The 1958 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Convertible featured in this article was the most sportiest Mercedes built to date. When this beautiful car was introduced at the Geneva Motor Show in 1957 the new model essentially meant the retirement of the famous James Bond movie Gullwing Mercedes. Most people wouldn't see those type of vertically opening car doors until the ex-General Motors engineer John DeLorean became an automaker.
Many people were of the opinion that the 300 SL actually changed the entire image of Mercedes-Benz from only a builder of conservative luxury vehicles to that of also a builder of streamlined designed sports cars with top performance. The first 300 SL in 1952 did exceptionally well at Le Mans and other racing venues.
An interesting fact about the 300 SL was that it had been a racing car from Mercedes. It was sold to racing customers, not the general public. The car's body was constructed with aerodynamic efficiency. The race car had little trim. Mercedes was not interested at the time for building the racing 300 SL as a road car.
Making a Racer Into a Road Car
A street version was not manufactured until Mercedes-Benz board of directors received a plea accompanied with a large order for a road version 300 SL from American Mercedes importer Max Hoffman.
The argument for it and the subsequent order was placed to satisfy sports car buyers in the booming post war economy. That order changed the entire picture. Now Mercedes-Benz would start producing a race car for the street, a car that was originally designed for speed and performance. At the same time Mercedes-Benz announced another model, the smaller and lower priced 190 SL convertible.
The road version 300 SL did indeed incorporate many of the technological advancements made possible by auto racing. Some of the advancements had to do with body styling. The bulges over the wheel openings actually improved high-speed stability. Another advancement was the use of aluminum on the doors, hood and trunk lid.
Famous race driver Stirling Moss had very good luck with the SLR model at various venues. A Mercedes SLR was ahead in the 1955 24 Hours of Le Mans when another car, careening into the crowd, killed 82 people resulting in the SLR withdrawing from the race.
An interesting side note from this tragic loss of life in 1955 was that American automakers, through their industry association, later made a gentlemen's agreement to not be involved in any type of racing or motorsport competitions. Although there was not "official" factory sponsorships after this agreement, racing and endurance competitions were important for automakers, especially those selling performance based cars, and the automakers found indirect ways to stay involved in competitive motorsports.
A lot of the 300 SL's great performance was attributed to it's light weight tubular frame. Thus the "SL" designation..."Sport and Leicht". Leicht meaning light. Max Hoffman of New York might very well be the only reason why the road version 300 SL was built to begin with.
When the Mercedes 300 Sl road version was built and distributed it satisfied the demand of many Americans for small European sports cars. The new car price tag for the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL was easily north of $8,000. Quite a large amount of money for an automobile in 1958 but there was a waiting market.
The mechanics and engineering beneath the body was not all too different than the prior Gullwing Mercedes but some design changes were enacted. First of all, the 1958 Mercedes 300 SL had regular doors. In addition to that the sports car had larger front fenders, a smaller grille, a rounder windshield and a chrome accent stripe on the car's side.
The roadster version of the 300 SL lacked the strength of the roof that the coupe had. To compensate for that the chassis needed to be redesigned to add strength. This resulted with the roadster models having slightly more weight than the coupes.
1958 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Specifications
The 1958 300 SL engine was also not too different from the Gullwing power plant. What is important is that the car was said by some to be able to reach 155 MPH. Other speed claims rate the car a bit lower with a maximum of 130 MPH.The coupe models had better aerodynamics and could hit the higher maximum speeds. The 1958 300 SL was considered among the fastest cars of the decade.
The engine in the 1958 Mercedes 300 SL was a 180.0 cubic inch Inline six cylinder with direct fuel injection. The Zero to 60 MPH rating was an extremely impressive 7.1 seconds. The engine delivered 215 horsepower.
The transmission with the 1958 Mercedes was a four speed manual.
Front suspension was independent with A arms and coil springs. Rear suspension was a swing axle with coil springs.
The wheelbase was 94.5 inches,
The 1958 Mercedes 300 SL had a weight of about 3,100 lbs.
Reportedly about 1,800 of the 300 SL Roadsters were produced compared to about 1,400 Coupes. The coupe was built from ’1954 through 1957, and the roadster from 1957 through 1961.
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A Top Collector's Car
The 1958 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL is one of the most popular collector cars out there. The 300 SL's combination of great design and performance turns heads wherever it's seen. Add to this the car's well known functionality and comfortable interior.
These are expensive collector cars. As of this writing, the 1958 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL in mint condition can command prices of between $750,000 to $1,000,000. Selling prices for the past five years have been rising impressively for this particular Mercedes model.
(Article and photos copyright 2013 AutoMuseumOnline)