district in the canton of Bern in Switzerland.It was home to the Bremgarten Circuit, the Grand Prix motor racing course that at one time hosted the Swiss Grand Prix.-Geography:...

, in the sportscar race of the Eifelrennen
Eifelrennen
The ADAC Eifelrennen was an annual motor race, organised by ADAC Automobile Club from 1922 to 2003, held in Germany's Eifel mountain region even before the Nürburgring was built there.- History :...

 at the Nürburgring
Nürburgring
The Nürburgring is a motorsport complex around the village of Nürburg, Germany. It features a modern Grand Prix race track built in 1984, and a much longer old North loop track which was built in the 1920s around the village and medieval castle of Nürburg in the Eifel mountains. It is located about...

, and in Mexico's Carrera Panamericana
Carrera Panamericana
The Carrera Panamericana was a border-to-border sports car racing event on open roads in Mexico similar to the Mille Miglia and Targa Florio in Italy. Running for five consecutive years from 1950 to 1954, it was widely held by contemporaries to be the most dangerous race of any type in the world...

. It also managed second and fourth places at its first outing, the Mille Miglia
Mille Miglia
The Mille Miglia was an open-road endurance race which took place in Italy twenty-four times from 1927 to 1957 ....

 in 1952.

These successes, especially those on the high speed open road races, were rather surprising as the engine then was fitted only with carburetors, producing 175 hp, which was not only less than the competing cars by Ferrari
Ferrari
Ferrari S.p.A. is an Italian sports car manufacturer based in Maranello, Italy. Founded by Enzo Ferrari in 1929, as Scuderia Ferrari, the company sponsored drivers and manufactured race cars before moving into production of street-legal vehicles as Ferrari S.p.A. in 1947...

 and Jaguar
Jaguar (car)
Jaguar Cars Ltd, known simply as Jaguar , is a British luxury car manufacturer, headquartered in Whitley, Coventry, England. It is part of the Jaguar Land Rover business, a subsidiary of the Indian company Tata Motors....

, but also less than the road car of 1954. Low weight and low aerodynamic drag made the 300SL fast enough to be competitive in endurance races.

Fitch land speed record attempt

In 2005, a 300SL coupe driven by 87-year-old John Fitch
John Fitch (driver)
John Cooper Fitch is a racecar driver born in Indianapolis, Indiana. He was the first American to race automobiles successfully in Europe in the postwar era...

, who had been a Mercedes-Benz factory racing driver in 1955, attempted to set a new land speed record
Land speed record
The land speed record is the highest speed achieved by a wheeled vehicle on land. There is no single body for validation and regulation; in practice the Category C flying start regulations are used, officiated by regional or national organizations under the auspices of the Fédération...

 for the F/GT class at Bonneville Speedway
Bonneville Speedway
Bonneville Speedway is an area of the Bonneville Salt Flats near Wendover, Utah, that is marked out for motor sports. It is particularly noted as the venue for numerous land speed records....

, but was thwarted by a balky fuel pump
Fuel pump
A fuel pump is a frequently essential component on a car or other internal combustion engined device. Many engines do not require any fuel pump at all, requiring only gravity to feed fuel from the fuel tank through a line or hose to the engine...

 that limited top speed to 150 mi/h. After the run, the team vowed to return for a second attempt the next year. Fitch noted that he had driven these cars faster than that at night, in the rain, on the road with 60 other cars. The attempt is documented in the film Gull wing at Twilight: The Bonneville Ride of John Fitch, which was aired on PBS.

The 300SL today

Today, the 300SL with its unique doors, technological firsts, and low production numbers is considered one of the most collectible Mercedes-Benz models, with prices generally in the US$500,000-700,000 range. Sports Car International magazine ranked the 300SL as the number 5 sports car of all time. A pair of 300SLs for sale in 2009 were offered at over $1.3M USD from the Foxwood Collection.

The Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG is described by Mercedes as a spiritual successor to the 300SL Gullwing.

Technical data

250 km/h (155.3 mph) (3.42:1)
260 km/h (161.6 mph) (3.25:1) || style="text-align:center;"| "according to axle ratio"
|- style="background:#eee;"
| Fuel Consumption (estimate):  || colspan="2" style="text-align:center;"|17 l/100 km
|- style="background:#eee;"
| Price Germany
USA:  || style="text-align:center;"| DM 29,000
$ 11,000, later 7,295 || style="text-align:center;"| DM 32,500 (Hardtop: + DM 1,500)
$ 10,928, later 10,950 (Hardtop: + $ 178)
|}



External links

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