Mercedes-Benz 190SL R121 1959

Do you remember how we once told you about how Europe rebuilt its automobile industry after World War II? Back then, we talked about the fact that compact cars with minimal fuel consumption were in demand, rather than full-size automobiles. So why did Mercedes-Benz produce luxurious sports coupes 10 years after the war?

The “Big Three” did not recover from the consequences of the war faster than other companies, but the company’s management had a plan: to sell cars for export. Unlike the countries of the Eurasian continent, the United States did not suffer as much during the war. There was almost no war on their territory, so there was almost no need to restart the industrial economy. Moreover, starting from the early 1950s, there was a real economic boom, an era of convertibles, girls with bright lips and shorter skirts, and, of course, rock and roll. Accordingly, there could have been a demand for truly expensive, beautiful, and high-quality cars. In this regard, the MB management was convinced by Maximilian Hoffman – the representative of Mercedes in the USA. In fact, he proposed to create the SL lineup – semi-sporty luxury coupes, which would now be called Grand Touring.
The first swallow, or rather, the seagull, was the 300SL – a legendary car where the engineering department almost got almost full carte blanche. These geniuses could not miss this opportunity and decided to design an unusual door mechanism – the so-called “gullwing”, when the door hinges were not on the vertical pillar, but on the roof and the door, accordingly, opened upwards. Everything was great and fine, but the car turned out with a sports bias and with a completely “sporty” price tag. It required something similar but for the middle class. This is how the 190SL appeared.

Let’s immediately clarify – it was never cheap, but it was cheaper than its counterpart. The car was presented at the New York Auto Show in 1954, and production began in 1955. Like the elder model 300SL, which was 80% sold in the USA, the 190SL was primarily intended for the North American continent. The 190SL had many similarities with the 300SL, especially in terms of style and design. They had almost the same front independent suspension – a double wishbone system, which even now is considered almost the best in terms of sports. However, the 190SL did not receive the tubular cockpit frame like its counterpart. There were 2 body options: the roof could be either fabric and foldable or metal and removable.

The engine M121, which equipped such a beautiful car, did not impress with performance. In fact, it was a development of the pre-war M136 engine, but with an increased displacement. There was a single camshaft in the cylinder head (SOHC), and there were only 4 cylinders in a row. However, on the 190SL, this engine was equipped with 2 horizontal Solex carburetors! At first, the engine was capable of delivering about 110-115 hp, but the power had to be reduced in the name of resource and stability of the power unit’s operation. A 4-speed fully synchronized manual transmission was installed.

In the first years of production, the windshield was made of plexiglass, and the interior had sports seats – the Germans did not quite understand that comfort was expected from the younger model in the first place. But they quickly made amends! Now, the car’s interior doesn’t just seem charming – it is mesmerizing. It may not have too many sensors or as many options as today, but the level of detailing for each handle or button, the level of thoughtfulness… It’s hard to tear yourself away from all this splendor, but it’s even harder to realize that the drivers of those years had to be able to use all of this quickly and simply. There were no labels under each button, everything had to be remembered! The steering wheel is traditionally large in diameter but narrow in circumference – this, again, is simultaneously stylish and functional. The steering wheel’s diameter allowed for steering without any power assistance. And the chromed ring responsible for the horn – it’s the cherry on top! It all looks amazingly beautiful to the point of absurdity and it’s hard to believe that the car could actually move around the city. By the way, I highly recommend taking a look at the rearview mirror separately and trying to imagine how much the driver could see useful information while driving, especially with the roof raised.

The exterior continues the traditions of its elder brother, repeating the smooth contours. The elongated trunk creates the feeling of a longer car than it actually is. The body length is 4.3 meters, and the wheelbase is 2.4 meters, which gives decent overhangs. The abundance of chrome, as was the custom in those years, emphasizes the elitism and status of the car. The lines of the wheel arches – almost like “muscles” – were added to intimidate potential competitors. Although let’s be honest – this is already a Grand Tourer, it just makes you want to drive along the coastline, with your companion’s hair blowing in the wind, the sun gently setting, and significantly fewer thoughts in your head. Yes, this is exactly the kind of car it is. Its purpose is to take away your concerns and replace them with the true joy of driving.

The material was worked on by: