1960 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Roadster.
Photo: Casey Annis
The story of the production model 300 SL really picks up where our story about the W194 Le Mans racecar ends. After a highly successful 1952 racing season where the W194 “Gullwing” won the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Carrera Panamericana, the entire sports car program was closed, as Mercedes-Benz turned its attention to a return to Formula One racing. However, the Gullwing made a deep impression on enthusiasts from around the world. And perhaps none more so than U.S. Mercedes-Benz importer Max Hoffman. With America’s fast growing appetite for European sports cars, Hoffman saw real potential in selling a road going version of the W194. In fact, Hoffman was so taken by the idea that he travelled to Stuttgart to discuss it with the Daimler-Benz management committee. Present at the meeting were a number of Daimler-Benz executives including Technical Director Dr. Fritz Nallinger. Despite having headed the team that built and developed the W194, Nallinger was very much against the idea. While agreeing that Mercedes needed a road going sports car, he felt that it would be better to build one around the platform frame, which was then being used in the 180 sedan. Hoffman, however, was adamant that that would not appeal to the American market. But Hoffman took it one step further by stating to the committee that if Mercedes built a roadgoing version of the Gullwing, he would commit to buying 500 units. Unable to resist the prospect of such an order, the committee ultimately decided to do both, build a new, smaller SL sports car based around the 180 platform frame (the 190 SL) and construct what would become the ultimate “supercar” of the day, the production 300 SL “Gullwing” Coupe.
Wings for the Masses
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