1955-1963 Mercedes-Benz 190SL

Demand was down to 2,246 Mercedes-Benz 190SLs in 1962, its last full year on the market.
Demand was down to 2,246 Mercedes-Benz 190SLs in 1962, its last full year on the market.

Perhaps the 1955-1963 Mercedes-Benz 190SL should have been compared with the raft of English sports cars that were on the market at the time. Instead, it was more often compared only to the 300SL.

The first Austin Healey, the 100, had a 2.6-liter four-cylinder engine with a similar power output of 102 bhp at 4,000 rpm, but was quicker, accelerating from 0-60 mph in 8.5 seconds, and had a similar maximum speed of 106 mph. (The later 100 Six, with its six-cylinder engine that also displaced 2.6 liters, was actually slightly slower.)

The Triumph TR3 acclerated faster -- 7.5 seconds to 60 mph -- but its top speed was much the same at 105. The MGA was quite away off the pace with just 78 horsepower at 5,500 rpm, a 96-mph top speed, and at least 9.1 seconds for the 0-60 sprint.

Only the awkwardly styled Daimler SP250 had the legs on its peers, the marvelous 2.5-liter "hemi" V-8 pumping out 140 bhp at 5,800 rpm and pushing it to a maximum of 123 mph while taking just 6.8 seconds for the 0-60-mph run.

Underpowered and overweight (at around 2,500 pounds), the 190SL was never really designed for the harsh glare of international competition. It did compete successfully in the 1957 Nassau Speed Week, and competed with varying degrees of success in races and rallies in Macau and Hong Kong, as well as the occasional outing in restricted events in Europe. In 1961, a 190SL fitted with a diesel engine set some speed and distance records on the Hockenheimring.

Even though respectable numbers of the 190SL were built and sold around the world, there is a lack of quality information available about it. It gains scant mention in Beverley Rae Kimes's tome The Star and The Laurel published by Mercedes-Benz of North America to celebrate the centennial of Daimler-Benz; Richard Langworth's book Mercedes-Benz: The First 100 Years has but a few pages devoted to it.

In its latter years, the Mercedes-Benz 190SL engine had an 8.8:1 compression ratio, up slightly from 8.5:1.

The "little brother" of the 300SL has had to live in the shadow of its more illustrious sibling. That has been a burden it has borne rather well judging by the number of well-kept and appreciated 190SLs that have survived. It is true they don't command the mega-buck prices of the 300SL, but that merely makes them more available and more used.

Beginning with the release of the sensational new finned 220S and SE sedans in 1959, both the 300SL (now a roadster in place of the "gullwing" coupe) and 190SL found themselves nearing the end of their useful careers. In 1963, the company displayed its new "Pagoda"-roofed 230SL that set an entirely new direction for Mercedes-Benz automobiles bearing the famous SL badge.

Richard Langworth summed it up rather well when he wrote, "Had it been built by anybody else, the 190SL would be regarded today as a classic in its own right."

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